Office Etiquette: 7 Office Faux Pas to Avoid

It’s true that for the last few years my office has been a dedicated table my house. Or, occasionally, my couch. I do things like fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon, or stay in my pajamas/workout clothes until lunchtime. However, at one time I did, in fact, work in a functioning office with other people.

When you work in an office with others, it’s important to behave in an appropriate manner, and do your best to avoid engaging in offending co-workers and (especially) bosses. You might need these people to be part of your career network later, and burning bridges now with egregious breaches of etiquette is not the way to develop allies.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 7 office faux pas to avoid if you want to make a good impression at work:

1. Gossip

One of the worst things you can do is gossip about your co-workers or bosses. What you say could get back to them. You especially want to avoid gossiping in a loud voice. Follow the time-tested advice in this adage: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It’s one thing to compliment the good job done by a team member, and quite another to talk about that team member’s lack of parenting skills or annoying personality.

2. Share Your Activities with the Office

Whether you talk loudly on the phone, or watch YouTube videos at full volume, no one wants to deal with that. It’s distracting and annoying. If you listen to music, or talk on the phone, make sure that you keep the volume down. And if you aren’t supposed to be watching videos online, it’s an even worse breach of etiquette to turn it up so everyone else has to “watch” them, too. Be careful on the Internet at work, follow office protocol, and do your best to keep it down.

3. Wear a Strong Scent

Perfume doesn’t always smell the same to different people. The scent that you love may be anathema to your office mate. Not only can some strong smells be irritating, but some people might actually allergic to what you’re wearing. You don’t want your boss to break out in hives every time he or she has to come talk to you. It’s also no fun to be known as the “stinky” person on the office. Be realistic about the scent you wear, and keep it light.

4. Inappropriate Dress

While overly provocative clothing is usually considered a no-no in the workplace, it’s not the only inappropriate clothing that you can wear. Pay attention to the dress code at work. You don’t want to be dressed up in a suit and tie when everyone else is dressed casually. If you are expected to wear a uniform, make sure it is neat and clean. All of your clothes should be cared for and clean, whether the dress at your office is business casual, or really casual.

5. Too Much Email

Stop with the “reply all” when messages don’t actually apply to everyone — especially if all you’re saying is “thank you.” Also, don’t forward “funny” emails to everyone in your office. And certainly don’t forward embarrassing pictures around the office. You wouldn’t you embarrassing mistake to be circulated. The same applies to text messages. All to often, it’s easy to over-text or over-email, and that can cram co-workers’ inboxes to the point of annoyance. Don’t be that┬áperson.

6. Break Room Messes

Are you leaving a mess in the break room? Stop. You don’t like cleaning up others’ messes, and they don’t like cleaning up yours. Take care of your messes. Related to this is the habit of brining strong/smelly foods to the break room. Additionally, don’t leave your food in the fridge to rot. Bring your stuff home with you.

7. Chronic Negativity

No one likes someone who is perpetually negative. While you don’t have to be overly cheery (which is almost as bad), you can be upbeat and positive. Approach work with a can-do attitude, and make an effort to be supportive of those around you. Be a creative problem solver, rather than someone who constantly points out the flaws in any plan. While it might be ok to share your distress on occasion, don’t always be a downer.

If you consistently violate office etiquette, you will find that you are expendable at work. When layoffs are announced, you could very well be one of the first to be let go.

About the Author

By , on May 29, 2012
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (5 Comments)

  1. Gossip is something to be avoided at all costs! It’s very easy for things to get back to colleagues and usually it’s best not to confide in colleagues.

  2. The sharing activities with the office advice is spot on. All the tips were good actually, but this one resonates in particular. When people have their cell phones on high ringtone with loud music, or have loud conversations in a quiet workplace, it gets to be too much. The person then becomes annoying.

    I recall one woman who had an annoying habit of having calls on speakerphone with her office door wide open. Everyone outside could hear her calls loud and clear. The thing is, she was a senior level person, so nobody around her would dare say anything. Finally, a peer of hers walked up one day and just slammed the door shut in the middle of one of her calls. We were all pleased :)

  3. Fired for flatulence issues? Wow- Even though I’ve had the misfortune to encounter some pretty evil rips, getting fired for that seems a bit harsh.

  4. All of these points are so important – especially for recent college graduates. It’s very important to always maintain professionalism in your behavior and understand the culture of the company.

  5. Ruth says:

    Re: number 2 -activities too loud. People need to be aware of toe-tapping, pencil & finger drumming, humming to music. Someone was fired here for that. Another guy has been reprimanded multiple times for it. I know this is common sense to most, but it appears that common sense is not very common these days.

    I worked with a man who had flatulence issues. Rather than advise him to get his digestive issues under control, he was fired.

    Cussing, swearing around here is also a death sentence in terms of employment.

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