Sunday, April 12, 2009


By Angela deFreitas
Just think about it. From where you sit in your new job, whatever or wherever it may be, every employee around you also had a “first-day-on-the-job”. And those first-day jitters can last a little while depending on just how friendly and helpful your co-workers are and just how well you prepared yourself for the experience of fitting in with your workplace etiquette.
Workplace etiquette is in fact an extension of general etiquette, good manners and acceptable behaviour which in some cases can relate specifically to the work environment.
As a new kid on the block, the bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask questions of either your immediate supervisor, your colleagues or your boss. They can’t expect you to know everything straight away so they’ll be expecting a barrage of questions from you anyway so you shouldn’t feel stupid to ask.
Of course, as years go by and you gain more experience and change more jobs you will have a better understanding of different organisational cultures but until then, err on the side of caution in all things or ask for advice.
The upshot is, whether you are out there on a short summer holiday job or if this is the start of your working life, take these matters seriously as poor office etiquette can jeopardise your job and chances for success.
Wise counsel such as this may be hard to swallow, especially when you know that you’re nervous, feeling totally out of it, trying hard to fit in, and guess what too, you just called your supervisor by his first name (well, you’ve seen it in so many movies) and were asked very nicely to address him as “Mr. Brown”. Oops!
You just had your first lesson in workplace etiquette. Trust me, you will make such mistakes as you step out into the working world and you’re going to feel like a fish out of water when that happens so be prepared to ask as many questions as necessary especially when it comes to areas of office etiquette such as taking/making calls on your own cell, reporting sick or absent for some reason, general office “netiquette” (rules, procedures and standards relating to sending email messages etc), and yes, addressing your managers and co-workers.
For a while, you may feel like they are out to get you, change you or alter your lifestyle and personality, but just remember that the less outstanding or different your behaviour, attitudes and actions the more easily you will fit in.
Now is the time to remember also that there are clearly some habits and styles which are best left behind at school. Those who are more experienced won’t hesitate to tell you for example that things like sitting on the desk (even it’s yours), spending the first and last half hour of each day in the bathroom and eating at your desk (unless it’s coffee/tea and a biscuit as you work) are a no-no. If there is a kitchen or lunch area, that’s the place for you and your box lunch. You will make a good impression when you tidy the area behind you. The same goes for the board/meeting room and any other common areas when you use them and also your desk, cubicle or work station at the end of the day.
Lateness is also never excused in any workplace. You may rationalise that you will put in few hours after work to make up but lateness, even for a departmental meeting, still reflects badly on you. Anyone can stay back a little late after work, but it takes greater effort and discipline to arrive at work on time, every time, and to stick within the lunch hour given. It also follows that extended absences from your work -station should be avoided.
Talking of work station, this is where cubicle culture comes in. Cubicles are part of modern work environments which you also need to understand. Yes, it is your space in which to comfortably do your work but lining the partitions with romantic pictures of you and your boo will more than likely be seen as inappropriate for the workplace.
Your cell phone may be another area of uncertainty. Your cell should in fact be off unless you must receive an urgent call in which case it should be on silent or vibrate and you take the call discretely. Even though this is your own private cell on which you are getting or making a call, this is still company time on which you are talking so leave the private calls for lunch time and after 5.
You will find that the workplace can be a very social place where you will eventually make friends, find a lot of social life and build relationships with co-workers. You will be going to lunch, sharing stories and discussing all of the new hot topics from the news, the soaps and the dailies. Some topics should, however, be off limits, among them politics, religion, your (or other people’s) sex life, personal problems and your health issues.
If you have chosen “work while studying option” beware. It may be tempting to do assignments at your workplace. However, the use of office stationery, the internet and excessive use of printing and other office equipment will always be frowned upon. Leave the assignments and projects at home and ensure that office work is done at work.
As you will find out, being a “newbie” on staff has some very important positives but also some essential negatives from which you can learn the ways of the working world. Whatever you encounter, remember that it’s the beginning of real-life, real-time experiences which will kit you out for the next stage in life and which will help you to get your foot firmly onto the ladder of workplace success. So don’t blow your chances with poor office etiquette.
Angela deFreitas is the General Manager of CHOICES CAREER ADVICE publishers of The Career Key (Caribbean edition), CHOICES Career & Education Magazine, The Graduates’ Guide to Making the Best Decisions For Career, Education & Life and Help Your Child With Career Choice - A Guide For Parents. For more information call 969-5741 or visit the CHOICES website -