Being a Gentleman at the Office: The Dos and Don’ts of Business Etiquette

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 28, 2011 · 56 comments

in A Man's Life, Money & Career, On Etiquette

The rules of business etiquette are very similar to the rules of social etiquette.

But there is a difference between the two sets of manners.

In the social sphere, the assumption is that you and your associates are equals, with some allowances made for age and sex.

The business world, on the other hand, is a hierarchy. Whether you work at a traditional, highly-stratified corporation, or a modern and casual upstart, whether the hierarchy is spelled out, or entirely unspoken, one exists. Just step on some toes and see what happens. Business etiquette dictates that employees defer to employers, sellers defer to buyers, and seekers defer to sought-afters.

This difference in the dynamic of social and business relations accounts for things like the fact that when you make introductions outside of work, you always introduce the man to the woman, while in the business world, you make introductions based on rank and importance, regardless of gender. So if you’re introducing a male CEO and a female employee, you would say, “Mr. Robert BigCheese, I would like to introduce Mrs. Samantha Underling from accounting,” rather than the other way around. (Note: if Mr. Graham was meeting a client (of either sex) as opposed to an underling, the client’s name would go first; remember, the seller defers to the buyer.)

This is also why your boss can call you by your first name, but you shouldn’t reciprocate, unless he or she has specifically invited you to drop the Mr. or Mrs.

Another difference between the rules that dictate etiquette in the social and business worlds is that in the social sphere, etiquette doesn’t necessarily have to be efficient or practical; in fact, this can be part of its charm. But in the workplace, tradition matters less and getting the job done matters more.

So for example, while in a social situation you would want to stand when a woman entered the room, at work you should rise from your desk when receiving visitors of either sex, and you shouldn’t stand up every time a female secretary or assistant walks in and out of your office.

Those caveats aside, the rules of business etiquette and social etiquette are not so different; it’s all about acting with integrity, knowing the appropriate behavior for a particular situation, behaving in ways that show respect, and treating others as you’d like to be treated.

While certain areas of business etiquette deserve their own posts, today we will outline some general dos and don’ts for being a gentleman at the office.

The Dos 

Dress with respect. Be clean and presentable each and every day. Follow the office dress code at a minimum—and don’t be the guy who constantly toes the line. Of course it’s fine to dress a cut above everyone else, but just a cut. Dressing up far beyond the standard sported by everyone else will come off as putting on airs.

On another style note, while you might take off your jacket and roll up your sleeves during the day, when there are visitors present in the office or you’re receiving callers, put your jacket back on and present a professional appearance that reflects well on your company.

Come to work with teeth brushed and body washed. Your co-workers are stuck with you in a small space for eight or more hours a day. Don’t make them avoid your cubicle like the plague as they gather to discuss whether presenting you with a gift basket of soap and chewing gum would send too overt a message.

Keep things pleasant with your co-workers. Unlike friends, if things get awkward with your co-workers, you cannot choose to stop seeing them. No, cause an uncomfortable rift with a co-worker, and you’ll have to look at their contemptible face each and every day for months, and maybe years. So keep your relations with them pleasant. This means not delving too much into your private life, avoiding discussion of topics like religion and politics, and typically choosing to ignore annoying habits, rather than calling attention to them (although every man has his breaking point).

When it comes to dating at work, don’t risk it unless she’s someone you truly connect with. And if you do pursue something with a co-worker, review your company’s policy on such relationships and let HR know what’s going on.

Keep company secrets, secret. Our Wiki-leaks-loving generation tends to scoff at the notion of keeping anything secret. And yes, your company’s secrets may seem so boring or unimportant as to not even be worth the effort of keeping them under wraps. But no matter—they’re still nobody’s business. Even if the spilling of secrets doesn’t cause actual harm to your company, doing so will still make you look careless.

So keep your files tucked away when receiving visitors, guard your end of the phone conversation when a visitor is standing nearby, and if outsiders ask you questions that might reveal company secrets, simply give intentionally vague answers–never volunteer any information they could not have otherwise been gleaned from the news. If information is truly confidential, don’t send it over email. There’s no such thing as a “private” email; they can be monitored by your company, and sometimes retrieved long after they’ve been “deleted.”

Finally, don’t volunteer more information than necessary: “Dan is not in today,” not “Dan’s not here. He’s meeting with the head of mergers at Dyna Corp.”

Work with your boss—not against him. Keep him informed. Let him know when you’ve made a mistake so he doesn’t paint himself into a corner out of ignorance. Back him up–if you have concerns about something, let him know in private instead of airing your grievances at an open meeting.

When you use the last of something, replace it. Whether it’s the last paper in the copy machine or the last cup of joe in the coffee maker, don’t just walk away—replace the paper and make another pot. Ditto for copy machine paper jams—don’t whistle as you slowly slink off. Fix it.

Treat your underlings with kindness and respect. They keep the office running. And you never know if that lowly clerk will one day be your boss.

Respect the chain of command. Both up and down. Don’t step on anybody’s toes. Don’t go over your boss’s head without permission.

Hold the door for people approaching the elevator. Don’t hide in the corner while secretly wishing for the doors to close as quickly as possible.

If you’re using speaker phone, let the person(s) you’re speaking with know who else is on the call with you before you begin the conversation. That way, they will not be confused when another person’s voice suddenly pops in later on.

Bring donuts or bagels to a meeting every once in a blue moon. This is not expected of you. But if you do it, you’ll be a hero.

The Don’ts

Pass the buck. Generally, making excuses reflects more poorly on your character than admitting the mistake would have on your competence. If you blame an underling, you reveal yourself to be a mediocre leader, for you should have seen to it that the job got done correctly. If you blame an equal, you simply look like a whiner and run the risk of souring your relationship with someone with whom you’ll likely have to continue to work. And if you blame a higher-up…well common sense dictates that it’s not a good idea to anger the people who hold your job in their hands.

Come late to meetings. Your late arrival is disruptive and may prolong the meeting if they have to wait to get started until you get there or if they have to catch you up on what has already been discussed.

Linger at someone’s desk. Nothing wrong with stopping by to say hello to your cubicle buddy. But, if after some brief chit-chat, your co-worker shows signs of trying to get back to work, move on!

Eat other people’s food. The crime that launched a thousand passive-aggressive notes.

Eavesdrop on co-workers’ private phone calls. Now obviously if someone is having a conversation a cubicle over, it’s impossible not to hear what they’re saying. But you can certainly pretend like you don’t hear. In other words, if Bob just got off the phone from having an argument with his teenage son, don’t saunter over and ask, “What’s the problem with young Johnny, Bob?” If your co-worker wants to bring up the topic with you, then let him initiate that conversation. Otherwise, consider what you heard to be off-limits.

Listen to radio/music/Youtube videos without headphones. Not everyone shares your affinity for Enya.

Let your personal life get in the way of your business life. Always maintain a business-like attitude. This doesn’t mean being cold or aloof from others. What it means is that your personal life should very rarely interfere with getting work done. Not that you can’t leave early because your kid got sick, but that you don’t come in late because you got plastered the night before, you don’t ask the boss for a raise because you just had a baby, and you don’t spend half your time at work arguing with your ex-wife about alimony payments.

Come back and visit your old office. And now we return to the point made at the beginning of the article: the business world is different from the social world. In the social sphere, when you make close relationships, the expectation is that those relationships will last no matter where life takes you. At the office, you might develop relationships that feel very close with your co-workers, but once you move on, those relationships typically do too. When you leave a company to take another job elsewhere, don’t come back to your old workplace expecting to be heralded as a long lost friend. People will find the situation a little awkward and you a good deal lame.


What are some more dos and don’ts for being a gentleman at the office? Sound off in the comments!

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

1 George P.H. September 29, 2011 at 3:23 am

All good points.

I think that “passing the buck” is important in particular. When you blame others for your failures, you look particularly bad. At work, every task that’s been assigned to you is *your* responsibility. Make sure there’s never a need for excuses.

As for my own 0.02$…
1. This isn’t directly related to being a gentleman, but be very careful when making friends at work. Firing someone you have a relationship with – or telling them their performance is inadequate – is tough. Being pleasant is good, but being more than that is dangerous.

2. The best thing you can do when starting at a new job is copy what the highest performers are doing. If they come to work half an hour early, do the same. If they dress a certain way, do the same. The same goes for being well-liked; just watch and learn from other people. Every workplace is different, but adapting and learning from the best will help you succeed anywhere.

2 Rahul September 29, 2011 at 7:25 am

Boy, am I ever so guilty of “hide in the corner while secretly wishing for the doors to close as quickly as possible” hahahahaha. By the way, this is a wonderful topic and would love to read more articles about the office space.

3 Rob September 29, 2011 at 7:40 am

Your line about never revisiting a former workplace is spot on. It got even more difficult for me when the company I work for took over a company I used to work for in a fairly hostile manner. I was expecting old workmates – old friends if you will – to greet me warmly etc. But nope. In fact apart from one, I barely speak to them at all despite working on the same open-plan floor.

4 The Dutch Dastard September 29, 2011 at 7:59 am

Now, as a student, i don’t know if this is entirely on-topic, but i think it can relate to business as well: Social gatherings.

Many a night have i been invited by colleagues or student union gatherings that i really did not wish to attend. Call me a snob, but i am a ‘Frat Boy’, and these people were not exactly ‘my crowd’. Mind you, my being a ‘Frat Boy’ made me in their eyes, a snob. Yes, mutual stereotyping.

I committed myself to attending these gatherings, even if just for a couple of beers. That changed my image from ‘Arrogant Frat Boy’, to ‘a very social person, and also a Frat Boy’.

Relating this to a work environment, working at a camp gave me the same experience. My new instructors, were usually aged 16, and had conversations about high school…….and that only. Still, put in that effort to have a conversation. Mindlessly boring if you are a bit older, but the fact that you change your image from ‘The Boss’ to ‘That guy you can have a conversation with and tell dirty jokes, and is also the boss’ changes everyone’s attitude.

Therefore i disagree about the ‘not making friends’. If firing a friendly type is to hard for you, you shouldn’t be in that position in the first place.

5 Jay T September 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

All good points here. Also, it’s a really bad idea to talk about people in your workspace in a derogatory manner, particularly with coworkers. It will, sooner or later, come back to bite you in a big way. Better to just non and make some sort of noncommittal statement when that gossip/backbiting starts. And file away who said what about whom….

6 Kerry September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

After being with my current company for 15 years, I have run into some unique situations that require breaking several of these rules, but only to avoid the awkwardness of the moment.

Passing the buck to a female when a female co-worker has a fashion malfunction is much better than ignoring the problem. When it’s a male co-worker, I have found that I can put a quick text on my cell phone screen that points out the problem and pass it to the person. This avoids a lot of embarrassment.

As you have written in the past, when going up stairs, lead the way, or be at the same level (if possible) of a co-worker of the opposite sex. If the traffic pattern is such that you need to move over, move quickly ahead.

Doors, always hold the doors. If someone is holding the door for others, I try to take the door so that person can pass and always thank them. I dislike holding a door for a crowd, especially when they just pass, looking down at their feet ignoring the fact.

Please, Thank You and Your welcome. Enough said.

7 Daren September 29, 2011 at 8:52 am

It’s about cultivating virtue. Do you want to become the kind of person whose actions are spoken well of by all people? Then fill your mind with things that are spoken well of by all people.

Be like a middle-eastern sage, walking into the mountains by night, to be alone for prayer and meditation. Be like a Roman philosopher, bending all the powers of your God-given intellect (we all have one) toward the consideration of the good.

8 Dustin September 29, 2011 at 9:14 am

I would also point out that it’s very poor form to bash your company/ superiors and you should avoid people who do. Dissent tends to fester when everyone stands around the watercooler complaining. It makes for a terrible work environment, and tends to be a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

I sometimes wonder if those who roll their eyes at teambuilding exercises are stuck back in highschool, and still think their too “cool” to respect authority.

9 The Dutch Dastard September 29, 2011 at 9:19 am

@Dustin about teambuilding

Exactly my point, old boy! Thanks for making my post a bit more ‘on topic’.

10 Antonio September 29, 2011 at 9:28 am

Brett and Kate,

Solid article – and a good reminder to me as to why I would never make it in corporate America. Thank goodness I love running my own business!

11 Joe September 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

This was a terrific article and really a good reminder of what, and what not to do, as I am starting a new job next week. This might be a little off topic, but I wanted to talk about the man outnumbered in the workplace by women, a new phenomenon that is more and more common.

In my last position, I was the only male in my department. While the rules mentioned in this article are 100% correct and should be followed to the tee, I wanted to share the sad news (especially with the younger men reading) that women functioning as a group, frequently WILL NOT follow these basic rules of etiquette mentioned in this article, often turning office politics into personal politics. Now some younger men might disagree with my observation, to be sure. In my opinion, a younger man will do okay if they’re outnumbered (especially a nice looking man) because the women will want to “mother” him at best and lust after him, at worst. (This could be a topic for a completely different article!) When an older man is outnumbered, the clueless older man will undoubtedly have some of the same annoying habits as the ladies’ husbands, and will suffer their wrath! So, I would add the rules of “NEVER RETALIATE, EVER!” and “NEVER TAKE WORK POLITICS HOME”.

As mentioned in the article, acting as a gentlemen could be the catalyst for advancement, but with my two “extra rules”, I’d like to point out that at the end of the day, we have to face both God and ourselves, and these two “extra rules” will definitely help to make that job easier!

12 Heather September 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

For a few years I was in charge of training new hires, most of whom had never worked in a corporate environment before. The main tip I gave them that they had never thought about before is: It’s OK not to like everyone you work with, but the person you don’t like should never realize you don’t like them. Even if you don’t work side-by-side now, you may have to in the future, and if that person realizes you don’t like them, you can’t work together as effectively, which reflects badly on you.

@The Dutch Dastard: The problem with becoming “friends” with underlings is, as the boss you may have to ask things of your employees that a friend would never do. Learning how to deal with someone as your boss and your friend is a skill that takes time for most people to develop. If someone no longer looks to you as The Boss and instead as The Friend, they make start making mistakes or flaunting policies because they think that Their Friend would never fire them. When I first started training I slipped into that Friend role, and my new hires started screwing around in ways that they weren’t doing before and they could have been fired. I had to forceably remind them that, yes, they would be fired if they came in late, and yes, I would fire them. This caused them to be unnecessarily upset, and made it more difficult for me to do my job effectively. I want to make it clear that you should *never* be The Jerk when you’re the boss. You should always be approachable and pleasant. But you probably shouldn’t be The Drinking Buddy, either.

13 Alex September 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

Great list. And right on George! Especially about emulating successful coworkers.
My major workplace-behavior issues these days come down to Table Manners.

If your office is one where people eat at their desks, observe meal time behavior rules. Just because you’re surfing the net while you eat, does not mean your coworkers want to see/hear or otherwise experience your eating. Also, try to eat close to the same time as your coworkers.
Eatting at the same time as everyone else means your coworkers are less likely to notice how loudly you chew/swallow and won’t be as bothered by the smells of your food as much. Also, if you take your meal time at another time, your coworkers won’t be free to co-work with you during their lunch, and you won’t be available for them during your lunch.

14 Kyle September 29, 2011 at 10:41 am


Excellent point you have there. I have been at my place of employment for a little over 5 years and have been very outnumbered by women for most of that time. I’m mid 20′s and have seen both aspects of what you described. The mothering and the wrath.

I’ve tried to live by the same two extra rules for the 5 years I’ve been here and it has proved to make life a lot easier.

15 Jeffrey Armando Vasquez September 29, 2011 at 10:50 am

Solid points all the way. How do you think these ideas differ in other lines of work? As a teacher who’s transitioned from two other schools, would you think it lame to go back and visit former students?

16 Fran September 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

I have a boss who regularly blows up at people in loud, angry, unnerving, and tear-inducing ways. We can say “it’s just part of his personality” until the cows come home, but it doesn’t ever make it ok for him to flip out over little things or take out his frustration with HIS boss on us. Everyone has bad days, but if I’m expected to push those bad days to the background and focus on my job (which includes focusing on being pleasant and friendly in the face of a LOT of negative energy from a certain coworker), I don’t think I’m wrong to expect the same behavior of my boss.

The rule I would add: Treat your underlings the way you’d like to be treated, and control your reactions to work frustrations. Being a passive-aggressive bully is not appropriate in any office.

17 Grant September 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

On the ‘chain of command’ note, an important caveat should be added for ethical considerations. Most organizations now have ‘whistle blowers’ hotlines, accountability procedures and internal compliance training to encourage employees to step out of the chain of command if they notice improprieties. It’s good for you and it’s good for the company to have such internal controls.

18 John September 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm

in my opinion, my co workers can all feel free to take the last cup of coffee, listen to voicemails on speaker, play youtube videos loudly, delve into the most intimate and grotesque details of their personal lives, disrupt the pecking order and chain of command, and even have bad breath and body odor. But they damn sure better be on time for meetings. 8:30 means we start the meeting at 8:30, not wait for stragglers until 8:45 then sheepishly say “Well, i guess we should get started”. Just START. ON TIME.

19 Rich September 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Wow. I’d agree with most of these rules, but one of them is very dated and counterproductive in some modern workplaces. In a silicon valley setting, for example, it would be very awkward for me to call my boss Mr. Soandso. Nobody does it, and it would reek of brown-nosing.

20 Steve September 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm

As there often is, I imagine there is a disconnect between the coasts and the middle of the country. I am a manager at a large corporation in the Midwest and if I said to a new employee, “Can I see you in my office, Terry?” And he answered, “Sure thing Steve,” I would be a little taken aback. Use Mr. for people in positions of authority, unless and until told otherwise–that’s how I was raised.

21 Greg September 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Great post, however I, admittedly, am totally guilty of playing music without headphones. Fortunately for me, only one nearby coworker can hear and he doesn’t seem to mind. I always check with him to see if it’s getting too loud though.

22 Kathryn Widdoss September 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

@Rich — I’ve worked in small high-tech start-ups, Fortunate 500′s, engineering firms, a surfing company, and for sole proprietors, for over 30 years. I’m from the Midwest but have lived in San Diego for over 20 years. I promise you, these rules are not outdated and are not geographically-specific. The rules say to call someone Mr or Ms until invited to call them by first name. This would probably occur in the first interview, and now you’ve followed the rules and impressed someone with the fact that you can behave with manners. Further demonstrations of same will linger in the back of their mind such that when Ms-VIP or Mr-CEO are in town they will feel confident including you in the circle of employees to be included in any meetings. Because they know you can be trusted not to offend someone … when manners COUNT. There’s a saying “be faithful with little, and you will be given much”. Prove yourself in small ways, and you can look forward to larger opportunities. Manners and courtesy and etiquette are one of those small (but oh so important) ways.

23 Kathryn Widdoss September 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm

@Joe — I concur with your experience about working with women. I’ve no doubt some of my sisters may take offense at this, but a little plain truth goes a long way. I would say that men compartmentalize workplace vs personal issues, to a degree that (generally speaking) women do not. I’ve seen male business partners nearly come to blows in the office, and an hour later they are working side by side as if nothing happened. For women, this would be an unforgiveable breach. Every single professional woman that I’ve ever known, and talked to about this issue, agrees. While many women don’t like to admit to differences between males and females out of fear of different being equated with lesser (which of course is silly), and might protest this is not the case, trust me, it is. In the workplace, professional women struggle with feeling left out of male circles, so in a way we want to be “one of the boys” but not at the cost of our self-respect, and not at the cost of bruised feelings by a man being as outspoken with us as he might with a male counterpart (just be a little more gracious and a little less pragmatic when entering into a difficult conversation area). I’m ducking right now because I know there are women throwing tomatoes at me right now. This is one of those truths I wish more professional men understood, and believe me, it will smooth office relations if you can achieve that balance: just enough courtesy to seem slightly chivalrous, but not so much as to come across as patronizing of the “weaker sex” (that’s meant sarcastically). While this may sound difficult, I’m confident that any man discerning enough to be reading this blog in the first place can accomplish this delicate dance if he sets his mind to it.

24 Rich September 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Ms. Widdoss, perhaps the difference is departmental. I’ve been an engineer in several small and large software firms on the west and east coast for nearly 15 years. I have never once heard someone within engineering addressed formally.

Societal norms do sometimes change. I feel the same way about interview attire. I once made the mistake of going to an interview in a suit. Not a huge faux-pas, but it was pretty awkward when interviewer after interviewer came in wearing jeans and a t-shirt or polo. I’m not saying I would ever go to an interview in a t-shirt. I’m saying that recognition of shifting societal norms is fully appropriate. I go to interviews now in slacks and a sports coat or a nice sweater.

25 Nick September 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I agree with Heather in that you should never let someone know you don’t like them. At my last job, there were plenty of people who I really didn’t like (bad workers, asses, etc), but I always put on a smile and said hello. At some point or another you may have to work with them. Thus when it came time to work with them, everything went smooth.

And I hate it when people whine and complain about their job or managers all day every day. Ok, it’s fine to occasionally complain when you think someone wronged you (it happens), but I worked with people that wouldn’t shut up about how much they hated the management or the customers. Hey! I got along just fine with management and they liked me, and I wasn’t a brown-nose either! Maybe it’s not management that’s the problem, maybe it’s YOU!?

26 Anna September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I have another rule to add, particularly for anyone who works in a gender-biased office. As a woman that works in an office made up primarily of men, I always find myself with the most respect for the people who completely ignore gender. The older man who refers to any woman as “darlin’” or “dear” is of course the worst, but smaller things like pulling a chair out for me at a meeting, or opening a car door for me could damage my reputation as an able professional in the eyes of my clients. I have no doubt the men who work in an office full of women can come up with their own examples of gender inequality as well.

And so, my addition to these guidelines: The only reason gender should come up in the office is when selecting which restroom to use. Otherwise, it does not exist – what is chivalrous outside of the office can be detrimental within.

27 Kenneth Johnston September 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I think guiding principles are more important than etiquette it has been said and it bears repeating “managers do things right; leaders do the right thing.” In this I mean why worry about job survival/retention if the job costs you your “manliness”. A man of principle need not fear his enemies but bear his burdens honorably.

28 Joe September 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm

@Anna & Kathryn–Thanks to both of you for educating me (and all other readers) on some important behaviors in the office and preserving proper “boundaries” and thus avoid offending a co-worker down the line.
With that said, this leads me to another question (this may have been covered on AoM before, but am new to the site): How firm of a handshake should a man use with a woman (in a business environment)?
I was always taught that with another man the handshake should be firm to project confidence, but with a woman, the lightest of touch to project refinement. Right? Wrong? Hopelessly out of date?

29 Dianna September 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Hi Joe,

I always appreciate it when a man uses ‘nearly’ the same handshake with me that he would with a fellow male employee. I detest the limp, mamby, pamby, oh I’ll just grasp the front of her fingers type of handshake. To me it says “I don’t really accept you as a real co-worker”.

A brief, firm grasp of the hand and then moving on gets the most points in my book.

Maybe its because I’m older (47), but I don’t mind a male co-worker holding an elevator for me or even pouring me a glass of water out of the water pitcher if he’s getting one for himself. That just seems like good manners, not pandering to me as a female.

I enjoy a bit of robust debate, but I admit to having problems putting arguments aside when they become personal attacks.

This was a good article, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the comparison between social and work manners made. Good work!

30 Joe September 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

@Dianna–Thanks for providing an answer. I sensed what I was taught no longer applies.
The question of a man shaking a woman’s hand is currently being addressed in the AoM forum with some interesting perspectives on the topic. I somehow missed it and I apologize to all of you for not checking more thoroughly first!

31 John September 30, 2011 at 1:31 am

Just a thought. It is okay to be “work-friends.” At my last job i was very close to my direct manager, while at work. However, outside of work I would greet him and then pass on. Never rude to him outside of the office, but our “friendship” was only at work. This concept also works well if you find yourself in a position of authority over your “work-friend”. If you are in a position of authority and its a well known fact that you are not friends outside of work, simply just colleagues then it is not a problem to have to ask them do something or to fire them if it is necessity.

32 Jerry September 30, 2011 at 5:40 am

Smoke breaks, the poor mans “golf meeting”. Don’t abuse them, leaving others to cover and take messages for 30 minutes every 90 minutes. Realize that that comments made to fellow smokers/in front of other smokers are how a lot of rumors get started.

33 Jerry September 30, 2011 at 5:49 am

Oh, and don’t be naive about those “whistleblower hotlines”. They are damage control, pure and simple. Complaints are usually shunted to the local HR dept and can be kept from legal discovery (“quality control”). Better to simply go through channels, chain of command and document everything. The private business world is now usually as political as a gov’t bureaucracy.

34 Jeff September 30, 2011 at 8:27 am

Re Jeffrey #15:
I too am a teacher. I worked for 20 years in the same building with essentially the same coworkers, and it was difficult for me to let go when I moved on to another district. For the first year, I kept in regular contact with former co-teachers, but I realized later the emails were largely initiated by me. After the first year of being gone, I went back to visit on the old school’s last day. Boy, was it awkward. Although I enjoyed seeing my former colleagues, it was apparent that both they and I had moved on. I have never been back since. I do keep in touch with some of them, but only on rare occasions. A Christmas card or maybe an email on a birthday is enough.
I realize now that those relationships were work-related only. That is fine, but it took awhile for this to sink in.

35 PK September 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm

You can’t police your co-workers. If you a “problem-child” doing something wrong, but not illegal (and they fully know it), trying to force them back into line yourself or being the office tattletale will just complicate your life. It isn’t worth it. Besides, your boss is not as clueless as you may think. Usually, the problem child will take enough rope and hang themsleves; usually these types of petty things solve themselves over time.

36 steve September 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I am an engineer who has been working in the consumer electronics industry for 25 years, and I would like to make a point about “respect the chain of command.” I have worked in both companies that rigorously enforce the chain of command and companies that don’t. I agree that following this rule is best for your personal career assuming you want to be in management.

However, those companies that rigorously enforce the chain of command (at least in the tech field, I can’t speak of other fields) tend to do poorly in the race to product. What happens in those that don’t enforce it is that some engineer will write a paper outlining what he thinks is a fantastic new idea. His manager dismisses it. Pissed off, the engineer shops his idea around to other managers hoping to get a sponsor pissing of his boss. If he finds one, he changes groups. If his idea is succesful, chances are good he has made a life long enemy since his old manager becomes the guy that passed up that good idea. What happens is that these engineers tend to be passed over for management but may gain a reputation as a guru or even a technical super-star depending on how prolific they are.

37 Kevin September 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I would have to disagree with the last “don’t” but only for my particular situation. I worked at a company that was fairly small and had regular “Beer O’ Clock” time at the end of work on Fridays. I was the beer connoisseur/geek and used these times as regular beer tastings with my coworkers (a few of which became good outside-of-work friends) such that we could all pitch in on a case or two of something interesting/different. It became a regular thing that I oftentimes coordinated. When I left the company, I still went back for most of the beer o’clocks and things were cool, and I was far from lame for bringing beer to the office.

If you can swing it, having everyone take off work a half hour early every Friday to have a drink in the office is a great team-building exercise. Bring fancy sodas for the teetotalers so they can participate too.

38 JeffC September 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Thanks, guys, this is a good general primer, which recognizes that the culture of a specific work environment may have its own peculiar wrinkles.

Kerry Posted:

Passing the buck to a female when a female co-worker has a fashion malfunction is much better than ignoring the problem. When it’s a male co-worker, I have found that I can put a quick text on my cell phone screen that points out the problem and pass it to the person. This avoids a lot of embarrassment.</blockquote
You seem to believe that "passing the buck" means something like "telling other people things discreetly." It actually means to blame others for your shortcomings, or to let responsibility that naturally would fall on you to “pass on” to others, either actively or through inaction: to let a problem you should solve become “someone else’s problem.”

@ The Dutch Dastard: the degree to which you become “fiends” with the members of a team of workers you are leading is the degree to which they lose respect for your position and leadership. It may seem like rapport at the moment, but it’s asking for trouble, and also a very common mistake among young people who have been put in a leadership position for the first time. We older men all have a story to tell here.

39 JeffC September 30, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Opps, failed to close my tag. Sorry for any confusion.

40 Harold Crews October 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

Anna, I’m going to have to disagree with you. The simple courtesies of having a chair pulled out for you or a man opening a door for you may in your eyes be a clear cut case of being diminished but I assure you it is not so simple. Depending on those present denying or rebuffing a male co-worker the opportunity to show either common courtesy in order to protect your own status may very well cause the male’s status to be diminished in the eyes of others present depending upon their expectations. Personally I can’t see the connection between having someone else open a door for you meaning that you are unable to perform your job. Granted there are a great many fools in the world but who in can reasonably believe that because someone else opens a door for you means that you can’t open a door much less do your job?

41 Paul October 3, 2011 at 10:49 am

I really enjoyed Joe’s post about being outnumbered by women in the workplace. As a young professional, I’ve experienced all of what he posted (including an executive woman inviting me to spend a weekend with her at her condo). I would love to see an article about how to deal with women in the workplace.

42 Justin October 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm

All really good advice that I try to stick to myself. It’s amazing how much things have changed and vary from place to place however. Four years ago I was working at a law firm as a simple filerunner and spent the first month referring to all the attorneys formally by title and last name. I stopped doing this though because everyone would laugh at me and think it was funny I was being so formal.

That kind of blew me away as this was one of the largest law firms in the state with a relatively strict dress code and everything. Very funny how things vary from place to place.

43 Edward October 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I do agree with most of what was said in this blog with regard to being a gentleman in the office. Especially the part where one has to always dress with respect. It creates a big impact on the wearer as well as the very positive impression it gives to those who see him.

44 Sebastian October 5, 2011 at 4:44 am

Hi Kate and Brett,

well first of all thank you for this genious website. I am a big fan and it helped and helps me alot to find a different point of view on things. I also like the anthropologistic approach.

But this article is not so fine for me. On one hand many points are obvious for me like the respect, polite and “wash – yourself” thing. Maybe it is more obvious to me because i am working at a japanese company in Germany. Also I do not see the difference between social and business ettiquete in statements like the elevator thing, secrets (integrity) or replacing the last thing of something.

But I do not agree to following: “This is also why your boss can call you by your first name, but you shouldn’t reciprocate, unless he or she has specifically invited you to drop the Mr. or Mrs.”

When he calls me by my first name I have the permission to do the same. No matter what. ut there it comes to detail and situation. I have one boss who calls me by my first name in casual and four eye situations. I do the same. When it is formal he calls me by my last name. So I do the same.

I think in “office” working knowledge and expertise is quite obvious. A good “office” worker should have a feeling about the people around him and high social skills.


45 Mark October 5, 2011 at 7:00 am

Cleanliness and dress!!! The most important things for us. We’ve had a couple of freelance staff who we’ve never used again due to their bodily odour and shoddy appearance. There’s no excuse anymore for men not to at least make an attempt to scrub up.

46 Justin October 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm

@JeffC. I think Kerry was using your latter definition of “passing the buck” – ” to let responsibility that naturally would fall on you to “pass on” to others, either actively or through inaction: to let a problem you should solve become “someone else’s problem.” In his example, a man is the boss and it would be his responsibility to address a wardrobe problem, however because the employee is a woman, Kerry believes it appropriate in this instance to pass the buck to another woman to address the situation.

I just want to echo the hygiene sentiments- nothing worse that working with someone whose breath makes you ill. The hygiene pendulum can swing too far the other way, though. My rule addition is no cologne/perfume baths. I shouldn’t be able to smell you from more than 5 feet away.

47 Curtis October 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I am a big fan of this article! Well written, and excellent to use for reference on office etiquette. I try to act as close to this outline as possible, however in my place of employment, it can be hard at times to say the least. My situation is unique, in that I work for my company’s corporate office but am stationed in a local terminal (freight industry). Since I am the only one from this department, no one at my location is over me or under me, which makes it easy to stay out of the gossip circle, and common complaints about certain supervisors or managers. It is frustrating however, as I see so much that needs to change, but don’t really have a place to say anything about it, since it doesn’t directly effect me or my job. I guess the bottom line is, as long as I am acting with integrity, it doesn’t matter how my co-workers act, even when the majority of them have no professionalism, respect, or understanding of even what I am doing there in the first place!! The joys of working on a freight dock!!

48 Joe October 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Like I already posted above, this was an excellent article with alot of helpful hints for acting in a professional and dignified manner. But I didn’t want to see this article land in the AoM Trunk, before mentioning how pleasantly surprised I was by so many of the other posts regarding this article. In an age when the majority of people feel that good manners and being a gentleman are a thing of the past, never to return, and not a timely topic, really need to see this article and the posts that go along with it. The variety of scenarios and the interest of women in this topic were also an eyebrow raiser. Until now, I neither took notice nor paid attention to just how many truly good men that are out there working everyday, who DO give alot of thought and attention to acting with integrity day in and day out on the job. Until now, I never thought about just how hard of a task that really is!

49 Mike October 18, 2011 at 8:27 am

These are all pretty on point. George P.H. brings up an important point too, about getting too close to your co-workers. This becomes an issue every time someone gets promoted. Suddenly your friends are your subordinates and end up undermining your authority. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. After being promoted, I still tried to be friends with all of my subordinates and just ended up getting thrown under the bus constantly. Do yourself a favor and cut ties, making them understand that you are now their boss and not their friend.

50 Barry October 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

All excellent points. I have found that in a position of leadership, people will work for you because they have to. However, people will work with you because they want to. A line must be drawn between a supervisor and those one supervises. That line does not need to be carved with a dull blade into the soul of the employee. People are more productive than required when they respect their leader and not fearful of the leader. We have all worked in situations where the fear of mistakes actually produces more mistakes. How wonderful it is to have employees that work cheerfully because they are part of your team. But then again what do I know.

51 Jennifer October 20, 2011 at 8:47 pm

In response to Harold. You’re right in that it would be rude to deny you the right to show common courtesy. However we’re not talking about courtesy here, but chivalry. The basic premise behind chivalry is that women need assistance in whatever they’re doing wherever they go. Chivalry and gallantry were born in a time when women were not considered autonomous, independent beings. You may think you’re being polite and respectful when you pull out her chair in the boadroom or stand up at the table during dinner but it implies that you are not equals. Furthermore, if she doesn’t want to be treated in that way then she is deemed ungrateful. This would be an issue of courtesy if women were permitted by society to pull chairs out for men or pay for the first date (or even ask for the first date). I know many men are aware of these points but I feel that this side of the debate is lost in this particular arena. I have respect for those who treat me with courtesy but allow me to reciprocate in the same manner.

“So for example, while in a social situation you would want to stand when a woman entered the room, at work you should rise from your desk when receiving visitors of either sex, and you shouldn’t stand up every time a female secretary or assistant walks in and out of your office.”
There is a lack of logic to this sentence. If you are to rise from your desk to any visitor regardless of sex then why wouldn’t you rise to your female or male secretary? I find the differentiation between the social sphere and the workplace to be puzzling. If both are based on systems of courtesy and respect then why does gender play a role in one of them? If being chivalrous is deemed inappropriate for the workplace then why is this logic not applied to the social sphere? It’s inappropriate for a reason and I think this needs to be applied to all settings of human interaction.

52 Patrick October 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I agree with Jennifer. Thisa article has some pretty dated advice. I stopped reading when it got to the part about when to rise when a woman enters the room in work vs. social settings. What’s the difference? I think another facet of our new information age is that such habits are dying out, and hopefully being replaced by more universal signs of respect. Showing respect for a man is the same as showing respect for a woman. End of discussion.

53 David March 20, 2013 at 11:37 am

You can win a girl in your office if you’ll just follow these styles, plus of course with a little self confidence.

54 Paul R May 4, 2013 at 11:36 am

Great article. I would make one exception to the “don’t visit your old workplace rule”, however. In an office environment, that is perfectly acceptable and actually expected by most firms, typically because these places are not open to the public, and when you stop working there, you become a member of the “public”. The exception I speak of is for the retail worker. Most retail businesses with storefronts are open to the public, and you may want to shop in the business if it sells products you need/want to use (And I imagine it most likely does, as why would one work somewhere that has no products that interest them?) Visiting your old place of employment can never hurt in this instance, your old coworkers are usually pretty pleased to see you, your old boss will definitely appreciate your contribution to his profits, and shopping there may make your old employer more inclined to speak favorably of you when future potential employers call for a reference. I would just say do not make yourself a nuisance, and take care of your business in a timely manner that does not distract your former co-workers from their work. A little friendly association is ok, especially if you were “work-buddies” with any of the folks you worked with, but keep in mind the business needs of the company, and as always, be courteous and polite

55 bobo May 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Ok, I’m guilty of coming back to an old office. I didn’t know that this could be so bad. No problem just ditching them at this stage.

I do have one question. What about meeting friends that still work at your old place outside of work? Like social functions (unrelated to the company) or personal get-togethers?

56 bobo May 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I’d like to add as a “Don’t”, don’t get into personal relationships with members of the opposite sex (or same if you’re not straight). Just don’t. You’ll mess things up in the long-run.

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