The (Ambiguous) Rules of Office Etiquette

14 Jun

A degree in communications & PR encompasses a pretty standard curriculum. You take courses in news writing, ethics, campaigns, etc. But in my first couple weeks here, I’ve found that there’s a gap in our education. There’s a realm of knowledge that would perhaps be just as practical as the standard courses themselves, and applicable to most any major for that matter.

What they don’t teach you in school: Office etiquette.

Office etiquette is tricky for an up-and-comer because the environment is so unfamiliar. And the main difficulty is that the rule book is largely unwritten. Ideals of corporate courtesy seem to vary from office to office, and it’s my understanding that they’ve even evolved considerably over the past couple years. Sure, teachers and parents touch on appropriate behavior, but in all honestly, my generation’s main reference to office culture is Hollywood. Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute are our role models, and hopefully we recognize the satire of The Office enough to use them as contradictory examples. Is Pam really our only virtuous role model of office etiquette? I fear for my peers who overlook the show’s subtly satirical nature. Our universities better instate a more qualified reference and fast.

My approach has been to tread lightly until I can pick up on the particular office culture. I’ve made a few realizations, most of which are largely unfounded.

Refrigerator Rules
I was told my first day that you never take anything from the fridge that you didn’t put in there yourself, which I’ve always assumed to be a standard rule. Most people insure this law of protection with a name label, which let’s you know who will be seeking revenge should you choose to partake. Some name labels even bare a warning—Karen’s food: Don’t eat this, I spit in it.

And what are the rules on comdiments? Real-life dilemma: I brought a salad for lunch one day and forgot to bring dressing. I stood there and wondered… is it imprudent to borrow a tablespoon of someone else’s vinaigrette versus eating a bowl of dry lettuce? Do you think Karen really spits in her salad dressing? Does it matter, how desperate am I? We didn’t cover this in my course on PR ethics. For fear that Karen has somehow found my blog, I will not reveal my actions. *Names have been changed for my own protection.

I’ve found that if you’re observant, however, some things are discernably communal. If someone sets a box of cookies on the counter—or if more that 50 percent of the office is eating the same popsicles—then it’s probably safe for me to assume it’s shared.

And always dispose of degradable food. I had blackberry jam that spoiled once, but I think I threw it out before anyone noticed. The fridge is no place for a chia pet.

Alcohol banter
Happy hour is a common, joking theme around the office, so I’ve started to join in. It seems to be a playful way people cope with stress. If someone asks where a co-worker has gone, another employee may joke that they stepped out for a cocktail, etc.

But my question pertains to those beers in the company fridge: If everyone around here is only joking, why are we so well-stocked? Are there office parties I don’t know about? I fear I’m on the outer-circle…

More unanswered questions
—Can you really never bring tuna fish for lunch, or is that just a myth?
—I know you’re always suppose to knock before entering a co-worker’s office, but we have glass offices with no doors. Should I still knock? On what?
—Everyone keeps telling me my legs look a mile long: Compliment? Or latent suggestion that perhaps tomorrow I should wear a longer skirt?

Lessons Learned: …..

Reflections: Wait, is The Office a satire or a reality show? Now I’m unsure.

*most of the content was largely exaggerated and not specifically applicable to my office.

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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


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