Workplace Etiquette

“Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whether you work for a small non-profit organization, a giant multi-national corporation, or something in-between, chances are you spend many hours a day in close proximity to other people. Too often, simple misunderstandings among co-workers lead to workplace tension. On the comics page, Dilbert’s cubicle suffering provides us with a shared laugh. Unfortunately, in the real world these stresses decrease both business productivity and employee job satisfaction. In my classes and lectures people often ask me about workplace etiquette as a solution to employee stress. In the spirit of office harmony I offer you all, the boss, the manager, and the staff members, these simple sensory reminders of how to get along in the workplace.


1. Monitor the volume of your conversations. Be sensitive to how loudly you may be speaking. Do you notice that people down the hall comment on your conversations? That might indicate your voice is too loud. Consider closing your office door and lowering your voice whenever speaking directly to a person or on the telephone.

2. Keep personal telephone conversations and emails brief and at a minimum. Be ever mindful that others are nearby and that this is a place of business. Do not use the company telephone, fax, or email, for any inappropriate and personal matters.

3. In some workplaces, privacy is difficult to find. If you overhear a private conversation, practice selective hearing. Avoid the urge to be “helpful” in areas best left to the other person to handle on their own. Your best bet for being treated as a professional at work is to keep all workplace conversations professional.

4. Sharing professional information is wonderful, gossiping is not. Only discuss personnel matters directly with specific individuals, superiors, and management.  NOTE: For an informational sheet on “Gossip” please email us at and we will send it to you.


5. Be sensitive to scents and smells surrounding you. Save cologne and perfume for social occasions and ask if fresh flowers and potpourri bother co-workers before installing them in your space.

6. When eating at your desk or in shared areas, avoid foods with strong smells and aromas that will travel throughout the office. As great as French fries, Chinese food, and Indian food are, smelling them together in the same room and office can become unpleasant. Dispose of empty food containers and other items where they won’t contribute negatively to the office atmosphere.


7. Keep your personal workspace clean and neat at all times. Generally, less is better when it comes to office and cubicle decor. Use discretion when displaying personal items such as family photos and mementos so as not to overdo, clutter, and obstruct your work area.

8. Use shared areas with respect and courtesy. Workplace kitchens can be the biggest source of co-worker tension. If you expect everyone you work with to cleanup after themselves, model that behavior yourself. Wash and return all kitchen items to their proper place, clean spills, and wipe countertops and tables as needed. Help maintain supplies as needed. When leaving food items in a shared refrigerator, mark all items with your name and date. Remove all items at the end of your work week and toss or recycle empty containers.

9. Restrooms run a close second to kitchens as annoyance spots. After use, wipe the countertop and sink of any spilled water or soap. Be sure the toilet is clean for the next user. Notify the proper attendant if supplies are low or out, and of any plumbing problems.

10. Maintain all shared items in “like new” condition and return borrowed supplies. Leave the photocopier in working condition and be sure to take back that borrowed stapler with at least a few staples left inside. If a machine stalls or jams, take time to undo the jam or to alert the proper person to attend to it. We all expect and want to be able to use items and equipment when needed.

QUESTION: What other items do you have to add to this list? Do let us hear from you by locating this article at You may also reach us at If you enjoyed this article and want more, subscribe to our “Etiquette Tip of the Month” newsletter—at no charge—filled with great monthly tips on all sorts of topics from international business and social etiquette and protocol to everyday life subjects. It will be great to have you as a member of our happy family of subscribers at

Happy Practicing!

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