10 unspoken workplace rules that everyone should follow

Workplace practices that you won’t hear from your HR

Work life

PHOTO: Maksim Kostenko/ Ingimage

As much as we get upset over a tyrannical boss or a teammate who constantly misses his deadlines, few things perplex us like a colleague who breaks an unspoken rule of office life, like taking someone else’s lunch from the fridge. Every workplace has a set of unofficial do’s and don’ts, and unless you’re exceptionally intuitive, you’re going to commit one of them without knowing that everyone’s going “what…the…heck…” behind your back.

We’re not saying this to scare you, but to prepare you. While none of these things are major offenses, committing enough of them may get under people’s skin. You don’t want to give your boss the impression that you’re “blur” because you take loud personal calls or always sit in his favourite chair.

Click through to see the workplace rules no HR person will ever tell you about.

1. If you’re bringing “fragrant” food into the office, eat it somewhere else
…preferably outside or in the canteen, where you’re undoubtedly surrounded by strange smells anyway. Don’t ever microwave kimchi, freeze-dried fish, or old cabbage. While people might not complain to your face, they’ll definitely make comments within your hearing – and nothing ruins our appetite like a whole room full of people asking if something’s rotting.

2. Everyone has unofficially assigned seats at the meeting table
The office meeting room ain’t a free-for-all – and this shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that families have “set” seats at a table, that children sit in the same seat of the car every time, and that students tend to sit at the same desks regardless of whether or not they were assigned. Does your manager have a favourite chair? Then you keep away from it, even if you have to stand or sit on the floor. Is your seat a little bit too far away from the screen? Then upgrade your spectacles.  Are you jealous that your colleagues have claimed the couch, while you’re stuck on a rickety wooden chair?

Okay, maybe we’re being a little dramatic, but so will your boss when you claim his favourite armchair as your own.

3. Avoid annoying ringtones
If you want to set “Wrecking Ball” as your ringtone, by all means, go ahead. But make sure you put it on silent or vibrate, especially if you tend to leave your phone behind during meetings or trips to the bathroom. It’s not easy for everyone else to stay focused when Miley’s voice keeps taking us out of the moment.

4. Refill the water cooler
Again, common courtesy. Your colleagues aren’t your servants. Treat the office pantry like you would treat your own kitchen. If you emptied a pitcher at home, you would refill it. So if you empty the coffee maker or the water cooler, then take just a couple of minutes to replenish it for the next person.

5. Do not take a vacation within the first three months of starting work
Unless you bought plane tickets before starting your new job, there’s no excuse to take a vacation when you’ve barely settled in. People will think you’re lazy. Show that you like the job enough, and that you’re tenacious enough, to stick out the learning curve.

6. Instant message in email your colleagues, don’t just hover around their desk all day
As nostalgic as you might feel for the good old days of face-to-face communication, the reality of modern workplaces dictates that you instant message or email someone instead of approaching them a dozen times an hour. People want to multi-task or to reply at their leisure. Hovering around their desk feels intrusive and naggy. If you have something urgent to settle, then of course you should make an exception, but do it too often and you’ll start looking entirely too free (or too old-school).

7. Do not conduct serious conversations in the toilet
We can’t count the number of times that we’ve heard people practically initiate meetings while washing their hands in the sink. Not only is this awkward for the people trying to drop a deuce, but your poor colleague will feel ambushed when you start talking to her about a client meeting while she’s freshening up. Start serious conversations when people are in the right mindset to talk, not when their bladder is about to burst.

8. If you go on vacation overseas, bring back snacks
If your colleagues are going to work overtime just to cover you while you’re scuba diving in Thailand, than you might as well treat them to some quality snacks. It doesn’t have to be extravagant – even Tokyo Banana from the Narita Airport or basic pineapple tarts from Taiwan would suffice. It’s more of a gesture than anything – but make sure that you place the snacks on the snack table, not at your desk, to save them the awkwardness of interrupting you every time they want to eat.

9. Do not play music out loud unless you have your own office
You’d think this would be common sense, and yet without fail, we hear people rocking out to One Direction or emo Chinese ballads in their cubicles. Not all jobs are suitable for music. Some people need to focus or to be on the phone. So for the sake of everyone around you, invest in a pair of headphones. You’ll enjoy better sound quality and will be spared death glares from your coworkers.

10. Don’t hog the printer or the photocopy machine
Dozens of people share the same machine, so be considerate. If you have a huge batch of documents to photocopy or print, do it in batches so that people who are rushed for time can have a chance to print their one or two sheets.  Treat the printer like you would the water cooler. Replenish the paper and the ink cartridges. And if you’re going to use it for personal things, like printing vacation photos or flyers, at least be discreet – don’t print all those documents in the middle of the day when people are waiting to print things actually related to their work. 

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