In an evolving office environment that is growing ever more casual, there may be some behaviors that you don’t realize are unprofessional, but sadly are. It doesn’t matter if your office has a keg in the kitchenette and a dart board in the conference room, the same rules apply when it comes to workplace conduct. While you definitely don’t need to wear a tailored blazer anymore to be considered professional and competent (thank gawddd), how we comport ourselves matters more than ever … even if your job is cool with you coasting down the halls on a hover board.
You’ve probably already heard of the obvious things to avoid while at work, such as dating coworkers, stealing office supplies, bringing up your bad hangover, and openly cruising Facebook when there are deadlines looming. These are no-brainers, and fairly easy (with a little willpower) to avoid. However, some signals of unprofessional behavior are much more subtle. There may even be a few pesky habits that you picked up in school that seem harmless, but may make you appear like a less-than-stellar employee. In some offices the line that separates what’s OK from what’s unprofessional is mighty fine. Being aware of these pitfalls can help you still look your best even when you’re totally overwhelmed and need at least five more cups of coffee to keep your eyes open. To clear up any confusion over what is and isn’t profesh, check out this handy list of little (seemingly innocuous) behaviors to watch out for:
1. Making A Comment Concerning A Coworker’s Looks Or Physical Appearance
Whether it is positive or negative doesn’t matter; commenting on a coworker’s personal appearance can put them in a difficult position. Whether it is simply “I love your dress” or “Man, those spin classes are sure paying off!” you never know what may make them feel uncomfortable. Try to stick to work-related matters when in the office and reserve those comments (if you must make them) for a relaxed happy hour hangout.
2. Asking Personal Questions
Forming relationships with colleagues is a great way to network, but not everyone is cool with discussing their personal life. Floating an open-ended congenial question like “How was your weekend?” on Monday morning is totally fine. Gauge how comfortable they are with sharing personal details before putting your them on the spot with any questions that may make them feel uncomfortable or attacked. Another helpful hint: politics and religion, also good topics to avoid.
It’s easy to develop a crush on a coworker — you’re spending eight or more hours a day with them! No matter how hot the new person on your team is, blatantly flirting is big a no-no. Supervisors will see an office romance as a distraction from the work at hand (no matter how “productive” that late night spreadsheet date was). While you guys might be totally thrilled with your Sam and Diane vibe, you never know if your playful interactions may be making your coworkers feel awkward. Office gossip spreads faster than wildfire, and if something does transpire between you and your crush (like, say, making out in the copy room), everyone will know by Monday.
4. Being On Your Phone All The Time
These days our attention is being pulled in a million different directions at once. You may be perfectly capable of updating your LinkedIn profile while wishing someone “happy birthday” on Facebook, but it may come off as rude if someone is trying to get your attention. Putting the phone away during a meeting (even a reeeeally boring one) will show your coworkers that they have your full attention, and it will be appreciated.
5. Sharing Extremely Personal Stories
Need to take a personal day to nurse a bad break-up or painful period cramps? You can be candid with your supervisor, but the whole office doesn’t need to know. It is totally normal to get upset or be emotional in the office, but quietly breathing through it is much more professional than a mass email detailing your feelings. Save hashing out the drama for the right situation — like a mimosa-fueled brunch with friends.
6. Getting Up Close And Personal
With the rise of open-plan offices, people are dealing with less and less privacy at work. Establishing and respecting personal boundaries is important, even if (especially if) you and your coworker’s computers are basically right on top of each other. When it comes to touching, be it a harmless pat on the back, you never know how people will react. Unless your office buddy has given you consent to give them a fist bump every morning, keep your hands to yourself.
7. Posting Things On Social Media That You Wouldn’t Want Your Boss To See
Many gigs these days list having an active social media presence as part of the job requirement. However, if you are still using one account for everything, you may be setting yourself up for a Snapchat snafu. Nothing is more awkward than calling out sick one day only for a colleague to check your ‘gram and see a picture a friend posted of you partying from the night before … ugh. Having a private account for friends and a public one for networking can help avoid any future mishaps — unless, of course, your job is to party.
8. Making Too Many Excuses
Following through on commitments is important to maintaining an image of professionalism, but life has a way of messing up the most organized schedules. Managers will understand if bad traffic or sleeping through an alarm makes you a few minutes late to work every now and then, but making too many excuses may give them the impression that you are slacking off. Putting blame onto other people or begging ignorance can be just as bad, so it’s best to own up to mistakes. Take responsibility for your actions and you will seem ten times more mature.
9. The Big Eye Roll
We have all sat through one of those impossibly boring meetings that lasts forever, where all you want to do is scream “This is the worst!” Rolling your eyes at your office buddy across the room as a sign of solidarity may be tempting, but you never know who else might pick up on these little signals. A supervisor may read the negative body language as disengagement or disagreement, so it’s best to squash any audible sighs, yawns, and frustrated eye rolls. If you have an opinion about how things are being handled it is best to act as a team player in front of coworkers, and make an appointment to speak privately with your supervisor.
10. Gossiping About Coworkers
Hearing a juicy piece of office gossip can be the best part of an otherwise dull workday, but spreading the news can have unintended consequences. To cultivate a professional image you want to contribute to a healthy, enjoyable workplace and be seen as a team player. Gossiping can come off as petty and lead to problematic office politics. Even if you have the juiciest info, it’s best to keep it to yourself so that it doesn’t come back to bite you. If you get a rep for talking about people behind their backs, colleagues may no longer see you as trustworthy or a good collaborator. You know what they say: “If you can’t say anything nice …”.
11. Using Pet Names Or Nicknames
People use pet names as a sign of affection, but in worst case scenarios they can come off as belittling. When calling a coworker something other than their name, make sure that it doesn’t come off as condescending or too familiar. Obviously “Sweetie” “honey” and “cutie” are off-limits. Even a flattering nickname can get tiring after a while. Just ask the poor soul who looked up one thing on Wikipedia their first day, only to be known as “the professor” for the rest of their office career.