How important is workplace etiquette?

Consider this: have you ever heard the saying that familiarity grows contempt? It’s safe to say this adage is especially true in the workplace, where the average employee spends at least 40 hours a week in the office. This is why workplace etiquette is important.

So much time with the same people day in and day out can eventually lead to tension between colleagues, which ultimately affects morale in the workplace and can lead to lower productivity. More importantly, the tension between co-workers can also drive employees to leave a company altogether due to escalating stress.

More than ever in today’s workplace, it’s essential to have etiquette rules in place that create healthy boundaries between employees. Such boundaries allow working relationships to flourish and thrive. They also create a positive workspace, with minimal stress in the office, which can help your employees feel an increased sense of job satisfaction, thus boosting retention rates at your company.

Below, discover 5 etiquette rules you can begin implementing in your workplace today.

1. Respect personal spaces

People are very protective of their personal space, whether they work in a private office, a cubicle, or an open space. There should be a few general rules in place regardless of the set-up of your workplace.

For one, employees should never take items from another person’s workspace without their permission. Second, employees should never go through another person’s paperwork, emails, or personal belongings—even if those things are left out on the desk. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often co-workers invade each other’s privacy in this manner.

In that same vein, employees should be expected to keep their workspace neat. A desk cluttered with piles of paper, coffee cups, and more will not only distract the culprit in question but can be a source of annoyance for his or her neighbours.

Another distraction can be the strong smell of food for those who take their lunch at their desk. There should be a designated place in the office for lunch, so that employees aren’t distracted by loud chewing, slurping, etc.

2. Respect shared spaces

Most, if not all, office spaces have shared lounges. Such lounges will include a shared fridge, a shared microwave, a shared toaster, and so on.

Put rules in place with a zero-tolerance policy on lunch theft (you’d be surprised how common it is for one employee to steal another’s lunch).

Additionally, regularly reinforce the importance of cleaning up any messes/spills in the lounges and leaving the space as one found it so that everyone can continue to enjoy their break.

This also applies to other areas too: if the copier runs out of paper after you use it, refill it. If the stapler runs out of staples, refill it. If you’re the last to use the coffee pot and have emptied it, refill it. These behaviours show respect for your fellow employees and also show that you value their time.

3. Give feedback mindfully

When giving feedback to an employee, do it in the appropriate arena. The general rule is to praise in public and criticise in private.

Even when offering criticism, though, it’s much more effective to do so in a constructive manner. You might use the sandwich technique, for instance, which pads criticism on either side with something constructive.

An example: “John, thanks for hosting yesterday’s meeting. It was very productive. One way we can build upon that productivity in the future is by distributing agendas before the meeting. This way, we don’t digress too much from the meeting’s objective and people are more prepared to contribute to the discussion. That said, you’re doing very well so far with following up on the action items for each meeting.”

Teaching the sandwich method to your employees is a great way to improve their communication skills and help them interact with each other more kindly and effectively.

4. Minimise phone calls

If employees have an office space with a door, it should be a general rule that they close the door when taking phone calls. This should especially be the case when taking personal calls (though such calls should only be taken during break times).

Listening to someone’s conversation can be extremely distracting for other workers. It’s difficult to focus on your work while you’re hearing one side of a conversation.

To keep productivity at its best, be sure to implement a rule that requires employees to take personal phone calls only on their breaks and in an area that doesn’t disturb others such as in a lounge or outside the office.

5. Honor differences

In this day and age, there’s more diversity in the workplace than ever. There’s a very good chance that in your workplace, there are people of different cultures, races, faiths, abilities, and so on. As a result, it’s essential to stress the importance to your employees of respecting everyone’s differences.

This is a great opportunity to have a lunch-and-learn seminar about diversity in the workplace, discrimination, and bias – as well as ways employees,  can be more mindful of respecting the diversity around them and practising basic etiquette principles.

One of the easiest ways to regulate this is by making your workplace a foul-language-free zone. This doesn’t just apply to profanity, but also to demeaning phrases, offensive remarks, or politically incorrect jokes that might upset a good portion of employees.

Keep the workplace professional by having a zero-tolerance policy on this type of language. Doing so will allow your workplace to feel more inclusive and respectful.

The workplace doesn’t have to be an environment that your employees dread. Using the etiquette rules above, you can begin creating a space where people feel validated, respected, and protected.

With healthy boundaries in place and etiquette principles honoured, people can flourish and thrive, which makes for a happier and healthier workplace all around.

Developing constructive and effective behaviours among team members, as well as helping with better communication, are just some of the areas we help clients with all the time. You can learn more about our services and programs here.

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Ros Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and leadership coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, emotional intelligence, organisational behaviour, employee engagement, strategic direction and management.
Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) and a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT). She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.