02 July 2013

Professionalism at the Workplace

I work in Corporate America.  This was a deliberate choice, after years as a self-employed political and public relations consultant.  My income was dependant on relationships and victorious elections. And after a while, I'd had enough of the uncertainty.

So I bet on Corporate America, and its fine, though not my ultimate goal in life. Office culture is quite different than being one's own boss, and I've made a few observations along the way that I thought I'd share.  All of the examples are true.  And its a bit long, fair warning!



  • If You Don't Do Anything Else: Just ask yourself - if this was a job interview, would you...?  If the answer is "No way" then don't do it. Every day is an interview.
  • Do - Decorate Your Workspace:  When moving into a new space, take time to personalize it.  This shows that you intend to stay awhile, offers something for your new peers to comment on as you forge new relationships, and hopefully demonstrates that you have good judgment.  
  • Don't - Decorate Too Much:  If you have 300 photos of your family, your boyfriend, your favorite celebrity, your pets, your vacations tacked up on every square inch of space, it will look messy.  It will make people ask themselves how much time you spend focused on work, or if you have problems with work-life balance.  
  • Don't - Clutter Up Your Space:  This is also not the place to house your toy collection, your sports memorabilia, or your goldfish. Clutter makes your space look dirty or disorganized, which may lead to unfortunate inferences about your character.  Sorry, its true. True story: I once had a coworker whose fish died. He flushed the fish but left the water...for weeks!  Don't be Fetid Fish Water Guy.
  • You Will Be Overheard:  If you are in a cubicle farm, this can be challenging, but try use a stairwell, an empty conference room, or go to your car for personal calls. 
    • In an argument?  Your coworkers and boss hear you being bitchy, domineering, condescending, and rude to someone you supposedly care about.  And the next time I'm putting a project team together, I'll remember the way you told your wife that you don't care about her opinion. And when I'm looking to appoint a team leader, I'll remember the way you snarled at your mechanic.  And so on.
    • Closed doors do not mean its ok to shout. And yes, we can hear your music played over your computer speakers and yes, its annoying. The same applies to loud eating, and speakerphone conference calls taken at your desk.  
  • Crack is Whack:  How you dress on your own time is none of my business. But at work, no one wants to see your underwear.  I don't want to be eating lunch and see your ass crack. It is possible to dress in flattering, cute clothes (even for the amply busted!), without showing so much cleavage that people are afraid that looking at you will make it seem like they are leering.   And as your boss, I also don't want to be the one who has to tell you to keep your crack to yourself.


  • Gossiping-as-bonding is an easy trap to fall into.  If you confide your negative opinion of coworkers, I don't feel like we have grown closer, even if I secretly agree with you. Instead, I wonder what horrible things you say about me, and you've shown me not to trust you. 
Be Courteous.    
  • Sometimes delicious food is stinky. Don't stench bomb the shared kitchen with your microwaved fish.  Don't eat it at your desk.  Keep it to yourself. At home.
  • Give people your full attention.  Don't chat, email, check your phone, shuffle through papers during the conversation. If your task can't wait, be honest and then get back to them promptly when you can.  But otherwise, they deserve to be treated like they are important - because they are.

  • Be courageous.  One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten was to actually consider the criticism I am given.  Even if I ultimately end up discarding it, its worthwhile to think about. As an example, I run meetings rather strictly, because I value people's time. But sometimes that makes people feel like they didn't have the opportunity to discuss things well. So I learned to give ample opportunity to speak up before moving on.

To Male Supervisors:
We get it, you like [insert sport here]. But its pretty shitty to invite every male on the team to watch the game at the bar after work.  You've just lost all credibility that you can be objective about your friends employees.  

To Female Supervisors:
Women get away with a lot more in the realm of sexual harassment than we should. Talking about how sexy an athlete is, flirting, hugging, etc. is open to completely different interpretation if it were done by a man.  

To whit: I once overheard a woman inviting three male subordinates to join her for hot yoga. Over the weekend. With drinks to follow. She's lucky no one complained.  Don't be Creepy Hot Yoga Boss.



To All Supervisors:
  • Late hours happen.  Communicate the need as early as possible and ask for volunteers. It is as equally unfair to decide that the single guy should work late "because he doesn't have family to go home to" as it is to decide that the parent won't want to work late - when possible, let people decide for themselves how much time they can give.
  • Judge your employees on their merits. Don't deny a woman a raise or promotion because "Her husband has a good job, they don't need the money."  Don't promote a lesser candidate based on tenure alone. I could think of 1,000 examples.
  • Save your high school stories for outside of work, with non-employees.  That conversation you had about the good old days when you used to "play pranks" on people in school by shutting them in lockers, peeing on them in the shower, etc?  Tells me you are a bully, childish, and would be biased against concerns about inappropriate behavior  in the workplace.  

1 comment:

  1. Give people your full attention.

    I have been so guilty of this, until finally I realized how rude it was and decided to manage my time in a much more efficient way.

    I also know here in Guatemala how annoying it is to schedule a meeting with my counterpart, only to have him be doing a million things instead of actually being present at the meeting. Sure, he may be physically in the room, but his attention is miles away, haha

    Thanks for all these tips - they sure make sense :)

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