The Office Survival Guide: Dos and Donts

The Office Survival Guide: Dos and Dont's
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Every since The Office debut over seven years ago, it gave us the most honest and heartfelt look at life inside the ins and outs of office life. While I have to say the show is great at being realistic, it also leaves out the small details of what it’s really like to work a 9 to 5.

I recently returned to office life a couple of months ago and since then I think I have finally figured out a full-proof way to survive being an office worker. There are some things that should be common sense while other insights you learn as you go.

All in all, the main point is that you want to come across as dedicated and diligent as well as cordial. And your behavior both behind the desk and around the break room help build your credibility in the office as well.

This hub will not instantly make you Mary Richards but hopefully it will save you from being Michael Scott.

Basic Rules That Apply

The first few weeks of any venture of your life has the same type of feel. You feel excited and anxious but also need to feel validated by those around you. However, it would be to easy to completely give everything without thinking cautiously but in the best interest of you and your new environment you should not act without thinking. Here are some tips to live by.

Do Be Open, Don’t Tell Your Life Story- This should be common knowledge to everyone but for one reason or another some people don’t understand this concept. I understand people want not to come across as creepy or mysterious but at the same time I really don’t need to know everything about you. For instance, one woman I worked with was nice but she was too pushy in trying to get along with everyone. She went so far as to bring in her baby book of her son. Needless to say she was let go a short time later for work-related behavior but still this serves as an example of how not to get carried away and share anything. I think the best way to approach it is to think of your first day as the first date or first day on the team. It’s good to talk and share but it’s better to listen so you really know what you are doing.

Do Ask Questions, But Apply Common Sense- I am the type of person who learns visually and by doing things repetitively. But I do not always ask questions about everything unless I am unsure and the notes and resources I have do not match up. I learn quite quickly so my gauge for asking questions is different but the point is you should ask questions in order to get it right instead of holding your tongue and getting something wrong.

Do Get Comfortable, But Not Second Home Comfortable- If there’s anything that irks me it’s that people somehow think once they get to work they can act like they are at home. And by this I mean laying stuff around propping your feet up and making a mess. As the saying goes, your mom does not work here. And even if she did, she would not clean up after your mess.

Making Good Conversation

Another issue that everyone has in the office is usually what to talk about as well as how to talk about it. One way to solve that problem is not to talk at all but usually that does not do much but inspire others to question why you are so quite. So in order to be a part of the conversation without taking it over, here are a few tips to help you.

Contribute, Don’t Dominate- If I am in the break room I find it easy to participate in a good lunchtime conversation. But I almost never jump in and dominate the conversation because it is not only in poor taste but selfish. If you have something to add you should say it and then wait for a response, do not hijack a conversation.

Religion and Politics Are Always No-Nos- I do not care if you believe or are certain about someone else’s stance on these two topics, it is absolutely career suicide to bring this topic up or to stir another’s views. One place where I have worked, people in supervisory positions absolutely could not talk about religious or political affairs. I think this should apply to every worker mainly because this topics always causes too many problems and unnecessarily creates tensions.

Every Topic Doesn’t Suit Your Life- Working in an office that has a certain demographic of people like parents, I realize that there is no way I can contribute to people talking about children. Sure, I know some children but I cannot talk about parenthood in the same way that people who have experienced it have. I know this irks some people who cannot fully contribute but really it’s a great way to learn about others.

You Are Not At Home- I talk a certain way at home that I do not use in public. My grammar and vernacular are alot more relaxed. And since I am quite sure I am not in the minority here, you still have to remember when having a non-work related conversation that you still maintain composure and use proper English.

Give Me A Break (Room)!

The break room or kitchen of your work place is highly important simply because it helps foster relationships outside the office suites and cubicles. And it is also very important because you can eat there without consequences. But it’s also key that everyone does their part to maintain the break room.

Stinky Food Is Not Acceptable- This should be self-explanatory but it still happens. I understand that not everyone has the time and resources to pack a lunch but rather or not you steal, pack, or buy your lunch you should still keep it from smelling. This includes curry, fish (microwaved or stove-cooked), barbecued pork, onions, garlic, potted meat, and so on. And even things that are not necessarily odorous such as popcorn get irritating if the scent lingers in the microwave.

Label Your Food- This varies from office to office but it is always best to act in caution and not let someone sneak away with your weekend takeout. It only takes a minute to pull out a Sharpie and label your lunch with the date in case it might be subject to getting thrown out.

Bring Your Own Condiments and Utensils- Many office break rooms provide plastic and real silverware as well as condiments but sometimes you don’t know if what’s provided is from the office or someone else. And just because someone leaves it around unlabeled doesn’t mean you can call dibs on it.

Don’t Eat Food That’s Not Yours; I think this is something many of us learned in the first grade but it bears repeating- don’t eat it unless you bought, brought, or made it. Way too many people have opened their lunch up to see that someone has gobbled it whole.

Clean Up!- Sometimes I wish I could post the clean-up song from when I was a kid to play so I wouldn’t have to see some of the messes others leave behind. Or just the sign that says your mom does not work here is good enough for me.

Personal Communication

I have previously talked about people talking to one another at the office but there comes a time when you have to talk to the people you see after work, your friends and family. Do not get me wrong, I think it is okay to have a quick conversation on break or during lunch but beyond that unless it is an emergency, no one needs to hear every detail of what’s going on between you and your loved ones.

If Not On Break, Keep It Short- It’s fine if you are at lunch or on your fifteen minute break to have a slightly longer conversation, granted you are not interrupting the flow of work for everyone else. But if you decide to take a personal call while on the clock, keep it short because nobody needs to know what you plan to eat for dinner.

Inside Voice Is Key- This applies to all office conversations but especially on the phone. I don’t care if the person on the other end is hard of hearing, take it outside. Otherwise pretend you’re in the library and don’t let the rest of us hear you.

Guests Will Be Scrutinized- I had a coworker have his girlfriend meet him one Friday at the end of work. It was innocent enough but unfortunately it became an issue of her not feeling comfortable with all the attention given to her. Of course we all know it’s rude to stare, but human nature does not always follow the rules. That being said, only bring guests if you know they can handle your co-workers curiosities.

Cubicle/Desk Etiquette

I decided to include this section so people get the general idea that even though you have your own space, it does not mean you can treat it any kind of way.

Keep Your Area Tidy: That doesn’t mean be spotless but if you have a day off or are out, your coworker should be able to pick up your work without problems.

Eat and Store Food Carefully:No matter how old or new your office building is, the risk of insects and rats is always there, especially when people are messy. That being said, you can’t avoid eating at your desk. However, do so with caution and make sure not to make a big mess. Also, if you have foods to snack on at your desk, make sure they are sealed tightly.

Talk and Sing Aloud as Necessary: Now if you have your own office, do what you want. But many of us share a space with one or more other people. With this in mind, don’t get your Gaga on in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon or any day for that matter. Singing aloud is okay when no one’s around. The same goes if you like to talk to yourself about what you’re trying to do. If I know what you’re doing, stop talking so loud.

Keep Convos Quiet: I understand if you have buddies who drop by from time to time to chew the fat, but again if you’re in a common area and think the conversation will be longer than 5 minutes, go to the break room or wait until lunch to talk. I don’t need to know you’re personal business.

Commandments of Common Sense

Golden Rule Applies- Treat people like you want to be treated. If you are nice and cordial, the same will be applied to you. You do not have to kiss the ring but at least know how to be pleasant.

Clean is Cool- Don’t be a Dirty Harry of the office. You’re not Eastwood, end of story. Clean your desk, clean your area in the break room, and make sure you be neat and wipe the seat in the restroom.

It All Ends at __p.m.- What most people forget is that a job is not the sum of our lives, but a simple part of it that helps us get to what we really want. And that is a life of meaning, laughter and memories.