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Professional Business Office Decorum



As Emily Post once said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” Nowhere are manners more important than in the business world, especially at the office. Here, the way we behave, along with how well we do our jobs, determines what others will think of us. When we are courteous and give our coworkers, clients, and customers the best we have, we set ourselves apart from the competition and create long-lasting relationships. Etiquette and protocol knowledge, along with intelligence and hard work, and are the key to success in the working world.

Good manners make good business sense, since we all prefer to work with those who are polite, respectful, and mindful of others; and research shows it makes for a happier and more productive working environment.  Following are guidelines for professional business office decorum:

  • Unclutter your work space. Your desk or work space is an extension of you. If it’s messy and cluttered, it will not reflect positively on you; and may negatively impact your career.  In fact, research shows that the owner of the organized and uncluttered desk has a higher chance of being promoted. A messy desk suggests its occupant is not conscientious, a trait that is one of the biggest predictors of success.


  • Be on time. If you’re late on a regular basis, people will notice. While everyone is occasionally late, it shows lack of respect for your office and your coworkers to be late on a consistent basis. The same holds true for business meetings. It is never a good idea to arrive late for a business meeting. And never intentionally keep a client, or anyone else for that matter, waiting if at all possible.


  • Greet your coworkers and clients.Each morning when you arrive at the office, greet your coworkers with a smile and a “Good morning” or “Hello.” If a client comes to your office to meet with you, always get up to shake hands with him or her—never stay seated and reach across the desk to shake hands. If you already know the person, but others in your office do not, it is your job to introduce them to each other.


  • Be attentive.Whether in a meeting, on the phone, or sitting in a coworkers office, pay attention. It’s bad form to be caught with your mind wandering, or checking your messages on your cell phone, and to have no idea as to what actually took place. 


  • Avoid having lengthy or personal conversations on your cell phone or land line when others can hear you. No one wants to hear you arguing with your husband or wife, or hear you telling your doctor about a health issue in great detail. Try to find a private location for these calls. And always, if you work in an open office, try to speak as softly as possible when talking on the phone.


  • What to eat at your desk and how to eat it. Anything that is going to offend others, such as food that has a strong odor, should be avoided at the office. If you are in an area where others will see you eat, do mind your manners; and if you have a front-desk job, refrain from eating anything at your desk.


  • Avoid annoying personal habits. Even the smallest personal habit can be annoying to coworkers when working in an open office setting. Things like constantly clearing your throat, blowing your nose, taking out your comb and combing your hair every five minutes, doing your nails, putting on makeup at your desk, taking vitamins, et cetera, can be annoying and distracting to others and make a bad impression. Use the restroom for doing these things.


  • Practice good hygiene. As with food, strong body odors, as well as bad breath, must be avoided when working in close quarters at an office. A clean, fresh body odor that will not offend or distract colleagues is a must for the work environment. Strong scents—whether it be body odor, perfume or after-shave— can make the office an unpleasant working environment.


  • Avoid becoming too involved in coworkers’ professional and personal lives. It is only natural to be interested in your coworkers’ lives and want to be friends with some of them, but you should be alert about becoming too involved with them in the beginning. It is, however, important to try to build rapport with your coworkers, since it is crucial to establishing a good reputation for yourself in the workplace; and it will pay off when you are working together on a project.


  • Be friendly with your coworkers, but avoid behavior that could be misconstrued. Office romances will always be part of the workplace. However, now there is a heightened awareness of discrimination and harassment. What may seem like harmless flirting to you may not seem so to the recipient.


  • Show respect for your coworkers’ time and possessions.  Don’t think that just because you are working in an office together, or especially in open office setting, that your coworkers are always available to talk to you. Always ask them if they have time to talk, or if it would be better if you came back later to discuss whatever it was you wanted to talk to them about. And it is never a good idea to take anything from a coworker’s desk without first asking them if it is okay to do so.

    The following are rude behaviors people most often admit to seeing in themselves.*

  • Hibernates into e-gadgets

  • Uses jargon even when it excludes others

  • Ignores invitations

  • Is judgmental of those who are different

  • Grabs easy tasks while leaving difficult ones for others

  • Does not listen

  • Emails/texts during meetings

  • Pays little attention to others

  • Takes others’ contributions for granted

  • Belittles others nonverbally

  • Neglects saying please or thank-you



By:  Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, January 19, 2017




*Source: “No Time to Be Nice at Work” article in the New York Times, June 19, 2015 by    Christine Porath

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