The Unwritten Rules of Unprofessional Behaviour in the Workplace

Professionalism. Undoubtedly a hot topic in the workplace since the introduction of business casual attire and jeans on Fridays. But what does professionalism really mean? Is it really about the suit you wear?

Portraying a professional appearance goes far beyond appearance alone; it’s really about employee behaviour and adhering to a certain ‘standard’.

Most organizations have written rules and codes of conduct geared towards health and safety, business processes and compliance and some of these rules even pertain to behaviour online or even outside the office. But there are also many unwritten rules that should go without saying. Here is a rundown of a few:

Work is not home, unless you work from home.

We can all appreciate that our workplace is a ‘home away from home’. After all, we spend most of the day at work. But just because we feel at home, doesn’t mean that exercising professional behaviour is excused, regardless of how carefree an environment it is. Take time to conduct yourself appropriately. We come to work to serve our customers and assist our colleagues.

Keep your shoes on.

Whether it’s at the office or on an airplane, please realize that you are not in your own living room. Just keep your shoes on. Your perceived comfort should not come at the expense of someone else’s.

Manners still count.

Some of us are genially challenged or just plain moody, and that’s okay. But what’s not okay is to completely exempt yourself from practicing basic manners. A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are still very much a requisite.

Always be kind.

The receptionist is the first person you often meet at any business, and just as they are the first impression of an organization to anyone who visits, your impression on them never goes unnoticed. I have often seen and heard visitors who are rude or short with a receptionist to completely change their disposition with the person they are there to meet with. When I am interviewing people to join our ranks, I ask our receptionist how they were treated by my guest when they walked in. Needless to say, the feedback leaves an impression, good or bad.  Be kind to everyone, whether it’s the custodian or the President.

Leave the slang and curse words at the door.

In the era of texting and social media, a degree of slang will naturally creep into our daily conversations. But when at work, the use of slang and cursing should be kept to a minimum. I will admit it has become commonplace these days to allow employees to use loose language in the ‘back office’ (so long as it doesn’t upset, offend or belittle anyone), however, there is no excuse in front of customers and office guests. I recall shopping at my local supermarket one Saturday morning and overhearing an employee speaking very loudly to his coworker a few aisles over. The conversation was about his Friday night excursions. Not only was he cursing, but the context of their conversation was something that none of the other patrons in the store needed or wanted to know.

Mind your PDA.

There is nothing that has had a bigger impact on societal norms than the mobile phone. But calling it a phone really does not do it justice, since it is also a personal TV, newsfeed, gaming console, video conference, organizer, banking and shopping tool. It’s with us at all times and constantly diverts our attention. How many meetings have you attended where phones go off or people actually begin texting underneath the table? Keep the phone in your pocket or purse when you’re engaging at work (or in the bathroom). There is nothing ruder than trying to discuss business with someone who is totally inattentive with their head down. There really is no reason for us to be constantly tethered to our phones every single second of the day.

Standards may vary much like cultural norms, but a certain degree of decorum should always be observed.