In Robert Bolt’s masterpiece, A Man For All Seasons, the Common Man, gives a summation of how we ought to live in this topsy-turvy world of ours. He says:

Friends, just don’t – make trouble – or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected.

Whether you are part of a team or have infrequent contact with others, it is important to ensure that you always behave appropriately or make “the expected trouble” in order to create harmonious and profitable working relationships. Mark Charnock, a business executive comments that:

“Gauge the office environment before personalizing your workspace and take notice of how co-workers express themselves.”

Here are some top tips on workplace etiquette you can use to ensure that you are a considerate colleague.

1. Noise

Try to keep excess noise to a minimum to avoid disturbing others. Keep the volume on your computer, telephone and radio turned down low or use headphones. Speak quietly when you are conversing with others, either face to face or over the telephone.

Limit personal calls, especially if you work in a space that lacks a door or you are in the staffroom at school. Learn when and where it is appropriate to use your mobile phone in your office. Mobile telephones can also be a source of some annoyance so make sure your ringtone is a simple ring or beep, or put it on silent mode when you are in the presence of workmates. Turn it off in meetings.

2. Personal Grooming

Surely everyone likes to make a good impression, but keep your environment in mind. If you wear perfume or aftershave, make sure it is not overpowering. Not everyone shares the same taste when it comes to fragrances so it is best to leave the heavier perfumes for the evening – lighter, citrus-based fresh scents are much more appropriate for the workplace.

Also some scents can cause physical reactions (e.g. headaches, sinus problems, rashes). The same applies to air fresheners – avoid using these in the staffroom/office, if at all possible.

If you do not have a separate dining area in your workplace and you tend to eat your lunch at your desk, avoid strong-smelling or spicy foods as their aroma tends to linger long after the food has disappeared.

A final point on personal grooming is never to remove your shoes in the office. If you have to change your shoes, go to the bathroom and do it there.

3. Your workspace

Remember that this is your workplace not your home so avoid the temptation to decorate with photographs, ornaments, plants and posters. It is OK to have a few personal items but these should be in good taste and should also be appropriate to the working environment. If you share a desk with someone then you should not leave any personal belongings on or around the desk at all.

Keep your workspace neat, tidy and clean. There should be no discarded food or drink, old papers, magazines or anything piled up on or near your desk. Try to reduce the number of piles of paper you have on your desk – invest in a filing cabinet, folders or drawers and tidy this paper away at least once a month. If you do not have a cleaner, dust your desk, computer and other office furniture regularly.

4. Personal Interactions and Friendly Visitors

When conversing with others in the office, keep non-work conversations to a minimum so as not to disturb the people around you who are working and keep your voice low. If you are having a quick chat, be careful not to badmouth or gossip about anyone. If you overhear someone else gossiping, resist the temptation to join in.

Never use bad language and avoid raising your voice. If you are angry or frustrated about something, take a few moments to calm yourself down then address the issue in a rational, professional manner.

If you need to have a confidential conversation, either on the telephone or face to face, go into a private room or out of the staffroom/office to ensure privacy.

Also, keep in mind that your desk isn’t the best hangout spot when friends stop by to meet for lunch. Ask visitors to wait in the lobby or in the front of the building or just outside by the door to avoid disturbing your co-workers.

5. Hygiene

Don’t come into work if you are ill. Obviously everyone looks favourably on a responsible and dedicated worker, but if you are genuinely ill it is far better to stay at home rather than risk infecting your colleagues. If you do go to work with a mild cold, remember to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of used tissues immediately.

6. Personal space

Respect your colleagues’ space and yours will be respected accordingly. Stand a good distance away, avoid physical contact and do not lean across or shout over someone’s head to other colleagues.

If you need to speak to a colleague who happens to be on the telephone, slip a note onto their desk or send them an email explaining that you need to speak to them. Don’t hang around their desk waiting for them to finish. Similarly, if someone appears busy with work, assume that they do not want to be interrupted and either wait for an appropriate moment to speak to them or email them.

If you sit at a desk directly opposite a colleague, don’t stare into their space and try not to eavesdrop on their conversations. If you do happen to overhear their conversation, resist the temptation to comment on what you have heard.


Finally, try not to bring your personal life into the workplace. When it comes to sharing information about your private life, a good rule of thumb is only to share what you would not be embarrassed about reading in the newspaper the next day!

Vigilantly observe the corporate culture in which you work, and be aware that change will happen. Your eyes and ears are your best resource in this learning process!


  1. Hildagaard says:

    A very informative read. Some of the points raised are usually taken for granted in the workplace.

  2. andrew mutyavaviri says:

    Thanks for this educative nd absorbing piece on office sure even good eating habits should b cultivated esp among those who normaly eat at their desks some of which are shared.also as u rightly enunciated phone manners are a must in an office.realy enjoying yo blog

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