Is Professional Etiquette Dead?
Work + Life Balance

Is Professional Etiquette Dead?

by Jherell Drain
February 15, 2016

WHAT'S REALLY NSFW (NOT SUITABLE FOR WORKPLACE) THESE DAYS? LET'S START WITH SOME LIGHTNING ROUND QUESTIONS:

Do you only offer your first name when introducing yourself to someone new?

Do you take an occasional peek at your cellphone during a conversation?

Does your ideal work uniform consist of your favorite tee and well-worn jeans?

On your day off, your response to these questions is probably yes. But when it comes to the workplace, is it a different story? 

Appropriate behavior and norms for the workplace vary from job to job, but we’ve all heard some of the classic adages. Dress to impress. Arrive early. No cellphones. But the question remains: is professional etiquette still relevant today? 

Consider the times you’ve had an email go unanswered, a coworker blow a deadline without warning, or never heard back about a job you’ve interviewed for. “Ghosting” doesn’t just apply to online dating anymore.

While some workplaces have lax norms these days, refreshing our memory about the most rigid professional etiquette rules can serve as a helpful reference, especially for those of us who are new to the workplace.  Here are a few instances where professional etiquette may come into play at the office, along with tips on how to tackle each situation.

Consider the times you’ve had an email go unanswered or never heard back about a job you’ve interviewed for. “Ghosting” doesn’t just apply to online dating anymore.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS 

INTRODUCTIONS

According to Barbara Pachter, author of The Essential Business Etiquette, meeting a colleague for the first time calls for serious professionalism. Pachter suggests introducing yourself with your full name. But for those of us who don’t prefer to be called by our full names, following up with a preferred name is understandable.

HANDSHAKES

Ever wonder if there were official rules here? There are. Handshakes are a must for workplace introductions, meaning you should always offer your hand or take one that’s offered. Every time (unless you’re sick, then we recommend apologizing and citing contagion as your reason). BTW, if you’d ever heard that etiquette dictates that women must offer their hand first, according to the great Emily Post, that’s no longer the case. 

Oh, and if you happen to be wearing a nametag (at a formal networking event for example), make sure it’s high on your right-side—a subtle trick to make it as visible as possible during the handshake. 

STANDING UP

Now, what if you’re sitting down during this initial meet-and-greet? Professional etiquette would call for you to stand up as you greet someone – which makes sense. However, if you’re caught off guard and can’t stand for some reason, don’t scramble to get up.

MEETINGS, MEETINGS, MEETINGS

You know those days when it seems like you’re just in one extremely long meeting? Times like these may cause you to put professional etiquette on the backburner, but it’s not a bad idea to keep some tips in mind. 

ARRIVAL TIME

Ever heard of the expression, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” While being on time is better than arriving late, getting to a meeting early is also beneficial. You show that you’re ready to discuss or listen to whatever topic is at hand (even if you really aren’t), it shows a sign of respect to a presenter and, if all else fails, you get the opportunity to pick your seat and get comfortable before the meeting officially begins. It’s a win-win.

MUTE IT

But once you get there, remember to turn off (or mute) your devices. While some meetings may allow for you to use your computer, any activity on your devices should be limited.

Dress codes vary, but that’s not an excuse for carelessness. 

BUSINESS ATTIRE

We’ve all heard of the saying “dress to impress,” but does it really apply to the workplace nowadays? Short answer: It sure does. 

Understandably, different professions have different dress codes. While a lawyer may have to arrive to work in full business professional attire, a graphic designer may get to work in jeans and a t-shirt. Dress codes vary, but that’s not an excuse for carelessness. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to dress down on days besides Friday, keep in mind that what you wear and how you present yourself in the workplace makes a difference. As a rule of thumb, dress how your boss does.

If you’re looking for tips on how to dress in the workplace, try these

DINING 

LUNCHES

Let’s say your boss invites you out for lunch. You’re outside of the office, so workplace etiquette can be pushed aside, right? Well, not necessarily.

No matter the restaurant, time of day or occasion, you should always bring your manners with you while dining with a colleague. Pachter mentions several rules to keep in mind while dining with a colleague, ranging from not pushing away or stacking your plates when you’re done eating to never asking for a to-go box for your leftovers.

But, the best advice may be to follow suit with your colleague(s). That way, you won’t have to second guess your own behavior too much and you can focus more on enjoying the time away from the office.

AFTER HOURS

And what about the potential confusion caused by dining or heading out after hours with male colleagues? Fortunately, we covered those politics here.

COMMUNICATION

Do you have a work bestie? Someone who’s your no-fail lunch date, workplace counselor, and office wingwoman? If you do, workplace emails and chats may include NSFW (not suitable for workplace) tidbits—ranging from complaints about the boss to an endless exchange of hilarious memes.

While taking a break every now and then is acceptable, sharing any information that could be seen as inappropriate isn’t. Remember: chats may be archived and emails can be monitored. To play it safe, focus more on answering your emails and finishing projects in a timely fashion and less on chatting with your friends.

So, is professional etiquette dead? Not really. While some rules may be more outdated than others, they still serve as a useful foundation for our behavior in the workplace today.

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Tell us, what do you think about professional etiquette in the workplace?