Software Development

What exactly is acceptable office behavior?

What do you consider acceptable behavior in an office environment?

For the sake of the question posed in the title of this piece, let's assume that you work in an "average" office made up of many people and varying departments. (In other words, if you're on the IT help desk for a traveling circus or strip club -- not that there's anything with that -- this may not be the place for you to speculate on office behavior.)

This topic came up a few days ago here in the TR office after someone seated a programming new hire amongst a bunch of online content editors. Although we editors have the need to focus in quiet much of the time, we also have to heavily collaborate. The poor programmer tried his best to deal -- including wearing industrial strength head phones to drown us out -- but finally he gave up and, I'm guessing, successfully pleaded with his boss to be moved somewhere less noisy.

This raises the subject of why those who do office layouts would be careful when blending departments, but it also brings up the question: What is acceptable behavior in an office environment?

Now, most of us are aware of the extreme no-nos (tube tops, the steady ingestion of grain alcohol, volleyball games played over cubicle walls) but what are some of the subtleties that should be considered par for the course?

I don't mind personal conversations (particularly if they're interesting and I'm not supposed to be listening) but even those become unproductive if they drag on too long. I don't like heavy perfumes or colognes because I think they can bother coworkers (especially if those coworkers fight allergies). Loud outbursts, like violent sneezes and sudden, explosive laughter scare the bejeezus out of me. I know sneezes and the volume of laughter can't be helped but if they become really frequent, they can be problematic.

I will recognize the fact that these kinds of issues may only be problematic to me because, as I've stated before, I have an abysmally short attention span. Click here for an illustration of that.

I'm being somewhat facetious but I thought it would be a good discussion point. What office behaviors do you consider outside of the norm?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

18 comments
woolleyoz
woolleyoz

There is no way out of the constant need for some to talk all day, others to bring in their stinkiest lunches or some to continue to be inept but confident.  Keeping on a headset means I dont have to partake in the numerous inane chats about who did what to whom on tv last night, or whether their kid poos at the right age...I can concentrate on my work - so who cares if they call me anti-social...bring back the non open plan offices where I dont hear the awful ring tones, can talk to people I want to and ignore the others...ah bliss

Costanza_Maffi
Costanza_Maffi

So I'm one of those programmers stuck amongst the content editors and other collaborative types... My solution has been silicone earplugs - the type that swimmers wear to keep their ears dry. They seal much better than those fluoro-coloured foam safety plugs and therefore block out about 90% of the sounds around me - leaving me in blissful silence in an office full of yabbering people plus the office radio. My productivity has gone way up and my stress levels have plummeted since I got hold of these little silicone angels. Chemist or sports store - highly recommended :-)

SecurityMoose
SecurityMoose

How many people have stupid tunes and sounds on their cell phones? And how many people leave them on the desks when they go for breaks? There should be a convenient bucket of water on standby - any unattended cell rings, it gets dropped in (by law). BTW if you have a loud voice, you don't have to shout into your phone - there are people in other countries trying to sleep.

Flyers70
Flyers70

There does seem to be a "law of the jungle" with cubicles and open space as to what is or is not acceptable and it differs from company to company (so it seems). The advantage of open space and cubicles is the greater potential for collaboration because of proximity. The disadvantage is a loss of any sort of privacy and an implied invitation for conversation. In my experience, use of the "golden rule" has come in handy.

AV .
AV .

A couple of years ago my company merged with another one. They did their best with with the new layout, but in the end it really didn't make a difference where you sat. It was just a real culture clash. The new people just loved to use four letter words, especially the F-bomb. It was woven into their daily conversations. They weren't quiet about it either. I actually think its funny now, but initially I was pretty shocked. They've gotten better with time, but there are still lapses. That is definitely not the norm. AV

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

For a Swingers Club anything goes till there is a complaint. ;) You don't want to continue to upset the Customers. :p Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

that I have escaped the office environment. The worst thing I have to put up with is shoppers who won't understand that, as a service tech, I'm not allowed to scan their groceries, no matter their hurry or how long the lines at the other checklanes.

chaz15
chaz15

It's how others see what we do and how we react to others. This can vary from person to person so we need to adapt a little and see how they adapt to us. Obviously things like shouting close by into a mobile phone, or not letting us get on with work, or non-essential interruptions, or harassing behaviour are out. The finer point is how line managers interpret our behaviour. They are often rigidly 'politically corrrect' in their stance and often domineering and authoritarian. But it needs highly and tightly specified unacceptable behaviour being written out, as otherwise managers can change the goalposts or dividing line between what THEY consider as right and wrong according to whim or the moment. AND it is essential that ALL workers are treated exactly the same, AND according to EXACTLY the same guidelines, and interpretation of such..

GSG
GSG

People from other departments walking through our, talking loudly, banging things, slamming doors, etc... I was working late one day fixing a problem and finally snapped at the people in our meeting room and told them to act like adults because they were in the middle of an office where people were trying to work, and above a patient care area where all of the patients down below could hear their antics. There's no need to act like a heard of wild wildebeests on migration.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Handball? It's OK if I change my shirt isn't it?

Zim7
Zim7

The morons who planned our office layout decided to put an open "kitchen" area in the middle of the office. I am unfortunate enough to sit right near it. As I???m typing this I am (again) reminded of the second dumbest piece of layout in office history???on open print center right in the middle of everything and right near my cubicle. I swear that I work with the most annoying people in the world. It isn???t bad enough that the water dispenser in the kitchen area is to my coworkers what a bright light in the pitch black amazon jungle would be to every insect within 20 miles, but I also get to listen to these people with their ?? gallon mega cups not only fill it with water, but 2 lbs of crushed ice from the ice dispenser. I swear if I hear that friggin ice dispenser again today, I???m going to fill the dispense hole up with a can of expand-O-foam. That would be one less annoyance off my bucket list. Not to mention the copier printing (what seems like) thousands of copies a day, and the fax machine making it???s ???dial up??? noises. It gets even better when these idiots dial someone???s phone instead of their fax. We get to hear the person on the other end of the line spout ???HELLO???HELLO??? through the fax machine 100 times until the figure out some idiot just tried to fax them. This is only the start???I could go on, but I won???t. I need an air horn.

Keighlar
Keighlar

Just because I do not have a door, does not mean that it's okay to pop in and interrupt whatever I'm doing. Have the courtesy to shoot me an email or use the phone (as suggested by Toolman) and ask for a moment of my time. Likewise, having marathon conversations about weekend plans two feet from my desk is more than distracting. Please... take it to your own area and leave me some peace.

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

I work in a typical help desk, and tend to focus on each task before moving onto the next. My co-workers find that because there are no full partition walls, they will shout across the office to ask a question, instead of dialing an extension. Not only does this break employees concentration, but we're a helpdesk, with customers on the phone who can sometimes hear everything being said (work related or otherwise). Completely unprofessional in my opinion.

TBone2k
TBone2k

Acceptable behaviour is a fine line between maintaining some form of individuality in the workplace and not offending someone else's version of acceptable behaviour. For example, I have a co-worker who does not celebrate birthdays and holidays. When celbration items are brought in, he simply does not come to the gathering. Or since we are allowed to listen to music in our offices, and I happen to like music that often contains offensive subjects or lyrics, I put some thought in to picking songs for my player that aren't like that.

VincenzoAI
VincenzoAI

I work in an environment that involves discussions on a daily basis around television censorship. Part of our communications naturally means explicit verbal descriptions running the whole gamut of available movie and TV consumption. We used to have an office of our own (remember 4 walls??). The powers that be have now moved us into an open plan office between 2 sets of admin departments.... crazy planning at the very best. Imagine 6 people all talking about the merits (or not) of which scenes in Hostel to be included, complete with descriptions and a shared large screen telly visible to all ? ! At least our conversations are based in professionalism rather than just bad behaviour.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

:0 I'll have to remember that one! :^0

inouyde
inouyde

Adding a messaging client to everybody's machine would be another solution. Or they could get up and WALK their lazy butt over to ask their questions...

bboyd
bboyd

I'd rather have the drop in. Yeah the yelling thing in an open office really grates nerves. Who in their right mind thinks partial partitions are useful. Even more annoying for me is paging systems used when I'm sitting next to my phone and the other party is to lazy to look up my extension.

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