TL;DR – Follow these rules in the office no matter what.
No matter which industry you work in, there are a few rules that you should know by now. Professionalism comes in all shapes and sizes, and based on the environment you work in, the expectations could change. The basic rules of the trade, however, will not.
So avoid insulting someone off the bat, and learn to make great connections — here are 10 rules of the working world you can not break.
1. “Not trained for this” is not an excuse
It doesn’t matter what you went to school for, no one gives a shit if you have the right degree — if you took the job and it requires something out of your comfort zone, it is still your job to get it done. So what if you took English instead of Finance? Those spreadsheets won’t do themselves.
So if you’re beginning to be given tasks that you don’t feel prepped for, try using it as an opportunity to upgrade your skills instead. Asking your boss for a retraining opportunity will show that you’re willing to do what it takes, instead of moaning about what you can’t do.
2. Bigotry gets you nowhere
It’s 2016, making racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes to try to impress your coworkers isn’t going to work anymore. If you want to be an individual your coworkers can respect and rely on, leave the crude jokes at home and keep things professional. Make awful jokes at your own time.
3. Work can happen whenever, wherever
The blessing or curse, depending on who you ask, of work in the 21st century is its flexibility — you can work from wherever you are, whenever you want. Some companies are more modern than others, with flexible hours and flexible leave policies, but generally the understanding is that you will be on call 24/7, and working holidays or working from home are an actual thing.
Tip for securing that real off-time — schedule it. Don’t assume that time outside of your 9-5 is sacred, but if you set time aside to be untouchable, it will be.
4. Learn the Double Opt-in Email
Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you are familiar with the concept. Take this example: a friend asks you to connect him to someone else you know. It’s a connection you think will benefit both parties, so you agree and send an email connecting the two.
That scenario above is what you would call a single opt-in email — where only one party agreed to the recommendation. This is tricky because while you may believe in the connection, you’re not giving the other party — the newly-inducted person who has no clue that you were gonna e-introduce someone else to them — a choice. If that third party doesn’t meet the first, then you’re making him look bad. Plus, if he doesn’t think that its a good connection, you’ve just wasted his time, along with everyone else’s.
The simple solution is the double opt-in email, where upon being asked if you can introduce friend/associate to someone, you ask that someone first. That way, everyone is happy and no one is made to look like a douchebag.
Note: Same rule applies to sharing contact information, like phone numbers and email addresses.
5. Keep an eye on LinkedIn
If you’ve ever said “I haven’t checked my LinkedIn in ages” or “ who uses LinkedIn anyway” — time to get clued in. The Facebook (or 2003 Friendster, as it seems) of careers is the ultimate gateway to new opportunities and connections, and choosing to ignore it is just careless. Not only will it open up opportunities for you (even if you’re not looking for a new job, you can’t ignore new opportunities), it sends a sign that you are on top of your career, keen to engage with peers in your industry and to establish your own voice.
You don’t have to check in on it as often as you do your Facebook feed, but at least keep your notifications on your phone on, and your profile updated.
6. Don’t sleep with anyone who has the same business card as you
Of course this depends on many factors (i.e. how big your company is, if you started the company with your other half), but generally the consensus is to avoid making your romantic relationships interfere with your professional life. So many people have made the mistake of progressing a close bond between members of your work family to a much more intimate bond, with drama and gossip shrouding their professional integrity.
The last thing you need is to become gossip fodder.
7. Always keep your recorded communication professional
As an intern, I didn’t understand the importance of this, but after a couple of years of working, I’m beginning to understand why recorded communication between colleagues, clients, and other professional peers should be kept professional. This includes emails, whatsapps messages, and SMSes — while they may seem fleeting and trivial, recorded communication is what a company falls upon when shit hits the fan, as a way to protect your company’s integrity. If anything does happen (touchwood), and your emails have to be scrutinised, at least you’d know that your inbox will be clean of inappropriate content.
8. Keep your social media clean
As with your work communication, your communication to the rest of the world has to stay clean and professional as well. The internet is full of possibilities, and the last thing you need is your employers to be able to dig up your old partying photos or inappropriate tweets. Take for example Trevor Noah, the new host of the Tonight Show, and how his “anti-Semitic” and “sexist” jokes on Twitter were the centre of a big scandal upon him taking on the job. If you can’t remember what you tweeted a year ago, best to start looking through now.
9. Don’t confuse work friends for real friends off the bat
Sure, you may eat lunch together on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean that they may want to catch a movie with you. Even if you are spending more time with them than your out-of-work friends, you can’t assume that your work friends are your real friends. This may seem cold and unfriendly, but the fact is that many draw lines between real life and work life, and may prefer to keep work acquaintances and personal life separate. Assuming otherwise may seem pushy and even creepy to some, so be aware of the barrier that is there unless both parties consensually break it. If you have a friend-crush on a colleague and want to transition to out-of-work friends, try to establish a common ground outside of work affairs first.
Similarly, don’t get offended if your colleagues don’t accept your friend request on Facebook — it’s nothing personal.
10. Take feedback well
The worst person to be in the workplace is the person who is bitter and unable to take feedback well. No matter what your ranking is in the office hierarchy, we’re all infallible people who always have room for improvement. So being open to feedback provided, or even better, asking for feedback, makes you a better colleague and even better person.