by Ellen Lubin-Sherman
Office etiquette has always fascinated me. Just recently, a young lawyer sublet an office in our suite and ordered lunch everyday, piled high with raw onions and a sweet/sour salad dressing. After finishing the salad, the young woman would take the container to the break room and throw it into the garbage can without the plastic cover. The pungent smell of the onions would waft through the offices and yet no one felt obligated to say anything. It was a miserable experience for all of us yet we all have our craziness and perhaps we were afraid that confronting the issue would open the door to a juvenile “you did, I did” conversation.
While we are on the subject of pet bugaboos, I must mention the way people decorate their cubicles. While a photo or two of children and pets seem appropriate, some people feel free to festoon their space with lurid photos of beach vacations spent in skimpy bathing suits. I can only imagine how a client might feel walking into the office and seeing these photographs – completely inappropriate and yet, no one says a word about the décor. Once again, we’re unsure how to handle a colleague’s lack of professional etiquette.
Frankly, I find it baffling. An office should reflect the seriousness and focus of the work and yet, it’s not unusual to walk into a space and hear and smell the sound of popcorn popping. Are we at the movies or are we in business?
There is another issue on office etiquette that plagues many a boss and yet they are stymied in how to address it: Office attire. It is not unusual to go to a bank and work with a young woman wearing a revealing top and flip-flops. Most recently, I did a television interview with a reporter who was wearing UGGs instead of shoes. Does anyone really believe office attire does not impact an employee’s attitude or a customer’s opinion about the company?
At times I’m overwhelmed by the bubonic plague of snark. Are you familiar with snark? Those are the comments that are mean, inappropriate, and give you a thousand paper cuts. Have you experienced snark and thought you were overly sensitive? Uh, no. There’s no place for snark in business conversation. Actually, there’s no place for snark anywhere. It’s terribly off-putting and will ultimately sabotage your career’s trajectory.
In order to be fabulous, you must out-behave the competition. That includes: Treating colleagues with respect (i.e. no snark); wearing clothes that enable you to be called (unexpectedly) into a meeting with a new client; keeping your cubicle neat and professional so that a client walking through the office senses pride and loyalty from the employees; and finally, treating the break room with respect and good manners.
I am not advocating a work environment that’s punitive or deflating. Quite the opposite! I am advocating that employees recognize that the office is a shared space as well as a marketing tool to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism and superior work to clients, customers, as well as our colleagues.
I love coming to work. I adore Monday morning. But I was euphoric when the young lawyer decided to sublet space in the office next door. Now they get to smell her onions.