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When I conducted my informal survey about what constitutes bad manners in the workplace, in-house meetings were the number one forum for transgressions. From smartphone use to eating, interrupting to surreptitious texting, the things we bring to the table – literally – in meetings had everybody up in arms.

It makes sense. Meeting etiquette is an important piece in the productivity puzzle. We’ve all been in a nightmare meeting where people are interrupting, going off topic, texting and losing interest. It’s both annoying and time wasting. Good etiquette ensures not only that meetings run smoothly, but also that participants can share their ideas.

The most important piece of good meeting etiquette is to be prepared, which we wrote about in our blog Team meetings that run perfectly: follow the 5 Ps.

Smartphones: we’d love to banish them from the meeting room, but they are handy when you want to call up that email or refer to the notes from that meeting last month.  Rather than ban them, the rule could be that phones are in flight mode unless actively being used for the meeting. If the meeting runs for less than an hour, ask yourself if you really have to respond to that ‘urgent’ request right now. In longer meetings, wait until a break to check emails and messages.

If you want to use a phone or tablet to take notes, ask if the chair of the meeting is okay with it. That way, other participants understand that your tapping isn’t you texting a mate or tweeting about the dull meeting you’re in (which of course you will never do).

Another absolute no-no is scrolling through emails or checking your social media accounts or the sports scores. Don’t think that nobody notices. It’s distracting and disrespectful. The message you are sending is that the people in the room are not important. If you’re meeting with anybody who can influence your job or career, this is foolhardy; if you’re meeting clients, it’s potentially disastrous for your organisation – and ultimately for you.  Nothing will make you look less like team player.

So what if you really are expecting an urgent call?  The best course of action is to let the meeting organiser know, and take the call outside the room

Whether you are running the meeting or not, it can be tricky keep others on topic without seeming rude. The key is to make them feel valued. Instead of telling them they are off track, you could say something like: ‘That’s an important point and I’d like to discuss it, but I feel it’s not the topic of this meeting. Can you email me after the meeting?’ This lets the person know that their input is valuable, just not timely. If their input is in fact not valuable, the email conversation will be brief. If it is valuable, another meeting may be required. But this method ensures both meetings are highly focused and productive.

Another thing that was mentioned was eating in a meeting. Unless it’s something prepared for a lunch meeting or your routine is to get out the office bikkie tin, don’t eat. Having a coffee is okay; tucking into a chilli chicken panini is distracting and off-putting to others. And if you have a coffee or use a plate, clean up after yourself and leave the room the way you found it.

Finally, respect everybody’s time by sticking to your schedule. Don’t be the person who makes meetings run over time by reserving your questions for the end, just as the meeting is wrapping up. Learn to ask questions and make your contribution at the right time. Meetings that run over time clog up rooms that are needed for other meetings, and tie up people who may be required for other groups’ projects. And good manners are, after all, about considering others.


My dad used to wear the same thing to work every day: dark suit, white shirt, sober patterned tie, black shoes and belt. My mum’s workplace had rules for women: no pants, no open-toed shoes, and always stockings, even in summer. It might have been hot and boring, but it sure was easy.

The rules have loosened, leaving us more able to express ourselves in today’s workplace, but also more confused. How casual should casual Fridays be? Should you really dress for the job you want rather than the one you have, or will that make you look unapproachable and over-ambitious? If you’re trying to set the standard for your team to follow, how will you interpret your organisation’s dress code? Even the advice to dress like the rest of the office is difficult if you are moving from one temporary assignment to another: before you see the workplace, how will you know what’s acceptable?

According to research by 34SP.com, 55% of workers agree that wearing business attire makes people more productive. And 20% also believe those who dress too casually are ‘slackers’.

The benefits of dressing well are clear. So here are three basic principles to remember about dressing for work.

  1. How you look is an important part of your personal brand.

Research on job interviews showed that an observer could predict whether or not the interviewee would be offered the job from watching just the first 15 seconds of an interview. Looks matter, no doubt about it.

  1. If you are in any doubt, dress more formally and more conservatively.

Whether it was for meetings, dinners, interviews or your first day on the job, people I spoke to were unanimous that a more formal and conservative outfit did no harm (whereas anything revealing, sloppy or too casual could be the kiss of death).

  1. Outdated clothing makes you look out of touch.

Sticking to looks that have long passed their use-by date gives the impression that you can’t be bothered to keep up, and that your work habits may be as inflexible. This is particularly the case in image-conscious industries and workplaces.

So how do these three rules apply? Context is key, and it definitely pays to research the industry and the specific workplace if possible. The aim is not to stick out, but to show that you want to be part of the team.  When you dress in line with the rest of your organisation, you show that you are working in the right place.

In banking, law and finance, you can’t go wrong with a suit, neatly groomed hair and low-key accessories. Anything that shows off too much skin, is too brightly coloured or otherwise draws attention to itself is a no-no. In more creative industries, the code may be ‘business casual’, in which case wear a neat shirt with pants and a belt and leather shoes for men, or a modest dress or skirt that covers the thighs for women.

What about specific occasions? At this time of year, dressing for the Christmas party is top of mind. You may want to break out and show everybody what a party person you really are, but remember you are still at work. Plunging necklines, short, tight skirts or your favourite singlet and board shorts are not okay. By all means wear something fun that expresses your personality, but not to the extent that you are the talking point on Monday morning. Don’t deviate too much from your day-to-day look, and ask the party organiser or check the venue’s dress code if you are unsure.

One last word: body piercings and tattoos. Although they are becoming more acceptable in general, it’s probably wise to assume that they are not part of a professional look. Remove jewellery (apart from a pair of small earrings for women) and cover tattoos. Maybe they are acceptable in your workplace, but it doesn’t take much effort to hide them and they could make the difference between getting the job or landing the contract, or not. When in doubt, remember that there are very few occasions where being well dressed and well groomed will work against you.


Let me being by confessing that I don’t work in an office much any more. These days I’m free to make my own office rules. But I did a quick ask-around to find out what bothers people most about sharing their office space. Everybody I spoke to works in an open-plan office, and unpartitioned desks were the norm (it seems even the cubicle has gone the way of Betamax). ‘Hotdesking’ – where workstations are up for grabs each day ­– seemed to be on the rise.

The most common complaints were about behaviour that should be kept private.  It seems we haven’t yet negotiated the boundaries of privacy and sharing at work. So here, in no particular order, are some pet peeves, and what you can do to make sure you’re not treading on anybody’s toes.

Messy desks. Piles of paper that impinge on others’ desk space (and even floor space), dirty cups and personal stuff left lying around were a big area of complaint. Keep within your boundaries, and keep it neat. Don’t load up your pinboard with personal clutter either – especially if it may be offensive to some.

TIP: Tidy up at the end of the day. Your colleagues will really appreciate the gesture, as well as not being distracted or inconvenienced by your mess.

Loud, private phone conversations. Nobody wants to be distracted from their work by your instructions to the childminder or your catch-up about last night. If you must take private calls, everybody would prefer you to do it in a meeting room, the lobby or outside.

TIP: Set your phone to vibrate, because your amusing ringtone and constantly dinging alert sound annoys others more than you will ever realise.

Eating at your desk (and related transgressions). The number-one complaint was about strong smelling foods. One person’s vindaloo is another person’s durian, as it turns out. Constant snacking and rustling, talking about your vegan superfood snack balls and gum chewing were mentioned too.

TIP: It seems that quietly eating a banana is okay, but in general confine meals and snacks to break times, and have them in the kitchen or lunchroom. You might think eating at your desk makes you look productive, but your colleagues would rather you didn’t.

The kitchen. Which brings us to the most contested space in the building: the office kitchen. Not loading/unloading the dishwasher, leaving a mess, forgetting your lunch in the fridge for a month, leaving the milk out… the list goes on.

TIP: Just clean up after yourself when you make something to eat or drink. Every single time. Then nobody has to put up one of those ‘Your mother doesn’t work here’ notes.

Smoking protocols. When you go out for a smoke break, your colleagues think you are a lazy bludger who takes way too many breaks. They also hate the way you smell when you come back to your desk.

TIP: Everybody would like it if you joined a quitting program, but if you can’t do that, confine it to lunch breaks.

Not ‘knocking’/chipping in. Just because there is no door, it doesn’t mean you should just walk in. Looming up behind somebody and suddenly talking loudly, popping your head over the divider and chiming in to conversations between others is not appreciated.

TIP: Never interrupt somebody who is wearing headphones, unless their desk is on fire. Headphones are the new ‘Do not disturb’ sign.

In my informal survey, a huge issue that is not directly related to sharing space was meeting manners – specifically, should you use phones, tablets or laptops in meetings? Some saw it as ‘the new normal’; others found it distracting and disrespectful. Some workplaces ban it, while others ignore it.

What is the policy in your workplace? Would you allow team members to attend to things on their devices in a meeting you ran? Do you think it is essential in a fast-paced workplace, or just bad manners? Leave your comments (politely) in the comments section below.


When we think of the term ‘etiquette’, we often think of table manners or presenting ourselves professionally and politely in a social setting.

Whether you are new to a role or have been working in the company for a long time, office etiquette is also an important factor that needs to be applied daily. You may be wondering, ‘What are some of the office etiquette factors that I need to be aware of?’ A recent article on Careerealism.com outlines the basics so that you don’t get caught out making these mistakes:

That Text (Or Facebook Update) Can Wait

While smartphones and tablets are advantageous in providing us with information instantly, setting reminders, etc. Be careful not to all them to become a hindrance when it comes to your meetings or presentations.

How would you feel if you are trying to close a business deal with a client to observe them as they stare at their phone and answer a text during your pitch? The same would apply to an internal meeting with staff if you are sharing ideas with the group only to see that no one is paying attention because they are reading their Facebook updates.

While we all believe we are great multi-taskers, if we lack engagement or connection with others it can be damaging to workplace relationships. You may also miss out on information relating to important tasks which in turn could affect your performance. So make sure to prepare in advance for your meeting. Advise management and others that you are attending meetings so that you will receive less distractions, and if need be, switch off any devices that may ‘beep’ or ‘ping’ during that allocated time frame.

Engagement and human interaction is still a vital part of business and maintaining connections with others so make it count. Be present.

Pretend There’s A Wall

This needs to be considered in an open office space. While you have free reign to walk around and interact, it is still important to respect and consider others and their personal space. This includes:

• Talking loudly or over someone else’s shoulder when they are on the phone
• Keeping your paperwork and office items within your desk space and not allowing it to spill over onto someone else’s desk
• Setting your phone to silent every time you receive a message or call

If you are respectful of others and their space, they will be respectful towards you in return.

For Workplace Fashion, Go With The Crowd

This doesn’t mean that you need to wear the latest Cue dress or business suit, but obviously be aware of your office environment and how others present themselves. Different workplaces will allow different dress codes but you don’t want to appear like you have rolled out of bed when others are dressed in corporate attire. Find out from management what they expect from you in terms of attire, and remember that how you present yourself is showing a representation of your company image. So why not dress to impress?

Gossip On Your Own Time

Whether you are the source of it or partaking in it, office gossip (or gossip of any kind) should be conducted in your own time and not in the workplace. It’s not only a distraction, but it can also create tension in the workplace if the gossip is of negative nature. If someone else is trying to administer it, take your initiative to coordinate an appropriate time to discuss topics. For example your lunch break or at after work drinks. Don’t be afraid to tell someone that you are too busy at the time to join in the conversation, otherwise it could affect your workplace productivity too.

Believe It Or Not, You Can Still Learn Some Things

This involves paying respect to other employees’ ideas and contributions to tasks, even if you would do the job differently yourself. Take the time to listen to what they have to say, especially if they have new suggestions that could improve outcomes of tasks, because you would hope for the same respect in return.

While you may have been hired as an expert in your field you should still be open to new suggestions, feedback and even changes within the workplace. It is never too early or too late to learn new things.

Don’t Search For Jobs On The Job

Believe it or not I have heard of employees doing this before, and to get caught doing so at your current place of work is quite embarrassing. It also demonstrates a lack of respect and loyalty to your current employer.

The same thing applies to telling colleagues that you are looking for another role before bringing it up to management. As office gossip can go around, this may potentially damage your current position before you even find the potential new role. If you feel it is time to move on, keep your job search within your own time and conduct it with discretion.


In this day and age it is important to set yourself apart from the competition whether you are a jobseeker or a business. Establishing your brand and how you would like to market your brand is a great way to do that.

I recently attended a FINSIA networking event: ‘How to Network for Career Success’. The aim of the evening was to give young finance professionals the tools to deliver their personal brand articulately and learn the etiquette of networking. Tim Rossi, one of the founding members of Macquarie, facilitated the evening and shared his knowledge earned from years of success within the industry.

By attending networking events myself I can relate to approaching another person or group and it can often be the most difficult or nerve-wracking part of networking. So how can we gain this confidence and experience to deliver our brand in a positive way?

One of the great things I have found about dedicated networking events is that they usually make you go and talk to other people one way or another. Tim at FINSIA allowed us to introduce ourselves to another individual, discuss who we are, where we work and what our specialty is.

I also learned that it is key to focus on your expertise and future rather than your past when talking about yourself and your brand. We were encouraged to discuss the challenges we face in our current role and how we aim to overcome them. This certainly made an interesting conversation and made me realise that you never know how someone might be able to help you or even provide a different perspective!

After we had our one-on-one conversations we were advised to join another couple and introduce the colleague that you just met. This interesting activity really tested your ability to engage through listening to your partner when they told you about themselves and how much information you absorbed from that conversation.

I know the first time I had to make the introduction I couldn’t even recall my partner’s job title! It is important to remember that networking is not all about you, it is about relationships and connecting for mutual benefit. While trying to memorise and rehearse your elevator pitch is important, listening is also vital to establish not only more about the person but also their needs, especially if you can provide a service to meet their needs! Luckily I had another chance to practice my introductions.  One of the most important mediums of getting your name and contact details out there (and remembered) is with a business card. Rossi stressed the importance of using business cards (even if it is just a personal card for jobseekers) and how to give and receive them. When somebody gives you their business card it is important you give them respect and actually look at it; take in all the information. Then follow it up with a LinkedIn connection, thank you email or follow up coffee. It’s respectful and courteous and you would like to hope that they do the same when you hand out your business card in future.

Another pivotal part of the follow up is to make sure that your social media profiles sell your business brand. Make sure your Facebook and / or Twitter account privacy settings are up-to-date. Remember that first appearances are important so also ensure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and matches how you describe yourself at networking events.

The evening wrapped up by turning to the person on your right and discussing what you learned from the event. The key lessons I learned was the importance of practicing my elevator pitch; to make it consistent, know my specialty (skills, attributes etc.) and allowing time to listen to others rather than focusing on ‘you’. By practicing these skills at networking events you too can make the connections you need to take your career to the next step.

Have you been to a networking event recently? If so, what did you learn from the experience? Did you find there were areas that you needed to improve on?


Latest online poll results:

Yes – 80% 

No – 20% 

First, I would like to convey my thanks to everyone who responded with comments this week – obviously this issue struck a chord with lots of you, and there was some very thoughtful, heartfelt feedback!

It is, naturally, a fact of living and working in the 21st century across cities, states, countries and time zones, that email communication has become a toll of communication that cannot be avoided.

And, as with all forms of communication, email is not an all-encompassing evil. Sometimes it is the best and most efficient way to convey information. However, when it is used to ask simple questions when it would be faster to pick up a phone, or when people hide behind it, or when they copy in huge contact lists of irrelevant people, it becomes silly and annoying.

I loved the anecdote shared by one poll respondent: “In my office, the IT lines went down for two days. Suddenly there were people at my door wanting to chat, and I had numerous marvellous conversations on how to do things better. People were walking around the corridors, having a laugh at the photocopier, and the whole atmosphere in the building lifted. Now with the IT lines restored, I sit in a silent space, no one chats, and even the colleague right next to me sends me an email with a simple question. Bring back the conversations!”

As another respondent said: “there is no substitute for having a conversation to stimulate ideas and creativity.”

Indeed. Getting everyone around the table, brainstorming, sharing ideas, laughing, asking questions, listening to each other, is unarguably more stimulating and fun than a series of silent, staid emails.

But, a single email sent to all participants afterwards listing the main discussion points and action items is, equally, an efficient and effective way to convey the ideas generated and itemise the next steps for everyone involved to take.

Email is also an excellent way to keep a record of an important exchange between colleagues, or between yourself and a client: “In the workplace, I prefer to communicate via email. I like that I have information in writing (both from what I have sent and received from clients) to refer back to.” Further: “Emails should be used as a confirmation of a conversation, and not as the main form of communication.”

However, there are some situations where an actual conversation, either face-to-face or via telephone, is supremely preferable to an email exchange. “Too many people rely on emails to issue orders, bad news and to address employee issues. Excessive email usage kills the art of spoken communication and removes the opportunity for someone to respond to a certain situation.”

No one enjoys difficult conversations, such as performance managing someone. We all have a client or contact we loathe speaking with. It is always so tempting to simply shoot off an email. But, of course, these are precisely the situations where a conversation is the best approach.

How many times have you changed the tenor of what you will say next because of the reaction to your last statement?

Would a problem with a customer be handled more quickly if the customer’s response was immediate? The nuance of the spoken voice includes information you would miss with electronic communication.

Some organisations have initiated “no-email Fridays” and encourage people to pick up the phone for a conversation on any day of the week or to see others in person. These organisations report they soon experienced better problem-solving, better teamwork, and happier customers.

I also found it interesting and somehow reassuring that listed amongst the dozens of titles in our new range of online skills tests is one that assesses Office Telephone Etiquette: “The focus of this assessment is on evaluating a test taker’s communication skills along with their ability to recognise proper telephone etiquette and the best way to handle calls.”

What do you think? Leave your comments below or, of you feel moved to do so, please give me a call! 

Our new poll is live! Tell us: Does your manager really care what you think and is their door really ‘open’? Results published in next week’s ChallengeBlog …


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