Fast track: Corporate Strategies The Inside Track On Becoming A Consummate Professional 20: Manners Maketh The Manager... Office Etiquette

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throughout history, different societies have maintained their own accepted codes of what is, and isn't, polite. In Inuit society, for instance, it is considered good manners to greet someone by rubbing your nose against theirs. In high society, you are merely expected to lift it contemptuously and look sneeringly down it at them. Corporate society is no different - it too has its own strictly laid-down rules of ethical conduct. Like most office rules (Do Not Use This Photocopier For Personal Use!, Please Wash Your OWN Coffee Mugs! etc) these are inevitably ignored by the entire workforce.

Here, though - in a vain attempt to foster a more courteous working environment, is a reminder of the most basic rudiments of Workplace Etiquette.


The accepted way to end an e-mail is neither with Yours Faithfully nor Yours Sincerely, but with the phrase "seeya" or an indecipherable little symbol along the lines of <:-) or ***:o)))

On receipt of any e-mail containing a joke, however unfunny, it is common courtesy to duplicate copies of this to every other name in your Address Book file as soon as possible. This requirement takes priority over all other outstanding jobs.

Eating and drinking

It is customary for most meals to begin with a soup course, at least until you've figured out how to stop the vending machine dispensing a cup of tepid Oxtail every time you press the cappuccino button.

If unsure which fork to use in the staff canteen, a good rule of thumb is to start from the one with the smallest amount of congealed tomato sauce encrusted on it.

After luncheon, the scurrilous gossip should be passed from left to right around the table.

It is bad manners to gulp your food down in a rush. Managers should allow at least four hours for lunch: alcohol takes a long time to digest.

A brief word about cutlery: the large, blunt ended knives are for eating fish, the smaller, sharper, serrated ones are reserved for stabbing your fellow workers in the back.

In the lift

Do not push in front of your colleagues. You can infuriate them far more effectively by lagging behind and sticking your foot out to jam the door just before it closes.

In the smoking room

It is extremely uncivil NOT to smoke. If someone is using this area purely as somewhere to eat their low-calorie yogurt in relative peace and quiet, you are quite at liberty to glare at them, point to the Smoking Room sign and ask them to indulge in their disgustingly health-conscious practices elsewhere.

Dress code

Unlike high society, city society does not deem it a ghastly, humiliating faux pas to turn up in the same outfit as someone else. The phrase "oh my God, I don't BELIEVE it! Piers never said he'd be wearing a grey Marks and Spencers suit!" is seldom uttered in the Square Mile.

Telephone manner

(NB: the following list does not apply to anyone employed in a Receptionist capacity, who will never be required to use the telephone for any purpose other than chatting to Tracie about her personal life).

Remember, all callers enjoy listening to "The Girl From Ipanema" (synthesiser remix), particularly when they are paying 45 pence a minute for the privilege. It would be churlish not to offer an encore, particularly after stating that "it's ringing for you now, Sir!" to build up that sense of tense anticipation loved by all keen-edged professionals.

Similarly, using the telephone for personal calls is heavily frowned upon. You can do your bit to dissuade colleagues from this deceitful practice, by listening in on the other line and then relaying details of their private life to the girls in the typing pool.

General courtesy

Always open the door for a woman - this will enable her to carry your tea through far more rapidly.

It is rude to spy on people at work. Fortunately, very few employees in the security profession are guilty of such antisocial behaviour.

In the boardroom

When drawing up a seating plan, try to space male and female invitees equally around the table. A typical arrangement would go thus: boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, girl, boy, boy, boy, boy. (The girl is, of course, there to take notes and provide light refreshments). The most fashionable time to arrive for a meeting is 15 minutes late. Arriving any earlier will give colleagues the impression that you have nothing else useful to do around the office. Which is probably true, but they don't need to know that, do they?

At the office party

Ignore all the above.