How to get along in a UK office
Whether you’re new to the office world, you’ve moved to the UK from elsewhere or you’re simply not sure about office etiquette and all of those little unwritten social rules, these useful tips will help you to make a good impression and stay on the right side of colleagues and managers:
Don’t discuss your salary
In the workplace, it all begins and ends with money.
There’s a possibility that you won’t be earning the same salary as others that do the same job.
Don’t discuss how much you’re paid. This applies not just in situations with people that have the same job description, but also with everyone else. It’s not polite to discuss how much you’re earning, and you don’t want to offend anyone that’s being paid less than you.
Offer to make drinks for everyone
If you’re a tea or coffee drinker, don’t assume that you can make your drink without taking a list of requests.
It’s polite to ask everyone else if they’d also like a drink, which can lead to a long list of beverages that you’ll need to make.
You’ll have to remember who likes milk, who wants sugar, who has sweetener instead of sugar, who drinks tea and who has coffee, how strong each person likes their drink to be, and which member of your team is a health fanatic with a penchant for herbal teas. Have a notepad handy!
Make this a bit easier by suggesting that everyone should write their preferred beverage on a notice board by the kettle, so that you only need to remember who’s ready for their next hot drink. And if you decide not to make drinks for everyone else in the office, make sure that you never accept the offer when it’s someone else’s turn.
Don’t change the temperature without asking
You’re sharing an office with potentially dozens of other people. Some of them will wish that they worked in the Sahara, whilst others are constantly too hot. Don’t upset anyone by opening a window without asking, or by making unscheduled changes to the air conditioner settings.
Turn up to work with layers of clothing to cover every eventuality, just in case someone else makes a change that you don’t want to openly complain about.
Don’t eat smelly food
Fish products are a no-go in the office environment. Don’t microwave a fish pie. Be very careful with tuna sandwiches or pasta dishes. Boiled eggs are also a risk.
Don’t take an extended lunch break
Employees in UK offices are strict on time-keeping. This means that they’ll notice if you turn up a bit late, leave a bit early or take a few extra minutes on your lunch break. Your manager might also be adding up the minutes, with a very clear picture of how many hours you miss each year.
Buy cake on your birthday
Your colleagues might buy you a card or gift, as you celebrate being a year closer to leaving the office and retiring from the world of work. In return, it’s your job to buy cake for everyone to enjoy.
If you work in the same room as everyone else, put the cake in an obvious place and wait for people to comment. If you’re scattered throughout a larger building, this is the time when it’s completely acceptable to send an email that’s not work-related. The second you click ‘send’, you can turn to watch as hordes of drooling zombies shuffle into view.
Smoking indoors has been illegal since 2007.
Using e-cigarettes, or ‘vaping’, is currently allowed in public places. This doesn’t mean that you should do it! Many workplaces have their own rules about electronic cigarettes, but even if yours doesn’t mention them specifically it’s wise to go outside for your vaping. Many people simply aren’t comfortable with having e-cigarettes used in their presence. The verdict is still out on any potential health risks, too.
Mind your language
Do you think that swearing in the office is acceptable?
Bad language in the workplace could lead to warnings and disciplinary action, but don’t office workers actually overlook it?
People swear in everyday conversation, and in the office environment it’s certainly not unusual to hear some cursing and aggressive language. Most of the time, bad language is ignored unless it’s specifically aimed at a person. However, recruitment company Office Angels found that 67% of employees think that swearing at work is unacceptable. They might not say it to your face, but if your colleagues are upset by your language then it could be affecting working relationships.
Be careful about who you’re including in your emails
Have you ever written a text about someone, then accidentally sent it straight to them instead of the intended recipient? In the office, be extra careful about who’s receiving your emails.
If you need to discuss your concerns about a particular person’s behaviour:
- Don’t accidentally send your concerns directly to the person that you’re talking about, rather than your manager or HR department.
- Do attempt to clear things up privately. If you want to talk directly to the person that you’re concerned about, but also need to discuss the issue with your HR manager, then don’t copy the two recipients into the same version of the email. People won’t be happy that you’re talking about them, even if you’re doing it openly.
- If you’re chasing up work, don’t copy someone’s manager into the email that you send. It’ll seem like playground behaviour – dragging the teacher into a discussion that doesn’t yet need to include them. Give people a chance to respond privately, and only copy in a higher manager once you’ve both agreed to their involvement. If you absolutely need to ‘tell tales’, go and see your manger in person or send a separate email.
Be careful about your ringtone choice
Keep your phone silent at all times. If you can’t trust yourself to do that, be extremely careful about your choice of ringtone. Don’t embarrass yourself. The In the Night Garden theme tune might keep your toddler happy when you receive a call at home, but do you really want its haunting echo ringing out in the middle of a meeting?
Assume that people are always listening
You might be talking to someone that you feel very comfortable with, but can you be sure that nobody else is listening in? You might accidentally offend someone, or say something that gets repeated to the wrong person. The same applies online – don’t talk about employees, or your employer, on social media or your blog. Whatever you post can, and probably will, be discovered.
Use common sense, and remember not to be too relaxed. Being comfortable at work is great, but you should still think carefully about everything that you say and do.