Sunday 18 April 2021
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Office Etiquette – what is right and wrong?

Selma Moongo

What is considered to be appropriate in one environment may not necessarily be appropriate in another; this is especially challenging to the people that find themselves moving into a new environment, such as a new job.  The 21st century office environment is often a tough place in which to operate.

For a better understanding, an office is a room (or set of them) used as a place of business for non-manual work. It represents an environment where one displays polite behavior among members of a particular profession or group. Right? With this in mind it means that one’s attitude and behavior towards their co-workers and towards the job is what determines how well they are maintaining the company’s ‘Code of Ethics’.

Office etiquette is important because it provides a sense of universal good behavior. The work place, almost like no other environment brings a multiplicity of cultural norms and behavior styles together in one place. Imagine the opportunity for a conflict without a set of rules.

Lukas Betwel, Finance and Administration Manager at Octagon Construction defines Office Etiquettes to be the underlying office norms. “I think Office Etiquette can be best described as the underlying office norms that set the basic ground rules on what can be regarded as an acceptable and conducive working environment both from a social and professional perspective,” he said.

Of course this acts as a guide to appropriate behavior but the real question lies on what level employees know each other on. Is it strictly professional or is it strictly professional on work premises? When employees are on friendly comfort levels with each other, they are less likely to act professional in the office unless when in the presence of superiors. In Namibia, this issue is further complicated because quite often employees come the same communities or may have studied at the same universities. So when they join the work force it imposes new behavioral norms complicated by a shared history as peers. Take the same dynamic to work and things can get heated.

Thus the place for office etiquette is paramount because it is here where we create a sense of a level playing field. Some of the etiquettes expected to be sustained in a professional environment include phone etiquette, how long you should let the phone ring, your tone of voice, what to say and how to say it, etc. Factor in external audiences like clients and here too one has to be watchful in how to approach etiquette in the business place. Others include email etiquette, toilet etiquette and employee relation etiquette.

With basic polite behavior one has to take into high consideration the verbal communication and non-verbal cues as well. With the verbal communication, it does not entirely depend on what is said that comes off as inappropriate, rather how it is said. An example of this could be saying “may I please have the pen” as opposed to “bring the pen”. The non-verbal communication will always translate 80% of any communication, as determined by one’s facial expressions, eye contact (or not), hand gestures, body movements, what we dress, etc.

I could be saying I agree with a certain idea presented in a meeting but what my body is giving off is the complete opposite, this is quite unfortunate because not many are aware of just how dangerous non-verbal cues can be. Sometimes how we are treated by coworkers can be provoked and sometimes we are unaware.

When asked what are the important things to consider in regards to office etiquette, Mr. Betwel stated that having an understanding of the company’s business ethics and the procedures for reporting transgressions, and seeking help from your management is a key ‘MUST’.

He also added; “Remember people’s names, it helps smoothen communication when addressing others and acts as a sign of respect. Also the little things such as knocking before entering someone’s office plays a big role, especially when you do not know what mood the person is in.” The most important one in this matter has to be being courteous and dressing appropriately as this reflects back to how one was raised.

An arena for frequent conflict is the office kitchen- individuals have specific preferences for their own cups and eating utensils and sometimes other staff members consider this a public arena and therefore they use any cup available to quench their thirst. Not so, says Joana as she comes from a background where each person has his or her own cup and plate.

Joseph on the other hand wonders why Joana can be so selfish at times in an area, which is really not so important after all. Rules on etiquette make life a little easier.

It is every employee’s obligation to act in the most ethical way as possible because it will help in the long run. When you practice something it slowly becomes a part of you and what you stand for as a professional individual.

Mr. Betwel gave us his best recipe when you find yourself in a conflicting situation, “Stay calm and don’t get emotional or angry. We all have bad days every now and then; sometimes a sympathetic comment is the best way to direct a coworker towards better behavior.”

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