It seems like this should be a fairly simple concept: you need to have good behavior at work. Everyone understands that. After all, in order to maintain a professional persona, move forward in your career, make valuable connections, and keep your job, you need to behave in a certain manner in the workplace.
While simple, some people still may not understand what is good behavior and what is bad behavior for work. You might see the guy in the cubicle across from you get drunk at the office holiday party, or hear your boss is having an affair with another coworker. This is clearly not good behavior, and it won’t bode well for them in the future. But how do we keep from engaging in such behaviors? How do we set boundaries in our own behavior to set ourselves up for success?
In the following situations let’s define it: What is good behavior? How do we maintain this behavior? And what behaviors should we avoid at all costs?
Many of us might cringe when we hear the term “office relationship,” but, in reality, not all relationships in the office are bad. It is ok, great even, to make friends at work. Life would be pretty boring if every day you went to the office and you had no camaraderie, no friendships, no one to grab lunch with, or no one to chat with over the water jug.
In regards to work-appropriate behavior, it’s even ok if those friendships extend outside the office. Maybe you get drinks once a week with some coworkers, or take a Saturday yoga class with another. Friends at work are good, as long as you establish boundaries.
A romantic relationship at work, however, may not be the best idea if you want to avoid a path that could lead to inappropriate behavior. Many workplaces have rules against romantic partnerships in the office, but there are many other potential factors that could negatively affect you or your work environment, including favoritism, awkwardness, gossip, and misuse of authority. Beginning a relationship with either your superior or subordinate can also complicate power dynamics, make work uncomfortable or unfair for others, make it tricky to navigate each other’s intentions, and potentially bring your integrity into question.
Even if you and your partner are on the same playing field when it comes to your career, what if the relationship goes sour? Your workplace could become a minefield if both parties are not able to move on in a mature way.
I recommend staying away from romantic behavior at work. Making friends is fine; dating is best avoided.
The reality is, when you’re at work, you need to be working. Short breaks, bathroom runs, and lunch are your free time at work. But whenever you are on the clock, you should not be scrolling through social media, mindlessly surfing the web, online shopping, sending personal emails, calls and texts, or engaging in any behavior that is a waste to your employer’s time. If you are being paid to do a certain task, you should be doing it.
Walk through any given office and you will probably find workers browsing Facebook and Amazon, texting their spouse, or engaging in any other non-work activity. However, all such behavior should be reserved for your breaks.
You may be able to get away with a few minutes of goofing off, but that doesn’t mean you should. Always strive to be as professional as possible; that’s what will make employers notice your worth, and could ultimately make all the difference in moving up in your career.
You need to drink responsibly when you are at work functions. If you are at a picnic or a holiday party and they are serving alcohol, it’s fine to participate and have a drink. However, I urge you to know your limits and act accordingly.
Do you get tipsy after three drinks? Then you should probably only have one or two. Does hard liquor hit you hard? Stick to wine. Don’t push it. No one wants to be that person at the party everyone talks about for months. Make good choices about what you consume when your employer and colleagues are around.
A good rule of thumb is to watch what your boss or supervisor does. Do they avoid the alcohol altogether? Maybe you should consider staying sober for work functions, too. Do they stick to two drinks? Mimic what they do. However, if your boss can put away several drinks and still appear sober, but you are walking sideways after four, tone it down. You don’t have to match your employer exactly, but you can use their behavior as a guide.
Practice safe drinking techniques you can also use outside of work functions. For example, don’t drink on an empty stomach, alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water, and always arrange for a sober ride home.
Drinking a glass of wine at a work dinner and maintaining a professional conversation is good behavior. Getting drunk at the holiday party and trying to climb the Christmas tree is not.
If you’re wondering if gossiping is ever appropriate behavior for work–it isn’t. It is never professional. To do so will only result in hurt feelings, animosity, and division in your team and office. This isn’t the hallway of your high school. This is your workplace. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to work with them. The least you can do is maintain a certain level of mutual respect and be courteous of people’s personal lives.
If you want to practice the best behavior in regards to your team and coworkers, choose to speak positive words rather than destructive ones. Be thankful, encouraging, patient, and empathetic. Otherwise, don’t say anything at all.
Behaving well doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at work. As I already mentioned, make some friends–that will make each day more interesting. Participate in work events and social gatherings with your coworkers. Go to the picnics and the after-work drinks. Dance at the party. You can do all of these things while remaining professional. Just be sure to set boundaries for yourself, and then stick to them.
Being on your best behavior at work will not only help you to be you a more professional employee, but it will also prove you to be more more trustworthy in the eyes of employers and coworkers, keep you focused on your career, and ultimately, help you more quickly and successfully move forward on your career path.
Also published on Medium.