The worst office etiquette mistakes

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Whether or not we want to admit it, we spend a lot of our waking life at work. Knowing how to conduct yourself in an office setting is one of the life skills you need to have by age 30, but knowing the intricacies of office etiquette isn't always so easy. Even if you are well-intentioned, it's possible that your daily work habits are breaking workplace etiquette standards. To find out the worst office etiquette mistakes, we consulted Emily Post to see just how one should conduct themselves in a professional environment.

Being late

If your office has a strict work schedule, say 9-5, make it your business to be in your seat with your computer booted up at 9 a.m. While commute times may vary across America and day to day, try leaving 15 or 20 minutes early so you know you'll arrive on time. While the occasional tardiness due to an unavoidable accident on the highway or a missed alarm can't be avoided, being habitually tardy is disrespectful to your fellow co-workers.


Coming in sick

A survey of 2,800 American workers done by specialized staffing service Accountemps revealed that 90% of employees will come into work when sick. While you may think powering through that cough makes you a good worker, it actually is quite inconsiderate to those around you. Familiarize yourself with the earliest symptoms of a cold and stay home if you find yourself falling ill.

Not practicing proper hygiene

If you're in an open office environment, you're going to be in close proximity to others all day. Be sure that you practice proper hygiene and show up to work showered with your hair combed and teeth brushed. You don't want to smell others' coffee breath, and they certainly don't want to smell yours. Similarly, watch that you aren't overdoing it with perfume or cologne. You may think that new scent smells like a fresh spring day, but it could smell like bathroom cleaner to someone else.

© Diego Vito Cervo/

Dressing sloppily

Even if your office doesn't have an official dress code, take pride in your appearance. You don't have to wear a suit, but showing up in sweatpants, clothes that don't fit or dirty clothes reflects poorly on you and shows your boss and fellow employees that you don't take your job seriously.

Using your cell phone during meetings

Being on your phone instead of being present is one of the biggest etiquette mistakes, period. It's especially inconsiderate when you're in a meeting. If you find yourself becoming bored during presentations, keep yourself alert and engaged by taking notes. This will not only help you to pay attention, but your note-taking could come in handy at a later point.

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Replying all

Open communication is an important function of any workplace, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to know everything at all times. If you're communicating via email or instant messenger, make sure that only the people who need to be involved in any given thread are copied onto the message. Simply hitting "reply all" or cc'ing everyone in your office is a surefire way to annoy your colleagues by clogging their inboxes and is one of the ways you're being rude online.

Interrupting others

You have just the perfect thing to say in a meeting - the only problem is, well, someone else is talking at the moment. Don't worry, you'll just cut them off and start into your own spiel. Actually, that's not fine. Interrupting others, even when you have important input, is particularly rude. Just wait your turn.


You spend a lot of time with your colleagues, and it's a certainty that you'll have opinions about all of them. However, refrain from gossiping about them, especially to others in your workplace. Gossip can damage interpersonal relationships, harm your own reputation and can even end up getting you in trouble with HR. Once you quit gossiping at work, stop this habit in general. There are a lot of good reasons you should never gossip.


Everyone can be nosey from time to time, but you want to keep your private life and professional life as separate as possible. Extend that courtesy to those around you. If your co-worker just got married, don't go digging for when they're going to start a family. In fact, take this piece of advice outside of the office and stop asking these questions you may not know are rude.


The office can be a good place to meet a future love interest, but try to keep your personal life and flirting out of your work environment. Bringing your romance into the workplace can make others around you uncomfortable and can make it look like you're only at your job to fraternize, not to work. If you do end up dating a co-worker, keep your private life private and definitely read up on what PDA is (and is not) OK.


Everyone gets frustrated, but expressing that through cursing or other colorful language can make others around you feel uncomfortable. Keeping up a professional appearance is more than about your looks - it also means conducting yourself in a manner that is respectful and commands respect back from those around you.

Bringing your personal problems to work

We all have our issues from time to time, but bringing personal problems into work can seriously affect your productivity and overall demeanor. If you're experiencing a major disruption in your life, consider taking some "me" time. Bringing a sour attitude into the office affects those around you and can disrupt the workday.

Making small talk when someone is busy

One of the first steps in knowing how to make small talk is knowing when to make small talk. You may be itching to tell your co-worker your opinions on the latest episode of "The Bachelor," but if they're on the phone, typing vigorously with their headphones in or otherwise obviously occupied, wait to chat. Ammentorp Lund

Reading memos and emails that are not yours

It may be tempting to take a quick look at someone else's screen when you're walking through the office, but private communication is kept private for a reason. You wouldn't want someone else reading your personal emails, memos and chats, so don't read others'. Being this nosey is one of the etiquette mistakes you need to stop by age 30.

Making distracting noises

You probably don't even realize it when you snap your gum, tap your highlighter repeatedly against your desk or sigh heavily every time you get an email, but your co-workers sure notice. Making small noises like clicking your pen, clearing your throat or constantly chatting interrupts the concentration of those around you. According to a 2018 study by Udemy, 70% of respondents said that office noise was a top distractor.

Not covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze

Studies have shown that employees who work in offices with an open layout take more sick days than offices with cubicles. That's because germs from sneezes and coughs travel through the air. If you find yourself with a sudden need to sneeze, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sneezing or coughing into a tissue and disposing of that tissue. If you don't have a tissue on hand, use the upper part of your sleeve. Doing otherwise is just one of the many ways your workplace is making you (and those around you) sick.

Listening to your music without headphones

It doesn't matter if Mozart, Madonna or Motley Crue fuels your workday - chances are, the person sitting next to you does not share your taste in music. Keep your music in your own headphones. Listening to music out loud isn't just rude at work; it's also one of the rudest things you can do at the gym or in any public place.


We've all had long, sleepless nights. But whatever you do, don't fall asleep at your desk at work. In a survey of over 74,000 people done by the CDC, 37.9% of people reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once a month. If you're not getting the amount of sleep per night that doctors recommend, you may find yourself nodding off at your desk or tempted to run to your car for a quick nap. But you're not getting paid to sleep. Taking a snooze during your 9-5 is disrespectful to those around you working hard. If you find this happening a lot, add this behavior to the list of things to ask your doctor about.

Grooming yourself at your desk

You may have gotten ready in a rush and didn't have time to put on your mascara. Or maybe you were typing feverishly and noticed that you broke a nail. No matter what, avoid cutting your nails, putting on makeup, brushing your hair or any other personal grooming task at your desk. If you find you need to floss, clean some dirt out from under your nails or get a piece of food out of your beard, head to the restroom.

Heating smelly things in the microwave

Your dinner last night of salmon, garlicky mashed potatoes and perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts may have been delicious, but it doesn't smell so great left over and reheated. Be aware of the things that you are cooking in your shared office breakroom and microwave. Try to refrain from highly fragrant foods as much as possible.

Eating food that isn't yours

Taking something that doesn't belong to you is never nice. That leftover lasagna in the shared office refrigerator may look mighty tasty and that healthy frozen meal may not have a name on it, but if you didn't bring a certain food item with you to work, don't eat it. That even means that swiping a Snickers, a Diet Coke or even a piece of gum from your neighbor's desk is off-limits.

Not bringing enough for everyone

Bringing in doughnuts, bagels or homemade baked goods for your co-workers is a kind gesture. One of the first manners you should teach children is that sharing is caring. If you're tasked with bringing bagels for the breakfast meeting on Friday morning, bring enough for your entire department. If you work in a small office, always bring enough goodies to share with everyone.

Bringing in office treats that exclude those with allergies

If you are sharing treats with others, be considerate of others' allergies, food sensitivities and diets. If you know a person on your team has a nut allergy, leave the walnuts out of the chocolate chip cookies you bring in. If someone has a gluten sensitivity, be sure to buy one gluten-free bagel for them. Excluding people - even by accident - is one of the many ways you may not know you're being rude.

Taking credit for others' work

You wouldn't want someone taking credit for a part of a project that you worked really hard on, so don't do that to others. Claiming that someone else's hard work is your own is incredibly disrespectful to your co-workers.

Slacking off

Very few people are the type of robot-like employees who can do straight work for eight hours a day. Taking breaks throughout your shift to eat, socialize or walk around the office is good for both mental and physical health. However, spending hours of your workday scrolling through social media or reading the news is time theft. It also affects the people around you who work hard. It isn't always easy to consider others, but doing so is one of the modern rules of etiquette you need to know.

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