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20 Office Etiquette Rules You’re Probably Ignoring—But Shouldn’t

The workplace has changed, sure, but some things never get outdated. Career experts chime in on the office etiquette everyone should know.

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Don’t eat at your desk

“Within a tight space, smells can be magnified, so use consideration when packing your lunch or snacks. Try to eat meals in the kitchen, break room, or outside rather than at your desk.” —Office etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore in Entrepreneur.com

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Don’t go to work if you’re sick

“Do your team a favor and don’t share your pneumonia germs with everyone. Take a day or two, and focus on getting better. You’re no good to anyone when you are too sick to read the numbers on your computer screen. If you must work, then work remotely—grab your laptop, and work from the comfort of home. Don’t forget to sanitize your desk when you get back to work.” —Office etiquette experts at Energy ResourcingOutside of work, these rude restaurant behaviors are important to avoid

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Limit personal calls in work areas

“Chatting to your best friend about Saturday night is hardly conducive with hard work. Avoid taking personal calls in office time.” —Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead in Small Biz TrendsMake sure you’re not also doing any of these things that annoy your co-workers.

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Getting annoyed at other people’s conversations

“If you work in an open office space and professional phone calls distract you, remember that it’s probably not the person’s intention to bother you. Try to be understanding of the situation and keep a good pair of headphones nearby.” —Office etiquette expert Myka Meier as quoted in Town & Country .

These ridiculous office rules will make you glad to work where you do. 

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Don’t be the office DJ

In addition to making sure your headphones aren’t leaking sound that could bother your cubemates: “Double-check that your headphones are plugged-in before streaming your favorite Spotify station.” —Leadership expert Rob Asghar in Forbes

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Remember to knock!

“Imagine how you feel when you’re buried under work and a co-worker pops into your office. Maybe it’s just to ask a simple question, but that momentary distraction completely derails your train of thought and productivity. Don’t do that to your co-workers. Even if right now is the perfect moment for you to discuss something, that doesn’t mean it is for them. Take the time to send an email to find out when both of you have a few spare minutes.” —Serial entrepreneur Ilya Pozin in Inc.comFind out more things your co-workers really wish they could tell you.

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Respect your co-workers’ availability

“Just because others are sitting nearby doesn’t mean they are available for conversation at all times. Respect one another’s privacy. Act as if there is a door between you, and if they appear to be busy, ask if they have a moment to talk.” —Office etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore in Entrepreneur.com

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Keep distractions out of site during meetings

“Ten years ago, there would have never been purses, wallets, or any other personal item sitting on the table during a meeting or business lunch. But now, none of us can survive unless our cell phones are within arms reach. Keep your cell phone stowed away. Having it out on the table is a sign to those you’re with that they don’t have your full attention.” —Serial entrepreneur Ilya Pozin in Inc.comHere’s some other business etiquette you should know too.

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Don’t be nosey

“Avoid being a busybody when someone you work with is going through a personal issue. If a co-worker has been unexpectedly out of the office for a number of days, it’s nice to send a thoughtful note along the lines of, “Hope you’re OK. Let me know if there’s anything you need.” But leave it at that. Don’t pry to find out what is wrong, they will let you know if they want to share.” —Expert Anthony Balderrama for CareerBuilder.com

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Be considerate of people’s allergies

“Avoid overpowering fragrances or any food your co-workers are allergic to. No one wants to be responsible for sending anyone to the hospital.” —The experts at Energy Resourcing

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Keep your desk organized

“Show your organizational skills and professional image by keeping your own desk tidy and in order throughout the working day.” —Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead in Small Biz TrendsHere are more tips for a productive workday.

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Be mindful of your CCs

“Remove people from email threads who don’t need to be there. […] Having your inbox overrun by email chains that are useless and irrelevant to you is annoying. If the email thread gets more specific, remember to remove people who don’t need that information.” —Serial entrepreneur Ilya Pozin in Inc.com

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Don’t monopolize the conference room

“Do not use a conference room to take long personal calls or treat it as your personal office. Squatting is for the gym—not the workplace.” —Office etiquette expert Myka Meier as quoted in Town & Country

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Keep your conversations professional

“Keep your language clean, no matter how comfortable you are with your team or how casual your office is. Make sure you know how to properly pronounce employee or customer names. Consider your audience when you use humor, sarcasm, irony, puns, and wordplay. Set workplace standards for email and phone communication. Encourage two-way communication and listening. Be open to input from your staff; in fact, ask for it. Express gratitude in person when possible.” —The employment experts at Robert Half

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Don’t ignore your co-workers’ emails

“When receiving emails, voice messages, Skype messages, texts, and other forms of correspondence from colleagues, reply in a timely manner instead of keeping them waiting.” —Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead in Small Biz Trends. Read these hilarious out-of-office emails.

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Introduce yourself to new employees

“Remember what it felt like to be the newest person in the office. Smile at the new person, strike up a very brief conversation and ask him or her to join your group for lunch. Offer to answer any questions and comment about how you remember what it’s like to be new. Check in with them after the first week or two, when they may be less overwhelmed and appreciative of a friendly face.” —Etiquette expert Debby Mayne in The Spruce

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Keep the office refrigerator clean

“Show some decency around the office refrigerator: If you didn’t put the food in, don’t eat it. And take your leftovers home or throw them out before they morph into some radioactive nightmare.” —Leadership expert Rob Asghar in Forbes

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Don’t make people wait for you

“Try to arrive a few minutes early to start your workday or join a business meeting. Whether you’re leading or attending the meeting, make sure you aren’t distracted by calls, emails, texts, or side conversations. Unless you’re making a presentation, don’t monopolize the discussion, and don’t allow anyone else to, either.” —The employment experts at Robert Half

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Give people a heads up if you are running late

“While it’s impossible to always be on time, it’s important to let people know you’re running late. For every minute you think you’ll be late, give two minutes warning. So if you think you’ll be ten minutes late for the call, email 20 minutes ahead so your colleague or client can adjust their schedule accordingly.” —Etiquette expert Myka Meier as quoted in Town & CountryLearn more strategies to build trust with your co-workers.

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Don’t be a slob in the kitchen

“The office is not your home, and no one here is going to be cleaning up after you. This means washing your own dishes if you have a kitchen, throwing garbage away, and not leaving your personal items all over the office. Maintain a high level of cleanliness in communal spaces.” —The experts at Energy Resourcing. Next, check out the 15 things you should never ever say to your boss.

Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.