Speaker Freakers and Stinky Food? Test Your Office Etiquette IQ

by Mary Ellen Guffey

[Instructors: Download this exercise as a Word document at the end of this post]

New communication platforms and casual workplace environments have blurred the lines of appropriateness, and you may be left wondering how to navigate uncharted waters. The workplace becomes stressful when you’re not sure what’s appropriate. Here are 15 questions with responses to test your workplace etiquette skills.

  1. At your office desk, it’s easier to take notes from telephone calls when both hands are free. To be most efficient, you should set your phone to speaker so that your hands are always free to make notes either manually or on your computer.

ANSWER: F     Explanation: Among the most offensive people in open offices are “speaker freakers,” those who take their calls with speaker on. This practice is especially disruptive in open offices or those with cubicles. If you must have your hands free, get a headset.

  1. Shana is your “go–to” person with all the answers, but she’s on vacation. You need to know some information that you’re sure Shana could give you–if you could just reach her. Since she has a smartphone connected to work e-mail, it’s perfectly acceptable to give her a quick phone call.

ANSWER: F     Explanation: Certainly not! Everyone deserves a vacation. Get your information elsewhere. It’s also considerate to avoid sending texts or e-mail requests that demand immediate responses after working hours. If at all possible, wait until regular work time to conduct your business unless you know your receiver works 24-7.

  1. You just returned to the office from a terrific lunch. Your spicy fish dish was tasty and enough for a second meal. Because everyone uses the office fridge to store food, it’s appropriate to put it there so that you can warm it up for tomorrow’s lunch.

ANSWER: F     Explanation: Don’t make instant enemies by storing smelly food in a communal refrigerator. And certainly don’t warm it up the next day in the office microwave. If you must store something smelly in the refrigerator, double wrap it and remove it as soon as possible. On the topic of office food, if you didn’t put food in the refrigerator, don’t eat it.

  1. You’re enjoying your weekend when you receive an e-mail from your boss asking for information. It’s not urgent, so the best plan is to respond early on Monday.

ANSWER: T     Explanation: Much depends on your relationship with your boss, but generally you can observe a common e-mail rule: Respond to e-mails within 24 hours. It’s reasonable to set boundaries on your free time. If you are a boss, by the way, don’t send demanding e-mails or texts to employees on weekends or after hours.

  1. In your office cubicle, you overhear Rick, who is two cubicles away, on the phone asking when the next management council meeting is scheduled. Because you know the date, you should shout it out so that Rick learns immediately the date of this critical meeting.

ANSWER: F     Explanation: First, don’t shout to anyone over the top of cubicles. Second, don’t eavesdrop on conversations. Third, never give advice to a coworker about information you overheard on a personal call. It’s difficult working in close surroundings, but try to observe others’ privacy and personal space.

  1. Your cell phone rings while you are at your desk. You see immediately that it’s a personal call. If you think it’s going to be a short call, you should answer.

ANSWER: F      Explanation: It’s not wise to take even short personal calls at work. Go outside instead.

  1. You’re late for a meeting. The best thing to do is text a message saying, “Hey, I’m running 20 minutes late.”

ANSWER: T      Explanation: Although it’s wise to warn co-workers by texting that you will be late, it’s even better to make sure you can be on time with proper planning.

  1. You have a job interview with a company that you think has a casual dress policy. Because you’re not sure how to dress, it’s appropriate for you to call the interviewer’s office or the organization’s personnel office to ask what is appropriate.

ANSWER: T     Explanation: If you would like to be sure about what to wear, do call the interviewer’s secretary or organization’s personnel office and ask. Don’t assume that the casual dress code is appropriate for a job interview.

  1. After an employment interview, it’s acceptable to send an e-mail thank-you message.

ANSWER: T     Explanation: Be sure to send a follow-up thank-you, and e-mail is acceptable. But if you want to make a better impression, send a more formal letter or note by U.S. mail. Don’t skip sending the message!

  1. You’re talking with a co-worker when you see an incoming text. To show your efficiency, you should answer it immediately.

ANSWER: F      Explanation: The person facing you should always take precedence over an incoming text.

  1. As you are talking on your cell, you can’t hear the other person very well. The best response is to speak more loudly so that you can be heard.

ANSWER: F      Explanation: Just because you can’t hear doesn’t mean the caller can’t hear you. Always refrain from bellowing.

  1. Because none of the cubicle offices have doors, it’s ridiculous to consider knocking before entering.

ANSWER: F     Explanation: Not only is it good manners to knock before entering, it’s even better to call or e-mail in advance to ask about a good time for your visit.

  1. You know that Max is out of the office, but you just had a brilliant idea to share with him. You should call and leave a voice-mail message so that he can hear it when he returns.

ANSWER: F     Explanation: No one likes voice-mail messages. If possible, wait until he returns to talk with him in person or on the phone.

  1. It’s considered poor manners to wear your headphones in workplace elevators or in hallways.

ANSWER: T     Explanation: Wearing headphones is like hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign around your neck. In workplace elevators or hallways, take advantage of these situations to connect socially with coworkers.

  1. Office casual means you can be comfortable and wear your Saturday clothes to work.

ANSWER: F      Explanation: Even “office casual” has its boundaries. No bare midriffs, no sloppy jeans or sweatshirts, and no flip-flops. If you are striving for promotions, try to dress one or two notches above office casual.

Test Your Workplace Etiquette (Word document for download)

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