This Isn’t an Office, It’s a Warzone


I’ve been privileged to work in and around offices for the better part of the last twenty years, and in that time I’ve developed somewhat of a philosophy on appropriate office decorum. I call it a philosophy because, like most kinds of philosophy, it doesn’t seem to have any place in the world today or really any bearing on the world as it actually exists. But I’m going to share it with you anyway. Attire, attitude, and behavior; made simple, these are the three elements to appropriate office decorum. The subtleties and complexities of each are what seem to elude so many people in the modern American office.

First let’s cover attire, and I chose that wording deliberately. Ladies, I’m looking at you. Hell, I can’t help it, it’s not like you leave me many other options. I have no idea when it became de rigueur to wear the most revealing outfit you can get away with (or can’t…), but believe me when I say you aren’t doing your career any favors. Look at it this way: when you are delivering that presentation you spent weeks putting together, do you want me paying attention to your work or your – ahem − assets? Think about it, because the choice you make will define how you’re viewed for a long time to come.

Guys, don’t think I don’t have something to say to you as well. Just because “Casual Friday” has turned into “I Never Have to Wear a Suit Ever Weekday” doesn’t mean you can get away with murder. Buy a button-up shirt, consider wearing khakis now and again, and make damn sure you actually DO own a suit that fits and looks good, because the day is going to come you have an important meeting and you want to look like you showed up for it. On that note, keep a neutral tie in your desk. It doesn’t take long to put it on, and it dresses up almost any outfit. Even a basic button down shirt and jeans looks better with a tie.

Here’s a couple dressing hints that cut both ways. First, if you aren’t sure how to dress, overdress a little; people will rarely fault you for it, and they will always fault you for being underdressed. Besides, some of the best advice I ever got was “it’s a lot easier to take off a jacket you don’t need than to pull one out of thin air when you do need it.”

Next, LOSE THE DAMN FLIP FLOPS. Yes girls, that includes you. I don’t care how cute they are, they’re impractical and unprofessional. Guys who wear flip flops to work deserve to be hauled off to the nearest stocks and beaten on their improperly protected feet. Grow up, frat boy. Only one step up from this noxious practice is people who wear sneakers to the office on a regular basis. When you own the company you may feel free to wear whatever you want. Until then, try putting on some adult shoes when you leave the house in the morning.

The next step is attitude. When I was younger I used to do some acting, and there was an adage that went something to the tune of “leave your baggage at the stage door.” This is a wonderful notion that was never respected but often should have been, and would benefit the world of business greatly. Because here’s the great big secret of business that they never tell you in school, and I’m going to share it with you right now, so pay close attention: nobody cares. Not a morning person? Guess what cupcake, nobody cares. Boyfriend broke up with you? Sorry sunshine, nobody cares. Feeling hung over from partying all night? Sing it with me in the key of C, nobody cares!

What’s even worse is that most of the time even if somebody seems like they care, they’re just being polite, which gives you the false impression that it’s okay to bring your personal problems to work with you. It’s really not. This isn’t a therapy office, unless you work in a therapist’s office, in which case you aren’t getting paid to be in therapy so please wait your turn. The proper attitude at work is one of engaged interest. Try to show up every day ready to be an active participant, whether you really feel it or not, and give it an honest effort.

Finally, proper office behavior. I could do an entire post on proper (or improper) office behavior and still not cover even the most offensive behaviors. So I’ll just touch on the ones that bother me the most:

Gossip is not a valid means of communication. At best it is confusing and misleading. At worst it is divisive, cruel, and hurtful. If you don’t believe me, ask any girl over the age of five. I’m not saying don’t chat with others, and I understand that some information has to be kept in confidence. But consider it like this: would you say what you just said to anybody who has a right to hear it to their face? If not, then why did you say it?

Use your indoor voice. If I can hear you from down the hall, you are speaking too loudly. If I can hear you from the next room, you are still speaking too loudly. If someone can hear you from down the hall and I am sharing an office with you, you won’t be speaking at all very soon.

Forming cliques. I know some people say this is inevitable, and maybe it even is, which is a sad statement about the nature of humanity. I like to believe that those people just aren’t considering all the facts. For my money a clique is a group of people who shut out others and begin to make important decisions (either socially or politically within the organization) amongst themselves. If there’s no chance for anyone else to get into this group, that makes it a clique. If others can join over time, it’s just folks who have known each other a long time. It’s a fine distinction, but where cliques are poisonous, forming long-term associations gives longevity to an organization.

Careless office romances. Note that I said careless office romances. Truth is any careless romance is bad, it’s just that when you work in the same office you have to run into each other every day, which makes it that much worse if things go south. Not to mention the car pool gets awkward. You can still have romance at the office, just be smart about it.

Don’t whine. Trust me when I say nobody’s job is anywhere near as much fun as you think it is. Even the guy whose job it is to play with puppies all day is probably allergic by now. If you think someone else is getting to do everything you want to do, maybe they are. They also have to do all kinds of things you either don’t want to do or have no idea how to do, mostly owing to the fact that you’re too busy whining about how you don’t get to do the “fun stuff” to bother learning it. There’s also a zero percent chance anyone will want to work with you when their perception of you is the guy who won’t do the things that need doing, but instead will always have his eye on the things he wants to do.

So what is proper office behavior? Put short, do what I did: find someone you want to be and try to be like them. Don’t ignore their flaws, just don’t emulate them. If you ever find yourself growing out of that role, find a new role model. And no matter what, don’t wear flip flops to work.


12 Comments on “This Isn’t an Office, It’s a Warzone”

  1. Do people REALLY wear flipflops to work?! Wot work?!

  2. Gah! Wish I had had this list before I worked for you! Good thing I learned quickly!

  3. swimwithnic says:

    Office politics is what makes me feel like it’s a warzone.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      I can definitely agree with that, but if I got into office politics, I might be overcome with the urge to name names, and that feeds the problem rather than solving it. Rather let’s agree that the best way to address the issue is with open and honest communication with all parties across the board.

  4. utesmile says:

    Great post and very true. As an office worker in the UK, I can say that my office is an outlet of letting off steam, share news, and keeping moral up, I am a good listener and know what to keep confidential. This is all not too professional but we are only human and have our moans and groans. I won’t alllow that though and always turn everything into positive thoughts, I like my colleagues to be happy when they leave my office. Keep smiling!
    Flip flops at work, we have that too, and I think you might as well come in your slippers and pyjamas then! :-) But then English people are quite relaxed, and take it easy, that is what I have learnt living in england.

  5. free penny press says:

    “Did you hear that Sonja, no damn flip flops in the office”. :-)

  6. So true. I have to reblog this. Great post. Thanks.

  7. Reblogged this on Oh, wir r my glasses? and commented:
    This is so true in ANY office. Read on to see what I mean.


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