Office Etiquette: Restroom Breaks

Although it may seem commonsensical, some folks just aren’t informed on proper bathroom etiquette in the workplace. Some unsavory situations can arise when even just one person at the office is ill-informed.

Have you ever been in the bathroom with someone who felt the need to engage you in conversation, and more specifically while one or both of you were in the stall taking care of your needs? Perhaps you have a large office and this happens because restroom breaks seem like the only time friends who don’t sit near each other have to socialize? Or maybe you work in a very fast-paced environment where co-workers do not let bathroom breaks get in the way of their important business discussions? There are many reasons one might justify “toilet talk,” but that urge must be resisted because it is very rare that you will find someone who is not bothered by this most common etiquette offense. If it helps, imagine the bathroom doors adorned with large signs that read, “quiet please,” and “no work zone!”

Another awkward bathroom habit is waiting around for someone to finish. Try to avoid it when possible, as it places undue pressure on folks to rush. If seeking out another restroom or coming back later are options, take advantage of them. It is also important to note that many people have bathroom shyness, and situations like someone waiting on or talking to them can make it nearly impossible for them to use the toilet (no matter how bad the urge). It is especially important to these folks that everyone employs proper etiquette.

One of the more obvious rules is: clean up after yourself. No one wants to enter the bathroom to discover they have to clean someone else’s mess before they are able to use it. If you accidentally dirty the toilet seat or drop some toilet paper on the floor, be considerate and clean it up. In addition to making sure the bathroom space is clean, do everyone a favor and make sure you are clean too by taking care to wash your hands.

Above all, the unofficial bathroom policy in any office (and other public and private spaces, for that matter) should be about courtesy, respecting the privacy of others, and allowing them to use the restroom in peace.

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Making The Telecommute Work For You

Telecommuting to work continues to be an option that sees massive gains in popularity with each passing year. It’s for good reason, too. Employers benefit from lower operating costs and higher productivity, and employees can benefit from the flexibility telecommuting affords them. Employees don’t have to waste time travelling to the office, they aren’t bothered by co-workers stopping at their desk to chat, and they’re better able to balance personal/family obligations when putting in a full days work outside of the office.

Consider the following precautionary measures employees should take to fully enjoy the benefits of telecommute work:

  • Set yourself up and find an environment you can be productive in. This should be a clean space that is free from major distractions. Maybe you have a home office or desk to work from, or maybe you prefer to go to the local library or coffee shop and work from there? One location that is definitely not ideal is your bed (and even more broadly, your entire bedroom). It’s too much of a temptation to rest and the chances of getting things done there are slim to none.
  • Know your expectations. It can be tough not having a supervisor around to casually ask for direction, so be sure to have a clearly defined plan ahead of time to avoid stressing out over guesswork. Make sure this includes your hours so you don’t end up putting in more time than you would if you were in the office.
  • Be consistent. Telecommute on the same day(s) each week. Work in the same place when you’re away from the office (so long as you’re not traveling). It’s like muscle memory, and each of these cues remind your brain that it’s time for work, not play. If you find yourself needing more cues to get started on your work when you’re at home, try doing things as you would if you were going to the office. Consider showering when you wake up and dressing in business clothes, etc.
  • Communicate regularly. Since you’re off-site and your supervisor isn’t there to observe your work, report in to let them know of your progress.
  • Don’t want to miss an important meeting while you’re off-site? Ask co-workers to videoconference (via Skype, GChat, or other program) or teleconference you into the meeting.
  • Find ways to motivate yourself. That can mean different things to different people, like posting inspirational quotes in your out-of-office workspace, or setting up a reward system where if you meet certain goals, you can treat yourself to a specific amount of time to complete a household chore or relax in front of the television for a quick break, etc.
  • Impose limits where possible and try to make it into the office on a regular basis. In-person communication with co-workers is important and telecommuters need to remain an active part of that group to be successful.
  • Use self-control and keep yourself accountable. In the office, it’s easy not to be distracted by the vast possibilities of the internet because you have someone watching you. Away from the office, you’re the only one watching and it’s much easier to waste time on social networking sites or online shopping, etc. If you find this becoming a problem, log off of these sites and close your internet browser if possible, and if that’s not enough, turn off your computer’s internet connection entirely. Do whatever works for you to focus on your business-related responsibilities.
  • When your home space is also your workspace it is much harder to discern the two. This makes setting boundaries very important. Try creating something that indicates the difference between work mode and home mode. Maybe that means shutting down the computer during home mode, or literally putting a thinking cap on during work mode and taking it off during home mode. Be as creative as you’d like.

The great thing about telecommuting is all you need is a computer and reliable internet connection and you can get to work. There are many challenges that come with this unique way to work, but with careful planning and communication, telecommuting can be a dream working condition.

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Working With Numbers

Writing numbers can be an essential component of daily paperwork and reports. Whether it’s quantifying accomplishments or enumerating specific dates, statistics and monetary figures, the task of writing numbers in formal documents can get pretty confusing. Consider the following guidelines and examples the next time you’re preparing to write with numbers:

  • Single digit? It is common practice to write out the word for any number less than 10. Example: “They are requesting three printed copies of the report,” (preferred) vs. “They are requesting 3 printed copies of the report,” (not preferred).
  • Avoid the percent symbol. Example: “One single project consumed 57 percent of my work hours this week,” (preferred) vs. “One single project consumed 57% of my work hours this week,” (not preferred).
  • Hyphenate compound numbers when they appear in word form. For example, “thirty-seven or eighty-two, etc.”
  • When communicating numbers with five or more digits, as is normal with budgets and grant writing, etc., remember to use punctuation appropriately. Example: “This year, 12,700 dollars were allocated towards new projects,” (preferred) vs. “This year, 12700 dollars were allocated towards new projects,” (not preferred).
  • Write out ordinal numbers (numbers in a series). Example: “It was our fourteenth and final training,” (preferred) vs. “It was our 14th and final training,” (not preferred).
  • Rounded numbers should be written out and exact numbers should appear as numerals. Example: “fifty thousand” or “one million” etc. Also correct, “53,453” or “1,486,320” etc., (all preferred).
  • Write out numbers that start a sentence, or rearrange the sentence so the number appears in a different order. Example: “Seventeen paid days off per year is generally standard,” OR, “Generally, the standard is 17 paid days off per year,” (both preferred) vs. “17 paid days off per year is generally standard,” (not preferred).
  • Dates and years generally appear as numerals, except when referring to decades and centuries. Ex., “In the nineties…” or, “At the turn of the twenty-first century…” (both preferred). Also, it’s easier to comprehend “January 27” (preferred) than it is to comprehend “January twenty-seventh” (not preferred).
  • Things can get confusing when two numbers appear next to each other. In this case, it is best to write one of them out. Example: “I sent fifteen 450 page documents to the printer,” (preferred) vs. “I sent 15 450 page documents to the printer,” (not preferred).
  • Consistency. Sometimes the rule for writing the word for numbers one through nine gets broken when there are multiple numbers in the same sentence that refer to the same thing. For example, “The project required just 3 hours of work the first week, but 17 hours the following week,”(preferred). However, when the numbers do not refer to the same thing, the single digit rule stands. For example, “There were 25 people in attendance at the two-hour training session,” (preferred).

Many of these best practices are not hard and fast rules, which can make the task of writing with numbers a big challenge. If you find yourself unsure of what to do, try referencing a style guide (popular ones include Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Style, and APA Style). If that’s no help, just remember to write with your readers in mind. Stick with a style that presents information clearly, is consistent with what’s already written and doesn’t distract from the written content.

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Communicating With Heart

Sometimes we can feel pressure to buy into the notion that professionalism should be judged against one’s ability to reason and think critically, without the influence of emotion (i.e. weakness). Our world has grown competitive, fast-paced and results-driven, which can also leave us feeling a bit robotic and cold. Most managers recognize that this sort of environment does little to foster potential or morale, but even the best managers cannot fully rid their teams of societal influence.

We must resist the pressure. It is most certainly possible to be a successful professional who communicates with heart and brings warmth to those around them. Our first task of resistance is to intentionally increase the amount of appreciation we show to others.

How often do we think highly of someone and never get around to telling him or her how we feel? Speaking personally, the answer is: all the time! Why is that? Certainly, there’s nothing to lose. Who wouldn’t be flattered to know a co-worker appreciates an action they took or a trait they possess?* Let’s make it a point to acknowledge others with genuine praise before it’s too late. After all, as Mark Twain famously said, “You will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

The gold standard in showing appreciation are thoughtful, handwritten thank you notes. They are so simple but can really make a large impact. For example, I once left my absolute favorite teacher some homemade muffins and a thank you note detailing his influence on my personal growth. He told me he was so touched by it that he included a copy of the note in his professional portfolio. My simple gesture was very special to him.

There are tons of other ways to brighten someone’s day with a show of gratitude. The following ideas, however cheesy they might be, are an affordable way to infuse some creativity into the recognition of others.

  • Purchase Extra brand chewing gum and attach a note that reads, “You’re EXTRAordinary!”
  • Purchase Goldfish crackers and attach a note that says something along the lines of, “It’s o-fish-al: I’m casting out a line of thanks,” or, “You’re o-fish-ally the best co-worker I’ve ever had,” etc. (o-fish-al is a clever way of saying official).
  • Bring a co-worker their morning coffee with a note that says, “Thanks a latte for ________.”
  • Purchase a glow stick and attach a note that says something like, “You GLOW with enthusiasm… and it’s contagious!”
  • Get some rock candy and explain to them how they have been you rock, or for something more playful, write “you rock!” and explain why you think so highly of them.

One word of caution: as we embrace this task, it’s important not to overdo it. When we outwardly express appreciation for every little thing it diminishes the weight of our words.  Nevertheless, these acts of appreciation can bring a lot of joy to what can often be a very stressful workplace. It is vital not to fear displays of emotion, but to instead seize the opportunity to do so – you might be surprised to find the difference it can make.

*To be clear, shows of appreciation should be appropriate and not cross any boundaries that may make others feel uncomfortable or harassed. 

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Passive Aggression At Work

There is a lot of talk about damaging behaviors in the workplace. Much of these discussions focus on overt behaviors like bullying and harassment, which cause the plummeting of morale and productivity, among other things. Another less obvious behavior that can produce similar effects is passive aggression.

Passive aggressive behavior is covert, subtle and an indirect form of aggression. Those witnessing and on the receiving end of it may find the behavior to be quite confusing.

Any number of different factors could be causing the behavior. Typically, some sort of personal problem that has gone unaddressed is at the root of things. Perhaps the passive aggressive employee feels unappreciated, misunderstood, or takes issue with authority. Whether it is one big problem, or a combination of little things that have built up over time, they start to harbor anger and/or resentment toward the individual, or group of individuals, in the office that they feel has wronged them.

Passive aggressive actions are how their anger gets expressed, rendering truth to the conventional wisdom that actions speak louder than words. Examples of passive aggressive behavior include: an excessive use of sarcasm; employing questionable tone, particularly through electronic communication platforms; agreeing to do something without follow-through; neglect of responsibilities and in some cases manipulation or even intentional sabotage of a project. The level of disruption is directly dependent upon the degree to which these behaviors are performed.

Of course that list is non-exhaustive, but no matter how passive aggression manifests, there is always a barrier present that prevents proper, open and honest communication. Most of the time that barrier is fear. Some folks have a lot of confrontation anxiety, which causes them to avoid expressing their true feelings. They may also be afraid of upsetting others and the possibility that others will then reject them. It could also be a low self-esteem issue and perhaps a fear that their feelings are invalid.

It is important to have an understanding of the possible causes when identifying and subsequently preparing to confront passive aggressive behavior, but certainly no assumptions should be made. Maintain a calm and objective demeanor and show the passive aggressive person that you value their concerns and are a safe person for them to address those with. The last thing you want to do is fight fire with fire. That tactic will only compound problems and serve as validation to the person initiating the passive aggression that their behavior was called for or just. It may be a real challenge for those exhibiting this behavior to recognize what they’re doing/have done, much less, articulate it and work towards improvement. Examination of the root(s) of the problem, the effects of the behavior, and possible resolution are all necessary to achieve a more pleasant work environment for all employees. If you recognize your own passive aggressive patterns before someone else confronts you, try to engage in some deep, self-reflection to see if you can access these things on your own. And if you’re the co-worker of a passive aggressive person, remember that they may need a lot of probing and guidance (and patience) to work through things.

Conflict is an absolute inevitability and it can be a good and productive thing if dealt with in a mature, healthy manner. Passive aggression is a coping mechanism that encourages the bad kind of conflict. Learning to recognize alternative solutions and confronting problems openly and honestly will greatly improve interpersonal relations at work as well as enhance the quality of your projects.

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