Toward a More Civil Work Place

Avoiding Offensive Behavior at Work

Businesswoman resting head on desk
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Who Let the Dogs In?

Barbara quit her job last week. She just couldn't take it anymore. What made her quit? Was it a difficult boss? Was she bored with her work? Did she just feel it was time to move on? No, no, and no. None of the above. Barbara's boss insisted on bringing his dogs to work. Barbara, who had always been afraid of dogs, found out that she was also allergic to them. Her boss refused to leave the dogs at home so Barbara found another job. As if the allergies weren't enough, her boss's disrespect for her pushed Barbara over the edge.

Unfortunately, disrespect for one's coworkers (or subordinates) isn't that uncommon. And it often causes people to leave their jobs. For employers this means losing good people, and then having to hire and train new ones. For coworkers it means having to get used to working with new people, and picking up the slack until new employees can be found. The saddest part of the lack of respect in the workplace is that many people don't realize they are being disrespectful. They aren't trying to hurt someone's feelings. They just aren't trying to not do that. Barbara's boss, for example, was doing what he felt was best for his pets. He thought leaving them at home was cruel. He may have even felt that his employees would enjoy having the dogs there. He didn't consider the negative effect the dogs might have on someone.

What to Avoid Doing

How can we avoid offending the people we work with? It seems as if it should be blatantly obvious. But if it were, you wouldn't be reading this article. Let's take a look now at things you could do that may offend your coworkers. They aren't listed in any particular order.

  • Having loud telephone conversations that distract or annoy others in the workplace
  • Not cleaning up after yourself in the staff kitchen
  • Taking food that doesn't belong to you from the staff refrigerator
  • Showing up late for meetings
  • Showing up for meetings unprepared
  • Looking at a coworker's computer screen over his or her shoulder
  • Taking supplies from a coworker's desk without asking
  • Spreading gossip around the office
  • Coming to work sick
  • Not minding your manners, for example neglecting to say please and thank you
  • Wearing too much perfume
  • Chewing gum loudly
  • Taking the last of something without replacing it
  • Asking someone to lie or cover for you
  • Blaming someone else when you are at fault instead of accepting responsibility for a mistake
  • Being the office tattletale
  • Taking credit for someone else's work or not sharing credit with others who helped on a project
  • Asking a subordinate to do something unrelated to work, i.e. run errands
  • Trying to convert others to your political or religious beliefs
  • Opening anyone else's mail without their permission
  • Sending unwanted email such as chain letters, petitions and jokes to coworkers
  • Telling offensive, dirty or insensitive jokes
  • Smoking in common areas
  • Not sharing the workload
  • Bringing negativity into the workplace, for example incessantly complaining about the company, boss or coworkers
  • Being a know-it-all and having a condescending attitude toward others