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The unwritten rules of office life

Stapler in Jelly from The Office

‘My job is very boring, I’m an office clerk’ are the song lyrics from the 1980 classic ‘Echo Beach’ by Martha and the Muffins. But how can office life be boring when all of the following is going on?

Office life is full of intrigue, minor battles, laughs, losses and wins.

Here are 10 unwritten rules of office life:

1) Take turns making a brew for others.

I’d argue that even if your office door sign implies you’re the Biggest Cheese In Town, it’s still a nice thing to do to make a cup of tea or coffee for your colleagues. It’s a genuine treat to receive a tea or coffee delivered to your desk – and don’t neglect those in video meetings who will likely appreciate that gesture greatly.

And everyone should get up and move around frequently at work – active working is vital for health. So if you’ve had your tea delivered to your desk, make sure you find a different reason to stretch those legs very soon.

2) Cut the parents of babies and toddlers some slack.

Tired mum at work

Occasionally. They are committed to their jobs – but they have been up all night with a snivelling, whinging child furious that their parent sang them ‘I'm a Little Tea Pot’ twice not three times. So if your team member is usually good at their job, be forgiving if page 3 of the sales report has a typo. My colleague asked me to include school-age children in this slack-cutting too – but we’ve got to at least attempt 100% functionality from Reception onwards maybe.

3) Don’t make your colleague always sit at the workstation with the worst chair.

The team at Posturite would like you all to have marvellous ergonomic office chairs. But if you’re hot-desking and there remains a less comfy chair – don’t make the same person have to put up with it every day. Be fair with your chair.

4) Be sociable at Christmas.

It’s obviously preferable if you’re sociable at all times of the year – but perching around the photocopier with a glass of something fizzy to discover how Ellie from Events bastes her turkey is the required bare minimum.

5) Don’t steal other people’s office equipment.

Let’s pay homage to the iconic scene from The Office’ when Jim encases Gareth’s stapler in an entire dome of jelly. Could Gareth legitimately claim that it is HIS stapler, that cannot be shared? Up for debate, despite his name being on it in Tippex! I doubt that in 2022, a stapler remains much of a prized possession at the office, but there will be other office accessories your next-desk-neighbour may have their beady eye on.

Note David Brent’s comment that “You told him a weakness and he pounced.” Be mindful of revealing your weaknesses to your office colleagues…

6) Very loud phone calls are restricted activities.

Woman talking talking loudly on phone at office

I am guilty of this – which is maybe why I’ve been given a job where I now make very few phone calls. We don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm or interfere with your sales technique, but watch your volume control when on the phone in order to keep your shared-office colleagues sane.

7) Food in the office fridge should not be furry.

Leaving food too long in the office fridge causes your colleagues great distress.

8) Radio or silence?

Radio at work

Again, take turns. I care little enough for my reputation to confess that I’m a big fan of BBC Radio 2; all apart from the lunchtime call-in show of course – give me strength – but my younger colleagues do not share that devotion. Music on in an office can help some concentrate, and dissipate stress levels perhaps, but can make other’s blood boil and reduce their concentration. The news updates from a radio station playing in a shared workplace can be upsetting and demoralising too.

My view also is that there’s little point doing the commute to work at an office if everyone has headphones on all day long, to listen to individual music choices.

You’re going to have to discuss this and make it fair. Good luck finding a good compromise!

9) Loo seat down in unisex toilets.

Note this is a female writing this blog.

10) Birthdays require cake.

If you’re now hybrid working, it may now be more complicated to celebrate the birthday of a colleague at the office together – but I’d say it should still be attempted. Different offices have different approaches to who should supply the cake – the birthday celebrant, their best workplace pal or their line manager? I guess if you are the cake supplier on your birthday, you can choose the Chocolate Triple-Layer from M&S if that will make you happiest. More ideas for employee happiness are here – make a plan.

Finally, I leave you with the following statement by Gareth from The Office’:

“I like to have a laugh, just the same as the next man. But… this is a place of work.”

What is your stance on that? Your team awaits your ruling.