Truth Behind “Office Taboos”

Article by Jack Goldberg

By Amy Hertling-Johnson; Exec. VP of Forté Human Resources- Lakewood
Posted 3/23/13

This month we are exploring a lighter topic although one that I’m sure everyone can relate to- Office Taboos. I know HR people can relate to this …

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Truth Behind “Office Taboos”

Article by Jack Goldberg


This month we are exploring a lighter topic although one that I’m sure everyone can relate to- Office Taboos. I know HR people can relate to this topic because sometimes we are asked to intervene in rather difficult and sometimes embarrassing situations.

This topic can be a bit sensitive, so we have to be careful. We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Not everything on this list would be considered a taboo by everyone, and of course quantity matters – for example, trimming a fingernail one time may not be offensive to your co-worker but using nail clippers at every staff meeting might be!

So with all due respect here are some common office taboos:

  1. Poor Personal Hygiene. If you don’t shower, you probably smell bad or at least will smell bad by the end of the day. Give your co-workers a break – shower, brush your teeth, and wear clean clothes daily. Don’t do personal grooming at your desk – no flossing, hair brushing, nail clipping or applying makeup.
  2. Poor Personal Health Habits. If you are sick, stay home. Wash your hands often, and cough in your elbow.
  3. Wear Appropriate Clothing. This of course depends on your type of workplace. But in general, showing too much skin is not okay, and shoes are usually not optional accessories. If you are not sure what kind of dress is appropriate, take cues from your boss. The old adage is a good one – “dress for the position you want, not the one you have.”
  4. Gossip. Don’t be the source or instigator of office gossip.
  5. Email Etiquette. Please, please do not hit “Reply All” unless you really think it is critical that I know you will be coming to the office potluck.
  6. Pets. Some offices really do allow dogs at work. But don’t assume that you can bring Fido in without asking first. One person’s cute cuddly dog is another’s raging allergy attack.
  7. Cooking. Most workplaces now have some kind of break room or kitchen. It should be obvious that you need to clean up your mess (dishes put away or in the dishwasher, etc.) but less obvious may be the smells that can be left behind. It is probably not a good idea to cook fish, broccoli or even microwave popcorn.
  8. Perfumes and Colognes. More than just a drop is probably too much. Save the perfumes, colognes, and strong smelling lotions for after work.
  9. Cell Phones. For some reason when people answer a call on their cell phone their voices automatically go up several decibels. Everyone within 50 feet can hear your personal call. In some cases, we can hear both sides of the conversation. Better to move to a more private area to make your call. And, yes, you may have a hilarious ring tone, but after the fourth or fifth time it’s just not that funny.
  10. Undergarments. Undergarments are meant to be “under”. Your underwear should not be playing peek –a-boo with your co-workers.
  11. Mistakes and Goofs. We all make mistakes at work. It is not necessary to point out your co-workers’ goofs to all the other employees.
  12. Sex Life. Your sexual exploits should be private. We really don’t need to know – TMI!
  13. Cursing. Yelling, cursing, screaming should be directed to your favorite politician, not to your co-workers. Like my mom said, “no potty mouth”.

Face it, we work in close quarters. The average office space per worker is less than 150 feet. That’s not much personal space. Take personal inventory. Are you being as respectful as possible? Are you guilty of Office Taboo?

Call us if you need an HR person’s advice or intervention.


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