What is (and what isn't) acceptable office behaviour?

If your employees are your brand ambassadors, then it's essential they know how to conduct themselves

What is (and what isn't) acceptable office behaviour?

The global pandemic changed many people’s attitudes to working in an office and even those employees reluctantly commuting back into the CBD a couple of times a week are still not complying in a pre-COVID manner. Dress codes have certainly changed with a more casual look almost permanent now and with so few client face-to-face meetings, it is hard to see that aspect of culture changing.

But what about office behaviour? Does dressing down from formal suits and corporate wear allow more casual conversations between employees? Does it mean that everyday outside ‘conversations’ can now become the norm in an office environment?

“Every workplace is different in composition, industry and standards,” Kathryn MacMillan, managing director, CIRCLE Recruitment & HR, said. “For some workplaces swearing is totally unacceptable, whereas others have a more lenient view.

“In consulting to many workplaces over the years, I have had some jokingly say, ‘if we were unable to swear, no one would be speaking’, however, the consideration are the feelings of the recipient of the language. Organisations must consider that others may be offended, feel intimidated or harassed by the language.

“What also needs to be considered is reputational damage, which can be caused by members of the public being exposed to bad language.”

But it is not only swearing that can causes but also the use of everyday slang.  Australians love to abbreviate names and general terms, causing confusion to those unaware of the real meaning of the word. That, however, is not the only issue, with some common slang terms now deemed offensive on many fronts.

“The problem with slang is that some slang terms are now considered offensive and/or discriminatory,” MacMillan said. “While the user may not feel this way, in these sorts of situations it is not about the intent, but the feeling of the recipient.

“Teams should be educated to think about speaking and understand which slang terms may be considered offensive to others. Just because a term has been used historically for years, and was considered okay in the 1950s, doesn’t make it suitable for 2022.”

There are simple ways of avoiding any issues with language – be it swearing or slang – and that is to establish a code of conduct. By clearly outlining and communicating what is acceptable and what is not, a lot of potential problems can be eliminated before they even begin.

“Organisations can start by including honesty, equality and fairness to all,” MacMillan added. “By treating everyone with respect, as well as respecting the organization, property and confidentiality, you have a good starting point.

“Behaviour should be always monitored by managers and supervisors. This will allow you to pick up any micro infractions before they develop into habits or picked up by others as learned behaviours. Leaders and supervisors should model the types of behaviours they wish to see in their organization and make sure the team view this daily, to create the organisation, they want it to be.”

Some companies, however, take a more informal view to office conversation and more are concerned with cultural fit than watching their ‘p’s and ‘q’s.

“Swearing is acceptable and measured,” Natalie Crynes, managing director, The PR Hub, said. “If it gets the frustration out then better out than in, and then quickly move on. We also tolerate some loud typing.

“Slang is a given verbally and through a joke on email and let’s not forget emoji’s, however, our roles require content to be sharp and concise at all times. We don’t have rules, we have values. We have daily team catch-ups to go through any issues each morning that need addressing and we believe in open honest communication so if anything is ever a bother we raise it together as a team, address it and move forward.”

Every office environment will have its own unique culture but it is important to ascertain what that culture is and what people are comfortable with. Always remember it is better to proceed with caution and good manners before anything else.  

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