CU: HomeA to ZCampus Map

Workplace Etiquette

Just as there is an appropriate way of dressing in the workplace, there is an appropriate and professional way of behaving in the work environment. As an intern, you are no longer on campus and people will expect you to act like a professional in their field, and not like a college student. As a general rule, common sense and courtesy are the rule of thumb in any work environment, but it is important to notice and adopt the manners, conventions, and rituals that are specific to your particular workplace. As a newcomer to the office environment, it is worth your while to pay attention to the subtleties and nuances of office behavior. Here is some valuable advice for how to behave in the workplace:

    • Show up for work and for meetings on time or five minutes early. Being on time demonstrates respect for others, responsibility, and eagerness. Being late creates an impression of irresponsibility, disrespect, and a lack of interest.
    • Be present at work every day, unless you are seriously ill or have a family emergency. You should report to your internship each day, and if you have extenuating circumstances that prevent you from working, you should contact your supervisor immediately. Attendance at work meetings is also very important, and is not optional. If you are asked to attend a meeting, take this as a mandatory request and not as an optional invitation.
    • When you enter the workplace, turn off your cell phone or anything that makes distracting noises throughout the day. If you need to make any personal calls, make them during your lunch hour and in a private setting that is out of earshot of others.
    • A positive first impression begins with a solid, confident handshake.A great handshake can communicate openness, interest, and self-assurance, while a substandard handshake can communicate lack of interest, tentativeness, and passivity. Here are some tips about how to execute a good handshake: Have a pleasant expression on your face; look the person in the eyes; extend your arm out with your fingers closed and your thumb sticking straight up; firmly grip the person’s hand and shake up and down two or three times; while shaking the hand, smile and nod, and say, “Nice to meet you so-and-so” and if you cannot recall the name of your acquaintance, say, “Nice to meet you.” The key elements in the handshake are the firmness with which you grasp the other person’s hand and your expression when shaking the hand. Have a demeanor that genuinely signals that you are pleased to meet this person (if you look grumpy, you will seem disinterested and detached). Be sure to avoid gripping too hard and delivering a bone-crushing handshake. The goal is a “firm handshake,” not an overpowering handshake that leaves the recipient feeling like it is a precursor to a grappling match. Also avoid giving the “dead fish” handshake that is limp and lifeless and leaves the recipient feeling like you are frail and pitiful.
    • Here are some tips about when to shake someone’s hand: always shake hands with everyone present when you enter a room for a job interview and when you exit the room for the job interview, shake everyone’s hand again and say, “Thank you so-and-so;” shake hands when you are introduced to new clients or customers in a formal meeting situation and then shake hands again when you are saying goodbyes and the clients are exiting the meeting; shake hands if you meet a new colleague in your building, or if you meet a professional at a conference or event; you can initiate a handshake at any time, but it is particularly important to initiate the handshaking ritual for a group of people if you are leading a meeting, introducing people to one another, or are hosting an event; and always initiate a handshake if you would like to introduce yourself to someone you have not formally met before.
    • Make sure that you engage in appropriate conversation in the workplace. In the office environment, conversation topics are “rated G” and should not include anything unseemly, offensive, or provocative. For example, you should not discuss anything sexual in nature, recount your escapades from the night before, tell an off-color or highly charged joke, or gossip about the good-looking guy that works in the mail room. By engaging in these types of conversations, you may not only create a bad impression of yourself and the university, but you may also be dangerously close to violating office discrimination and harassment policies. Remember that you are not on campus anymore and you are in a professional work environment with diverse colleagues who have varied backgrounds, values, sensitivities, and perspectives. You should also refrain from using profanity in the workplace and should avoid using youthful jargon like “dude” “my bad!” and “like.” Swearing will make you sound unprofessional and may offend colleagues, and using slang will make you sound immature and unpolished.
    • In today’s workplace, a large percentage of communication is done via email and the same professionalism that you bring to in-person encounters or formal writing should also be applied to email correspondence. Here are some tips for presenting yourself professionally in email correspondence: keep your messages unambiguous and to the point; always write something in your subject line; use the email signature feature; use a font that looks professional and is easy to read (now is not the time to experiment with the “Jokerman” or “Wing-dings” font); use proper grammar and spelling and run spell and grammar check before you send email; avoid using teenage instant-message jargon like, “TTYL” and “IDK;” use capital letters as appropriate and do not write emails in all lower-case letters; avoid the yelling, all-CAPS email style; do not hit “reply all” when you respond to an email unless you really want to reply to all (some careers have ended this way); be inclusive in your communication by carbon-copying people on emails, but do not bombard too many people with too many unnecessary emails; be clear and straightforward in your emails and recognize that tone can be easily misinterpreted in email correspondence; write your emails as you would write a letter, with an opening greeting, then the body of the email, and then a closing salutation, like “Best regards” or “Sincerely;” keep your personal email separate from your professional email by only using your work email address for work-related email correspondence; don’t send sensitive email jokes to colleagues; and avoid sending political or religious emails in the workplace.
    • You will likely spend a good amount of time on the phone in the workplace, and you should speak in a professional manner. The way you speak when making calls, receiving calls, and leaving voice messages creates an impression of who you are as a professional. Here are some tips for creating a positive, professional phone presence: Speak clearly and slowly; answer your phone in a professional manner by saying something like, “Hello, this is Kristin Jones at Capitol Company…;” when you leave a voice message, leave all critical information in your message (full name, name of your organization, purpose of your call, and your call-back number); if you have a phone phobia and get nervous about making phone calls, write out notes/a script for yourself before you place the call; the office phone is only for making business-related calls, so make any personal calls on your cell phone during lunch hour; if you’re making a personal call on your cell phone during lunchtime, try not to shout your phone call conversation out loud for everyone to hear, especially if you’re inside the office building or on the premises.
    • Be sure to use the computer appropriately in the workplace. Certain organizations have very strict rules around computer use and even closely monitor employee computer activity. In some workplaces, employees are forbidden to use the computer for any personal reason whatsoever, but most offices permit light personal use during lunch time (for example, checking personal email on occasion or looking up an address on Mapquest). Just exercise good judgment and common sense regarding office computer use. Examples of obvious computer abuses are visiting pornographic sites, gambling online, or watching a movie during work hours. Other offenses include: cyber-slacking/surfing the Internet with no work-related objective; playing online games while working; spending significant time on Facebook; working on your personal online blog during work hours; or spending substantial time shopping online or checking the latest ESPN scores. Remember that the office computer is intended for conducting business. And if you find that you have a lot of idle time at work, ask for additional work assignments rather than spend significant time aimlessly surfing the Internet.
    • If you are of legal drinking age and are attending an office event or party where alcohol is being offered, be careful to limit your intake or abstain completely from drinking alcohol. Getting drunk at a work function is never a good idea, so sip sparingly if you choose to have a drink and don’t drink so much that it clouds your judgment. As an intern and as a young professional, you’ve got to be on top of your game and getting inebriated in front of colleagues will not make a good impression.
    • Respect and honor everyone in the workplace, no matter what their status or title. Everyone in a workplace, whether they empty the trash or supervise hundreds of employees, plays an important role in the functioning and success of an organization. And every person comes to the workplace with a back-story, with skills and talents, and with contributions to make. So treat everyone you meet with value and respect. Do not make the mistake of thinking that only top-level officials deserve your respect in the workplace. Sometimes it is the secretary or the receptionist who knows everyone and everything about an organization and who possibly holds the key to your advancement. So be kind and respectful to everyone. This is not only wise for schmoozing purposes, but is also just a kind and humble way to carry yourself in all areas of your life.
    • This leads to a brief word about humility. As an intern, you will probably be the youngest and least professionally experienced person in the building. Be confident in who you are, but maintain an air of humility by being open to getting your hands dirty and taking on any task. You want to let others know that you are willing to learn and to contribute. Do not shirk menial duties such as photocopying and filing, thinking that you are above these tasks. Everyone starts out their career with these basic duties; consider each project as a way to get experience under your belt and to learn something about the running of an office. Ask for some substantive projects during your internship so that you are gaining substantial experience, but recognize that you will likely be doing a good amount of administrative work while you are interning.
    • A few other miscellaneous guidelines for professional behavior at work are: respect confidentiality and sensitive information in the workplace; don’t pocket office supplies for your personal use; do not use office equipment, like the photocopy machine, for personal use; keep office relationships platonic and professional; and avoid slacking and ask for extra projects if you do not have enough work to do.
    • Remember that as a participant in the CU in D.C. Program you are an ambassador for the University of Colorado. Be an exceptional intern and represent yourself and your university in a positive manner!
Site Map   |   Privacy Policy   |   Contact