The changing climate of office culture can make the workplace a tricky environment to navigate. While more lax dress codes and friendships outside of the workplace might be acceptable, there are certain office behaviors that you should never assume are normal. It doesn't matter if your coworkers have tried to normalize them. It doesn't matter if you feel these behaviors might likely go unnoticed. Straddling the line between appropriate and inappropriate can be dangerous territory. "[L]ines between personal and professional can be blurring," writes Sharon Kaslassi, account executive with Blonde2.0, in an email to Bustle. "Companies enforce guidelines and policies in the workplace to keep it professional, but let's be honest: In the real world of work, relationships and emotions can't be governed by policy. Workplace friendships and relationships can be tricky; but as an employee, a line should be drawn when you begin to feel uncomfortable."
Even if you can get away with certain questionable behaviors, be aware that it's a slippery slope that can invite more bad than good. What are some of these behaviors that you should be especially careful with in your workplace environment? Keep reading for more, along with what some of the experts have to say about them.
1. Personal Questions
We often feel inclined to provide answers to whatever our superiors ask us, because they're in charge and they cut our checks. But there are absolutely times when you are perfectly within your rights as an employee to say to your boss, "That's not work-related," "That's private," or, "That's none of your business."
These questions might have to do with your health or your personal relationships. A boss might try to justify asking about this by connecting it to your work performance. If this is actually true (meaning a personal relationship or your health is negatively affecting your performance), acknowledge it and explain that you'll work on improving. Just remember that nobody in the workplace is entitled to probing into your private matters.
"It's good to pay attention to YOUR physical cues when a supervisor says or does something questionable," says Nina Rubin, Gestalt Coach, psychotherapist in Gestalt Therapy, and the brains behind After Defeat. "If you feel worried that reporting their behavior will result in getting you fired or demoted, this is exactly the type of thing that needs to be spoken up about. It's important to immediately document the action, your response, and how you felt. Keep a journal or log at work, or email yourself these occurrences. If you feel uncomfortable in a meeting with a superior, pay attention to this. Encourage others to sit in during meetings."
It can be challenging to know where to draw the line between a friendly touch and inappropriate behavior, but here's a good rule of thumb: If it makes you uncomfortable, it's not OK. Even if it seems friendly or harmless, an employee should absolutely speak up if they feel uncomfortable. "Friendly or harmless is subject to interpretation, and touching of any kind is intimate," says Laura MacLeod, creator of the From the Inside Out Project. "You may be able to simply end this with body language — move away, extend your hand for a handshake, etc. If not, be clear and straightforward: 'That's not my style,' 'I'm not comfortable with that,' etc."
MacLeod gives us an important reminder: Even if someone's actions aren't intended to make you feel uneasy, we should never be afraid to vocalize our discomfort, regardless of whether it stems from a friendly hand on the shoulder or suspicious hands on our waist.
3. Possibly Excessive Drinking At Office Parties
Alcohol at holiday parties is nothing out of the ordinary; but as you're still in a professional environment, getting sloshed might not be the wisest answer. "I was drunk" is never an excuse, in general, and it certainly isn't under these circumstances. If behavior is inappropriate at the office, it's still inappropriate at an office party where alcohol is being consumed. "I don't advise being a teetotaler," says Rubin, "but limiting your own drinking might help stay aware of situations that may have gotten touchy in the past. It's inappropriate to have lingering hugs or comments that border on sexual or personal topics. Also, if you've felt uncomfortable with someone at work when you're both sober, bet on the fact that while drinking (or drunk), it will likely be worse."
4. Office Gossip
Gossiping is so common that we've normalized it in a professional setting, often dismissing it and not doing anything to stop it. Sometimes, the best defense against gossip is to ignore it, because you can't go through life caring about what everyone else thinks of you. But when you're talking about work, you're talking about your reputation as an employee — and your paycheck could depend on it. If you're the target of office gossip, don't feel obligated to sweep it under the rug.
5. Excessive Anger Or Aggression
Disciplinary actions are an inevitable and necessary element of any workplace; but how do you know when it's gone too far? After all, supervisors have a lot of responsibilities, including the behaviors and performance of the employees under them. Brad Stultz, Human Resources Director for Totally Promotional, says, "Supervisors should always be mindful of abusive behaviors such as getting overly angry or displaying signs of aggression toward employees." Where do you draw the line?
"Abusive behavior may include publicly chastising an employee for their mistakes. Depending on the work atmosphere, some supervisors may feel that 'shop talk' is permissible. However, these actions can be viewed as bullying and can often violate a company’s harassment policies." You read that right: Even your boss can break the rules if they step out of line.
6. Borrowing Company Assets
We've all done it — use the company printer, fax, computer, phone, car, etc. for personal reasons. It seems harmless enough, and some companies are cool with it; but such isn't always the case. You should get familiar with your company's policies; because if you break any rules, it's on you. Remember that you employer has to pay for those assets; and they're not paying for you to use them for personal reasons.
Also bear in mind that companies have the right to monitor your Internet activity. If they bust you for your excessive online shopping, you can't blame them for invading your privacy. You did personal things on company time, on company assets.