Don’t Break These Important Unspoken Office Rules

George Costanza disregards office etiquette and dives into a bowl of shrimp

George Costanza disregards office etiquette and dives into a bowl of shrimp. | NBC

We’re all shackled by the rules and norms of society. Although you can mostly do whatever you want outside of work, when you put on the uniform, office rules dictate your behavior. But a lot of those rules are implicit rather than explicit.

But we’ve all worked with people who just don’t get it. They dive into elevators or use their desk as a grazing area during lunch time. Every room they enter is left in disarray, and they steal your lunch. Is it malicious, or are they just oblivious? It can be hard to tell, but one thing is clear: These people are out of control by normal workplace standards.

Here are some of those unspoken office rules you don’t want to break, even though they might not be in the employee handbook.

1. Let people off the elevator before getting on

For some reason, this needs to be said. Without fail, you’re likely to see somebody make this mistake every day — especially if you live or work in a building with elevators. The door opens, people try to get out, and someone tries to barrel their way through to get in as if they’re in danger of missing it. Perhaps a short-term panic takes hold. Or all that ingrained social etiquette is stripped away for a few seconds. Whatever it is, just give people time to crowd out before you crowd in.

2. Take a shower

Shower with running water

Basic hygiene shouldn’t have to be questioned. | iStock.com/silverjohn

This, like elevator crowding, somehow needs to be addressed. We’ve all had to share close quarters with someone who thinks the rules of personal hygiene don’t apply to them. For whatever reason, they don’t think they need to shower or wear deodorant. The result? Scents and smells you’d expect to encounter at a street market rather than a cubicle farm.

Remember to bathe, wear deodorant, and change your clothes, especially if you’re one of those people who like to squeeze in a workout during your lunch break.

3. Look away from your screen during interactions

Co-workers on smartphone

Co-workers check out some garbage on Facebook. | iStock.com/Dangubic

Most modern workplaces are saturated with screens. Whether it’s our smartphones or laptops, a good percentage of our time is dominated by screens. But we all have to interact with other people from time to time, too. When you do, be sure to unpeel your eyes and make some eye contact. That lets your boss or colleagues know they have your attention.

4. Use headphones

A man listens to music with headphones

A man listens to music with headphones, displaying proper etiquette. | iStock.com

You know those people who think everyone in the office needs to listen to them cycle through Snapchat stories or play every awful video that shows up in their Facebook feed? They need to use headphones. In fact, everyone should use headphones. Remember that because we all tend to forget or lose awareness from time to time. Keep a pair at your desk or workstation, so you always have some handy.

5. Clean up after yourself in the bathroom

hand grabbing toilet paper

Keep the bathrooms nice. | iStock.com

Public bathrooms: Nobody likes them, but we all have to use them. At work, this can make for some frustrating and often disgusting interactions. Some people, for example, feel they don’t need to flush. Or they use all of the toilet paper without replacing it. Don’t be one of these people. Do your business, clean up after yourself, and get out of there.

And one more thing: Don’t think you can hide in the stall for an hour playing on your phone. You’re taking up valuable real estate, and everybody knows you’re really in there to milk the clock.

6. Don’t trash your employer or co-workers online

Woman looking on social media applications on a brand new black Apple iPhone 5S

Be professional on social media. | iStock.com/Anatolii Babii

Yes, Mike is the worst. No, you don’t need to tweet every minor transgression he makes.

Social media has made the workplace more complicated. You feel pressured to be friends with or follow your co-workers, for instance. And because you spend a significant portion of your week with these people, they might know more about you than you’re comfortable with. But because it’s the new norm, remember not to trash your colleagues, company, or boss on the internet. Nothing good can come of it.

7. Chip in on shared expenses

Co-workers share a drink

Co-workers share a drink. | iStock.com

A lot of people hang out with their co-workers or end up having lunch together. This means there can be shared expenses, such as pooling money to order lunch. Every workplace has that one person, too, who somehow always gets away with paying less than their fair share. Don’t be that person. If you don’t have money, be sure to pick up the tab next time. Just don’t make it a chronic habit of being stingy, or you run the risk of fostering resentment.

One other thing that fosters resentment? Finding your lunch is missing from the fridge.

8. Don’t take food that isn’t yours

Frozen food in the refrigerator

You know it’s wrong to take other people’s food. | iStock.com/BravissimoS

Hell hath no fury like a brown-bagger who’s had their lunch swiped from the break room fridge. You know you shouldn’t be taking other people’s food, and yet people do it regularly. Sure, people make mistakes. But when your name is clearly and prominently displayed on your lunch, there’s no excuse. Unfortunately, you can’t control what others do. Unless you plan on watching the fridge like a hawk, someone’s going to swipe your sandwich at some point.

So, don’t do it to others. Don’t take food at work unless you know it’s yours. And another thing: Wash your hands before you eat.

9. Wash your hands

Handshake between two colleagues in office

Offices are full of germs as it is. | iStock.com/Saklakova

We’ve already discussed basic hygiene principles and the need for proper bathroom etiquette. Part of that is washing your hands — something a lot of people evidently like to skip. We’ve all seen it. Someone uses the toilet and skips out without washing their hands. Why? It’s hard to say. But in a shared space, you can be sure you’re all touching the same door knobs, keyboards, and handrails. Do everyone a favor, and wash your hands.

10. Stow the bellyaching

complaint form

Most of the time, your complaints don’t need to be aired. | iStock.com

Nothing is worse than a co-worker who won’t shut up or, more specifically, stop complaining. You know the type. The person who’s always crying, wallowing in self-pity, or playing the victim. Every little thing is apparently a huge affront to them personally, and everyone else has to hear about it. Often, they don’t even realize it. Take stock of your own behavior, and if it turns out you’re the chronic bellyacher, learn to cope.

There are circumstances, however, under which it is OK to complain, such as when someone decides to nuke their leftover salmon in the break room microwave.

11. Avoid microwaving certain foods

Detail of hand while using the microwave

Some foods aren’t meant for the office environment. | iStock.com/Rostislav_Sedlacek

You’ve probably heard you shouldn’t bring in fish for lunch. It smells and can rustle your co-worker’s jimmies. Yes, it’s delicious and nutritious, but we all have to make sacrifices. There are several foods you should avoid: certain vegetables, barbecue, popcorn. Some are due to their odors, and others are for the odors they produce down the road.

12. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen or break room

cleaning microwave

Always clean up after yourself. | iStock.com/ tab1962

If you’re using the kitchen or break room to prepare your lunch, then you’d better make sure you clean up after yourself. Clean your dishes, if you used any, or at least put them in the dishwasher if you have one. Wipe the crumbs off the counter, and wipe down the microwave if your soup manages to coat the inside of it. It’s not hard. Just do the bare minimum, and foster some goodwill.

13. Respect people’s personal space

A man in a cubicle

Don’t invade someone’s cubicle. | iStock.com

At work, you’re all going to be sharing some space. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in your co-worker’s face and vice versa. Respect your colleagues’ personal space, and keep your belongings in your own. Most people are pretty good about this, but every so often, you’ll work with someone who just can’t seem to respect boundaries. If that’s you, it’s time to course correct.

Another form of respecting people’s personal space? Not subjecting them to your social calls.

14. Take your personal calls somewhere else

A man takes a phone call

A man takes a phone call. | iStock.com/DragonImages

Everybody has their phones with them these days, and that means we’re responding to calls and texts all the time. But not everybody wants to hear your conversations with your mom or girlfriend — and you probably don’t want your co-workers eavesdropping. Either reject those calls, or take them in another room or outside.

15. If you’re always borrowing, get your own

A cup with pencils

Be responsible with office supplies. | iStock.com

Do you work with someone who’s always “borrowing” your stuff? It might be pens, headphones, or anything else. If this is an everyday thing, it’s time to suggest they get their own. You don’t have an unlimited supply of pens, and at some point you need to put your foot down. And again, if you’re the chronic borrower, it’s time to knock it off.

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