Skip to Main Content
Filter By +
Topic +

Workplace Etiquette: Definition, Examples and How to Simplify It

8 Minutes to Read

Topics covered


    Workplace etiquette is the speech and behavior an employer expects of its workforce. However, this standard can apply to job candidates, too. And while certain concepts might seem like a given, workplace etiquette can open the door to ample gray areas. Read how to cut through the ambiguity and help employees understand your company’s policies.

    No employee just “shows up” for work.

    True, we don’t always arrive for our shifts fully engaged, enthusiastic and completely free of stress. And while our employers should attempt to address our concerns and create an environment where we can focus, no organization can magically fix every issue we might go through.

    Even so, most of us recognize we should behave differently at work. What isn’t so clear is how workplace etiquette changes across industries and even individual companies. Nuance and unique cases exist, of course, but certain expectations almost universally apply to how we act and speak as employees.

    Get ready to navigate the gray areas of workplace professionalism. From emails and interviews to social media and company events, we’ll clear up the ambiguity so it’s easier for you to explain office etiquette to your people.

    What is workplace etiquette?

    Workplace etiquette is the speech and behavior expected of employees at a specific business. While these expectations can vary in different settings, most workplace etiquette standards cover:

    • what to wear (dress code)
    • how to interact with leaders, customers and co-workers
    • when to arrive and leave for work
    • other rules related to professional conduct

    The employee handbook should explain and outline business etiquette. Unfortunately, most workers don’t fully retain — or even access — the contents of these texts. In fact, roughly 6 in 10 employees don’t read their company’s handbook, according to XpertHR.

    Ultimately, a business can’t enforce workplace etiquette if it isn’t easily understood. And getting a code of conduct to stick requires clarity and frequently communicating about it.

    Why is etiquette in the workplace important?

    Workplace etiquette is important because it sets a standard for respect, dialogue and general behavior across an entire organization. Without a code of conduct, businesses lose the framework needed to create a positive and welcoming work environment.

    Remember, workplace etiquette doesn’t need to be overly rigid. It should, however, help organizations internally protect their employees from:

    • abuse
    • toxicity
    • inflammatory speech
    • direct and indirect violence
    • and more

    Additionally, workplace etiquette gives workers a guidepost to lean on when in doubt. For example, a new hire may refer to their organization’s dress code to ensure their wardrobe for the week meets their employer’s etiquette standards. Alternatively, a manager could verify their organization’s social media policy before writing a public post about their recent team outing.

    Workplace etiquette isn’t exclusive to employees either. Job candidates may also adhere to expectations around speech, clothing and behavior during interviews and other correspondence with a prospective employer.

    When implemented, workplace etiquette helps foster inclusive, accepting and productive environments while enhancing a company’s brand. After all, how employees generally behave reflects on an entire organization.

    Examples of workplace etiquette

    Since workplace etiquette can apply to multiple settings and scenarios, let’s explore how it operates in practical, everyday experiences. Keep in mind that your organization may have a slightly different take on etiquette. This doesn’t mean any one approach is correct, though it’s important to stay aware of how other companies, especially those in your industry, handle conduct.

    Email etiquette

    One of the most frequent forms of workplace communication also provides ample demonstrations of etiquette in practice. You probably already know that most emails should start with a formal greeting and sign off. However, this isn’t where an email makes its biggest impact.

    According to Jeff Su, YouTube content creator and communications specialist, professional emails should include:

    • a clear call to action in the subject line
    • a singular topic, theme or focus
    • relevant recipients
    • easily understood and relatable points

    Emails should also include topical, accessible and empathetic language. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should dilute the message with positivity and pleasantries to the point that it buries what matters to recipients.

    For example, if an executive was announcing mass layoffs, it wouldn’t be appropriate to open the message with a summary of how much fun the sender had at a companywide barbecue. Instead, it would benefit everyone involved to focus on a direct message, even if the subject can be incredibly uncomfortable.

    When it comes to emails, exceptional etiquette requires a balance of clarity and kindness, with mutual understanding serving as the goal.

    Meeting etiquette

    Imagine you’re in a conference room, waiting to have a discussion with your manager about your performance review. When they finally show up, they’re 15 minutes late, still finishing up a conversation with a colleague and fail to acknowledge their tardiness. This poor, inconsiderate behavior may lead you to wonder if they’re even qualified to rate your development, let alone lead your team.

    Punctuality and consideration define great meeting etiquette. Everyone who needs to be heard should have the appropriate space to convey themselves. Part of building this space is ensuring timeliness from all participants. Without it, those who care about the meeting most (like you in our hypothetical performance review discussion) may feel minimized or easily dismissed.

    Avoid interruptions when possible and ask the other participants if it’s appropriate to share your thoughts. If there’s a clear and designated host, allow them to facilitate, advance and end conversations as needed.

    Interview etiquette

    Like meetings, interviews require a certain level of decorum to prove effective and worthwhile. However, candidates should expect to amplify their etiquette in these high-stakes settings. For example, even if you know the dress code of your potential employer is notably lax, make a point to exceed it. This may not require exceptionally formal attire, but your clothing should at least be one step above what you’d normally wear on a given workday.

    In most cases, we make snap judgements as soon as we see another person. This idea, known as “thin-slicing,” explains how we quickly evaluate each other based on:

    • appearance
    • body language
    • initial interactions

    Interviewers are no exception to this phenomenon. Even as trends and expectations evolve, it’s unlikely an applicant will be able to mend a lackluster interview beginning. Participants should appear and sound like how they want their colleagues to perceive them.

    Company event etiquette

    Be it an industry conference or a group volunteer opportunity, employees should remember they represent their company at events, no matter the context. This means looking at social media posts and conversations at the event through a professional lens, even if the kind of event offers leniency for something like dress code.

    It’s best practice to assume any event attached to the company falls under the standards for workplace etiquette. For example, a department’s holiday party doesn’t suddenly make harassment a nonissue. At the same time, employees shouldn’t shy away from personal conversation — especially at fun, team-building events — as long as the discussion falls within what’s acceptable at work.

    Phone etiquette

    Just as an employee would monitor their speech anywhere in the office, they should do so on the phone, too. However, this also includes another key consideration: volume.

    Even if the call is strictly business, loud or otherwise obnoxious speech can disrupt productivity and damage nearby employees’ focus. Employees should take personal calls in a private or otherwise designated area so they don’t interrupt anyone’s work.

    Granted, exceptions will arise. A call center, for instance, will have more over-the-phone chatter than a jewelry crafter. Still, even workplaces with abundant phone calls should outline how employees should behave and work toward an environment that respects every worker’s experience.

    Video etiquette

    Video calls can make it more difficult to exhibit workplace etiquette because of the extra variables they introduce. Participants should keep the space visible through their cameras free of clutter. They should also avoid distracting or inappropriate filters and backgrounds.

    Plus, it can be hard to appear as an active participant through a Zoom call. Maintain eye contact — or an approximation of it — as much as possible. Employees should also mute their microphone when not speaking to help reduce disruptive chatter. If you need to interject, consider using a chat function or an emoji that provides a nonverbal cue to the speaker that you have something to contribute.

    How to encourage positive workplace etiquette

    To help employees retain or practice workplace etiquette, consider offering regular training for your employee handbook. This resource should be one of the first given to new hires, but remember that it might not take if it isn’t easy to read and engaging.

    To help boost retention around workplace policies, deliver this training and other relevant material around workplace etiquette through intuitive learning management software. The right option will allow you to easily craft trainings, including microlearnings and other helpful media.

    And when you do give employees access to their handbook, make sure they can access it anytime, anywhere through their self-service HR software. Meet with other members of HR to ensure your handbook is engaging and easy to navigate no matter who reads it.

    Workplace etiquette for remote employees

    Your standards for etiquette shouldn’t change based on your employees’ physical location. While you may not technically see your workforce as much as you would in person, you can still enforce dress codes and other rules of conduct wherever they apply.

    At a bare minimum, remote employees should be familiar with how your organization approaches:

    • emails
    • phone and video calls
    • text messages
    • social media

    You should also ensure remote workers understand when they’re expected to be online and track their time and attendance. After all, distance doesn’t make an employee any less responsible for their punctuality.

    And since remote employees may be less exposed to clear examples of how their co-workers handle etiquette, the right training software is vital. Make sure your remote workforce has the tools they need to easily grasp and review your organization’s handbook and code of conduct whenever necessary.

    Check out our webinar to learn even more about workplace etiquette from top HR experts Steve Boese and Trish Steed!

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.