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Toward a More Civil Work Place

Avoiding Offensive Behavior on the Job


Businesswoman resting head on desk
Cultura RM/Jason Butcher / Collection Mix: Subjects / Getty Images

Who Let the Dogs In?

Barbara quit her job last week. She just couldn't take it anymore. What made her quit? Was it a difficult boss? Was she bored with her work? Did she just feel it was time to move on? No, no, and no. None of the above. Barbara's boss insisted on bringing his dogs to work. Barbara, who had always been afraid of dogs, found out that she was also allergic to them. Her boss refused to leave the dogs at home so Barbara found another job. As if the allergies weren't enough, her boss's disrespect for her pushed Barbara over the edge.

Unfortunately, disrespect for one's co-workers (or subordinates) isn't that uncommon. And it often causes people to leave their jobs. For employers this means losing good people, and then having to hire and train new ones. For co-workers it means having to get used to working with new people, and picking up the slack until new employees can be found. The saddest part of the lack of respect in the workplace is that many people don't realize they are being disrespectful. They aren't trying to hurt someone's feelings. They just aren't trying to not do that. Barbara's boss, for example, was doing what he felt was best for his pets. He thought leaving them at home was cruel. He may have even felt that his employees would enjoy having the dogs there. He didn't consider the negative effect the dogs might have on someone.

The Actions to Avoid

How can we avoid offending the people we work with? It seems as if it should be blatently obvious. But if it were I wouldn't even be writing this article. Let's take a look now at actions that may offend your co-workers (in no particular order).
  • Having loud telephone conversations

  • Not cleaning up after yourself in the staff kitchen

  • Showing up late for meetings

  • Looking at a co-worker's computer screen over his or her shoulder

  • Taking supplies from a co-worker's desk

  • Neglecting to say please and thank you

  • Wearing too much perfume

  • Chewing gum loudly

  • Taking the last of something without replacing it

  • Talking behind someone's back

  • Asking someone to lie for you

  • Blaming someone else when you are at fault

  • Taking credit for someone else's work

  • Asking a subordinate to do something unrelated to work, i.e. run errands

  • Trying to convert others to your political or religious beliefs

  • Opening someone else's mail

  • Sending unwanted email

  • Telling offensive jokes

  • Smoking in common areas

  • Not pulling your own weight

  • Complaining about the company, boss, and co-workers

  • Having a condescending attitude toward others

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