The unwritten rules of the workplace

Despite stating in your CV you have all the skills to ‘hit the ground running’, finding your feet in a new role always takes a bit of time. There is only so much you can learn from an employee handbook and previous experience.

Figuring out the culture is key, and each workplace has its unique rhythms you weren’t told about during the interview.

(First day on the job)

Your contract states you work 9-5 (what a way to make a living) so best err on the side of caution and get there at 8.45, after all you don’t want your new colleagues thinking you’re a slacker. At quarter to nine you’re the last one to arrive and are shot disapproving glances from your new team members.

It’s ok, you think, I’ll make up the time this evening, stay for an extra half hour, really show my commitment. Quarter to 6 and no one’s moved a muscle. It looks like you’re in for a long night.

Dolly Parton didn’t prepare you for this.


Lunch-time at a new job is peppered with uncertainties. Once again, your contract says one thing, but your colleagues exhibit behaviours suggesting another. Does an hour really mean an hour – or does it mean half an hour eating, half an hour tapping away at your inbox?

And what exactly are the rules on using the kitchen facilities? There comes a time in everyone’s life when a Tesco meal deal no longer cuts the mustard, but would heating up last night’s fish pie be frowned upon? Probably.

Hot food etiquette aside, there are more important nuances to master. The MD may be the technically be top dog, but who actually rules the roost?

Do you see a look of cold terror in everyone’s eyes when Darren from operations sends round an email about washing up spoons? Do you see beads of sweat forming on the forehead of the poor soul who’s been tasked with concocting Suzy from procurement’s coffee?

Make friends with these people, and be granted immunity for the next time there’s a dispute about who left the lid off the Millicano.

Every office has its quirks, and there’s no better way of working out the lay of the land than making a few blunders early on. The worst that can happen is coming in to a passive-aggressive note on your desk explaining the importance of switching off your computer when you leave.

Soon you’ll be part of the furniture, and the next person to be hired will be working out whether it’s worth sucking up to you or not.