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The Office Survival Guide: Dos and Dont's

Updated on January 21, 2013

Every since The Office debut over seven years ago, it gave us the most honest and heartfelt look at life inside the ins and outs of office life. While I have to say the show is great at being realistic, it also leaves out the small details of what it's really like to work a 9 to 5.

I recently returned to office life a couple of months ago and since then I think I have finally figured out a foolproof way to survive being an office worker. There are some things that should be common sense while other insights you learn as you go.

All in all, the main point is that you want to come across as dedicated and diligent as well as cordial. And your behavior both behind the desk and around the break room help build your credibility in the office as well.

This hub will not instantly make you Mary Richards but hopefully it will save you from being Michael Scott.

Basic Rules That Apply

The first few weeks of any venture of your life has the same type of feel. You feel excited and anxious but also need to feel validated by those around you. However, it would be to easy to completely give everything without thinking cautiously but in the best interest of you and your new environment you should not act without thinking. Here are some tips to live by.

Do Be Open, Don't Tell Your Life Story- This should be common knowledge to everyone but for one reason or another some people don't understand this concept. I understand people want not to come across as creepy or mysterious but at the same time I really don't need to know everything about you. For instance, one woman I worked with was nice but she was too pushy in trying to get along with everyone. She went so far as to bring in her baby book of her son. Needless to say she was let go a short time later for work-related behavior but still this serves as an example of how not to get carried away and share anything. I think the best way to approach it is to think of your first day as the first date or first day on the team. It's good to talk and share but it's better to listen so you really know what you are doing.

Do Ask Questions, But Apply Common Sense- I am the type of person who learns visually and by doing things repetitively. But I do not always ask questions about everything unless I am unsure and the notes and resources I have do not match up. I learn quite quickly so my gauge for asking questions is different but the point is you should ask questions in order to get it right instead of holding your tongue and getting something wrong.

Do Get Comfortable, But Not Second Home Comfortable- If there's anything that irks me it's that people somehow think once they get to work they can act like they are at home. And by this I mean laying stuff around propping your feet up and making a mess. As the saying goes, your mom does not work here. And even if she did, she would not clean up after your mess.

Making Good Conversation

Another issue that everyone has in the office is usually what to talk about as well as how to talk about it. One way to solve that problem is not to talk at all but usually that does not do much but inspire others to question why you are so quite. So in order to be a part of the conversation without taking it over, here are a few tips to help you.

Contribute, Don't Dominate- If I am in the break room I find it easy to participate in a good lunchtime conversation. But I almost never jump in and dominate the conversation because it is not only in poor taste but selfish. If you have something to add you should say it and then wait for a response, do not hijack a conversation.

Religion and Politics Are Always No-Nos- I do not care if you believe or are certain about someone else's stance on these two topics, it is absolutely career suicide to bring this topic up or to stir another's views. One place where I have worked, people in supervisory positions absolutely could not talk about religious or political affairs. I think this should apply to every worker mainly because this topics always causes too many problems and unnecessarily creates tensions.

Every Topic Doesn't Suit Your Life- Working in an office that has a certain demographic of people like parents, I realize that there is no way I can contribute to people talking about children. Sure, I know some children but I cannot talk about parenthood in the same way that people who have experienced it have. I know this irks some people who cannot fully contribute but really it's a great way to learn about others.

You Are Not At Home- I talk a certain way at home that I do not use in public. My grammar and vernacular are a lot more relaxed. And since I am quite sure I am not in the minority here, you still have to remember when having a non-work related conversation that you still maintain composure and use proper English.

Give Me A Break (Room)!

The break room or kitchen of your work place is highly important simply because it helps foster relationships outside the office suites and cubicles. And it is also very important because you can eat there without consequences. But it's also key that everyone does their part to maintain the break room.

Stinky Food Is Not Acceptable- This should be self-explanatory but it still happens. I understand that not everyone has the time and resources to pack a lunch but rather or not you steal, pack, or buy your lunch you should still keep it from smelling. This includes curry, fish (microwaved or stove-cooked), barbecued pork, onions, garlic, potted meat, and so on. And even things that are not necessarily odorous such as popcorn get irritating if the scent lingers in the microwave.

Label Your Food- This varies from office to office but it is always best to act in caution and not let someone sneak away with your weekend takeout. It only takes a minute to pull out a Sharpie and label your lunch with the date in case it might be subject to getting thrown out.

Bring Your Own Condiments and Utensils- Many office break rooms provide plastic and real silverware as well as condiments but sometimes you don't know if what's provided is from the office or someone else. And just because someone leaves it around unlabeled doesn't mean you can call dibs on it.

Don't Eat Food That's Not Yours; I think this is something many of us learned in the first grade but it bears repeating- don't eat it unless you bought, brought, or made it. Way too many people have opened their lunch up to see that someone has gobbled it whole.

Clean Up!- Sometimes I wish I could post the clean-up song from when I was a kid to play so I wouldn't have to see some of the messes others leave behind. Or just the sign that says your mom does not work here is good enough for me.

Personal Communication

I have previously talked about people talking to one another at the office but there comes a time when you have to talk to the people you see after work, your friends and family. Do not get me wrong, I think it is okay to have a quick conversation on break or during lunch but beyond that unless it is an emergency, no one needs to hear every detail of what's going on between you and your loved ones.

If Not On Break, Keep It Short- It's fine if you are at lunch or on your fifteen minute break to have a slightly longer conversation, granted you are not interrupting the flow of work for everyone else. But if you decide to take a personal call while on the clock, keep it short because nobody needs to know what you plan to eat for dinner.

Inside Voice Is Key- This applies to all office conversations but especially on the phone. I don't care if the person on the other end is hard of hearing, take it outside. Otherwise pretend you're in the library and don't let the rest of us hear you.

Guests Will Be Scrutinized- I had a coworker have his girlfriend meet him one Friday at the end of work. It was innocent enough but unfortunately it became an issue of her not feeling comfortable with all the attention given to her. Of course we all know it's rude to stare, but human nature does not always follow the rules. That being said, only bring guests if you know they can handle your co-workers curiosities.

Cubicle/Desk Etiquette

I decided to include this section so people get the general idea that even though you have your own space, it does not mean you can treat it any kind of way.

Keep Your Area Tidy: That doesn't mean be spotless but if you have a day off or are out, your coworker should be able to pick up your work without problems.

Eat and Store Food Carefully:No matter how old or new your office building is, the risk of insects and rats is always there, especially when people are messy. That being said, you can't avoid eating at your desk. However, do so with caution and make sure not to make a big mess. Also, if you have foods to snack on at your desk, make sure they are sealed tightly.

Talk and Sing Aloud as Necessary: Now if you have your own office, do what you want. But many of us share a space with one or more other people. With this in mind, don't get your Gaga on in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon or any day for that matter. Singing aloud is okay when no one's around. The same goes if you like to talk to yourself about what you're trying to do. If I know what you're doing, stop talking so loud.

Keep Convos Quiet: I understand if you have buddies who drop by from time to time to chew the fat, but again if you're in a common area and think the conversation will be longer than 5 minutes, go to the break room or wait until lunch to talk. I don't need to know you're personal business.

Commandments of Common Sense

Golden Rule Applies- Treat people like you want to be treated. If you are nice and cordial, the same will be applied to you. You do not have to kiss the ring but at least know how to be pleasant.

Clean is Cool- Don't be a Dirty Harry of the office. You're not Eastwood, end of story. Clean your desk, clean your area in the break room, and make sure you be neat and wipe the seat in the restroom.

It All Ends at __p.m.- What most people forget is that a job is not the sum of our lives, but a simple part of it that helps us get to what we really want. And that is a life of meaning, laughter and memories.


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    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Thundermama,

      I agree- some people don't realize there are people who spend a good part of the day trying to focus on what needs to be done. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Sharkye11,

      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub :).

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Great hub! I feel like posting this in my office break room and near the reception area so people might get the helpful hints. You'd think the inside voice is a given, but there are always people who forget that others are trying to get work done in their cubicle. Voted UP!

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Excellent advice! This isn't just useful to office workers, but to people employed everywhere...even online! Great tips, Alecia! Voting and sharing!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Orderedchaos,

      You have an awesome Hubber Handle:)! But you're right- cutting is not nice. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this hub! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!

    • orderedchaos profile image


      7 years ago from Kansas City, MO

      I have another one to add to the don't section: don't cut in line waiting for the microwave- that's something we learn not to do in Kindergarten.

      I liked this hub! Very informative, reflects a lot of my feelings toward my own office.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Michelle,

      I agree- work is not home. The two shouldn't mix. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting and sharing!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Alecia, I enjoyed this hub very much. Thanks for letting in on tips for living at the office. Work should be work and it is not the same as home, so certain etiquette needs to be maintained, as you've so rightly pointed out. I share this and votes across!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Yeah, I agree jeolmoz2! Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • jeolmoz2 profile image

      Julio E Olmo Sr 

      7 years ago from Florida, USA

      I noticed that the during "Break Time" is always good to keep to yourself...that way you get to see how others act, specially if some folks are grouchy!

    • Robin Oatley profile image

      Robin Oatley 

      7 years ago

      Hi Alecia,

      Many people could learn from you! Maybe everyone on their first day should be referred to this hub! ;)

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Keith! I agree-leaving dirty dishes and stuff is just unsanitary and impolite.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is the very same etiquette I follow when eating lunch at school. It is so nasty to see other students leaving their dirty dishes on the table, not wiping down the table, knowing someone else is gonna eat there. I thought this hub is very true, funny, and straight to the point! Good job :0


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Alecia, these are tips absolutely crucial to work ethics. And everyone working should learn and apply these. The other day I had to ask the next door shop owner to tell her boyfriend to use the restroom with the seat up or not use it at all. I am not cleaning after him! Informative and useful hub, thank you Alecia!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      7 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub with important points highlighting office do's and dont's. Very useful. Voted up.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      7 years ago from Pune, India

      Useful advice. Thanks.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Another DON'T: Don't grow old.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie Marie 

      7 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      This is really helpful information for anyone working at an office. I know what you mean about sharing too much information with workers. When you first start a job, it is hard to tell who you can trust and who you can't. I just lean towards not trusting anyone anymore. (I know that sounds awful though!) Great hub and voted up!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Yeah, Efficient Admin- I see your points. I chew with my mouth closed but I just eat loud food. I hate when people yell inside-working or not. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Michelle Dee 

      7 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Great tips for an office environment. I work in a cube as well. A few more tips: people should learn how to chew food with their mouth closed so there is no loud crunching of the Doritos, and no yelling conversations over the cubicle walls so that it disrupts everyone else. Voted up, awesome, useful!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks weestro! Yeah, I don't know who told kids it's okay to wear headphones on the job. Unless you're on a firing range or construction unit, it's unproductive.

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 

      7 years ago from Virginia

      These are great Alecia! It also seems every intern wears headphones or earbuds, annoying when trying to talk to them! Voted up and awesome!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Ruchira, I agree people are too leisurely in the office kitchen. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • fucsia profile image


      7 years ago

      Label your food: this is a very important tip. Where I work if the food is anonymous magically disappears!:)

      Thanks for these great advice Alecia.

    • Ruchira profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      Great advice Alecia. Many people do regard the office pantry as their kitchen and keep stacking up their food, which becomes a nuisance. Another thing I have noted is microwaving their lunch and leaving it dirty...ughh!

      voted up and sharing it across!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Millionaire Tips,

      Thanks for the insight. I agree that while training you should only ask questions and not try to commandeer the experience.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      7 years ago from USA

      These are great tips Alecia. I have worked in an office environment throughout my working life, and these are so accurate. Another tip I would add is that when you are being trained, don't try to fix or refine the process. It will seem like criticism, especially since you don't understand fully why some things are done the way they are. Just learn it, and when you do it yourself later, after you've done it their way for at least a couple of times and understand the whole picture, then you can refine the procedure.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks thebiologyofleah! People have different perceptions of common sense. And I understand people wanting to assimilate but you have to distinguish yourself as a professional.

    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      This is a great how-to for office workers, it is funny how some things certain people take for granted as common sense others just do not get! I agree with your points on maintaining a professional tone even when sharing (but not oversharing)with coworkers. It is especially important for younger people looking to establish themselves in their given career-path. As Stephanie mentioned above it can alter your coworkers perspective of you.

      Great hub, voted up.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Tina,

      I agree that you don't choose coworkers and you can't think of them like you do relatives. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Billybuc,

      I still have yet to see Office Space but I think that's what everyone thinks about office life. Thanks for coming by!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks as always Alocsin!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Emilybee,

      I agree that some jobs aren't friendly and it's better to put your best foot forward and count it as a learning experience. Thanks for commenting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Stephanie,

      I agree that people want to relate but you have to be cautious because it can end up hurting you in the long run. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Sunshine! I just want to treat others like I hope to be treated :).

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks so much teaches12345! I don't know why people mistake work for home either, it is very unprofessional.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      7 years ago from Sweden

      Great advices and I agree with your Do and Don't! I work in an office and even though we may enjoy our work, it is better to keep some things for ourselves and be considerate to others. Mostly we haven't chosen our co workers and they haven't chosen me neither so we shouldn't treat them as family! Voted up, useful


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great hub! For some reason it reminded me of "Office Space," a classic film about life in an office environment.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      An especially enlightening hub for the upcoming crop of graduates and those looking for office summer jobs. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • emilybee profile image


      7 years ago

      Great advice for surviving an office work environment. I personally don't think I could handle it, but I think I did follow most everything you mentioned here. I worked for one month in the tiniest cubicle and was happy to never go back. It was a temp position and ended unexpectedly, but some cubicle jobs are not friendly and everyone is just a pawn in the game - just another employee. Great hub.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      7 years ago from USA

      Excellent advice! I especially agree with your advice not to share overly personal information with coworkers. I think that some people do not realize that sharing personal problems can influence how coworkers perceive them...and not always in a positive light. Voted up and useful!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Outstanding advice! Anyone who works with you in an office atmosphere is a lucky person!!:)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      Good one, Alecia! I hate it when people bring things for lunch and leave them in the fridge forever, or don't clean up after themselves in the lunchroom. I have known some co-workers who turn their space into a living room -- it's not your second home. Why would you want that anyway? Great suggestions and advice. Voted up!


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