Thursday, November 4, 2010

Office etiquette: How to treat your coworkers

When I started working at my main job, I was fresh out of college, younger than some of the interns, and perpetually worried about being taken seriously. So I made sure to dress a little more formally than I had to, kept my long hair up in a severe-looking bun, and was extra-careful about my work. But still, if I had a dollar for every time an older coworker asked me to copy, collate, or fetch something for them that first year, my 401(k) would be a whole lot bigger than it is now.

I remember a coworker who, back in the mid-1990s, told me that I reminded him of all the women who wouldn't date him when he was in college and treated me accordingly. Others asked me how I'd managed to get hired so young (no, nepotism was not involved, though hard work and luck and good advice were). I'd cringe a bit whenever someone asked me how old I was, not because it was an inappropriate question (though it is) but because I hated the way anything I did after that would be judged and downgraded.

Excelle has a list of 12 things you should never say to your younger and older coworkers, and while I found myself nodding along in sympathy as I clicked through their advice, I think there are a few I'd like to add.

1. Don't judge a coworker by his or her peers. Were you flighty and irresponsible when you were 22? Fine, but that doesn't mean the new hire is. And just because your mom doesn't understand email, don't assume that an employee your mom's age won't either.

2. Treat everyone as you'd like to be treated. It seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Don't be condescending, don't be dismissive, and don't forget that if you step on anyone on your way up the ladder they can kick you in the head on your way back down.

3. Help people. The new kid isn't necessarily after your job. And the office veteran isn't necessarily looking forward to retirement. Find ways to make yourself valuable to your company instead of withholding your help or support. Even while you're working together, your coworkers are part of your career network; it's better to cultivate than it is to alienate the people you work with.

Do you have any stories to share from when you were a young, new employee? How do you wish you had been treated?


Erin said...

Great post...thanks for sharing.

I once worked as a intern in the credit department of a fairly large company. The only problem? I was an elementary education major. I knew less than nothing about business or credit. I just needed a summer job and my aunt was VP of the company. Done!

I learned that you should always say a huge thank you to interns or newer/younger employees. Stuffing envelopes or making copies for 8 hours a day really can be a miserable existence... =)

Sarah said...

The situation that you explain is unfortunately the norm I would think.

A slightly different approach that should be adopted perhaps wider is one that I experienced at one of the Top 5 Financial Institutions.

Senior Management earned 'extra credit' for acting as mentors to new entrants and were rewarded accordingly in their yearly bonuses.

The result was that new recruits with potential were not only snapped up by Senior Management, but as they were also taken under their wing, they had a great start to their careers and tended to be removed from the 'general' intro nonsense.

There are inherent issues associated with this methodology, but all in all the benefits to both the Mentor and new recruit far outweighed the negatives.