Is there a general, universal definition of what is considered appropriate behavior for the workplace?

Is there a general, universal definition for appropriate behavior in the workplace?

The simple answer is no!  A universal definition of appropriate behavior for every environment would require little diversity.

However, any behavior, language or gesture that makes someone feel uncomfortable is unacceptable and should be discontinued.  If you work in a less formal environment where creative thoughts and expressions are encouraged, you may have fewer rules when it comes to proper business protocol.    An advertising agency, for example, may encourage a more casual environment where freedom of expression and brainstorming is encouraged.

When it comes to humor in the workplace, you take a chance on something being considered funny or entertaining.  Never assume everyone shares a common sense of humor.  An individual may risk their personal and professional reputation, if a joke or story fails to entertain.  You may also find that co-workers appreciate your colorful humor one day and find it truly tasteless the next.   That is why one should always hesitate before sharing humor at work.

Another good reason to consider behavior at work would be the future opportunities to be promoted.  It is often difficult for an organization to promote a “wild card”!  This is someone known for their envelope-pushing humor and unpredictable behavior. If an individual has displayed unsuitable behavior, there may be concerns for legal repercussions down the road. Individuals who take chances with humor may be viewed as careless and unprofessional. These individuals may also be unaware of who is within earshot of their comments and may be offended.

Companies work very hard to develop a good, solid reputation in the market.

We spend at least a third of our day in the work environment, surrounded by people with different definitions of what is considered appropriate. No one wants to be considered a fuddy-duddy or a stick in the mud, however, a business environment has limitation. It is not a bar or a club. It is a business and calls for appropriate/professional code of conduct.   You must clearly understand the consequences of “trying to be funny” in the workplace, if it is not well received.  In many situations, we spend more time with co-workers than loved ones. Creating a professional, comfortable work environment for everyone should be a priority regardless of the atmosphere.



Colleen Harding is a certified etiquette and protocol instructor and the founder of the Cleveland School of Etiquette and Corporate Protocol. Programs and packages available for children and businesses.