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Are these workplace behaviours normal?

Workplace behaviours

Newcomers to the career space will inevitably go through all stages of grief trying to decode workplace behaviours. Some of these behaviours may seem quite … unusual, but are they really or are they normal? 

Capital Placement’s Senior Recruitment Specialist Nan Dondashe shares with us her insights and experience.

Behaviours that seem unusual but aren’t

Let’s start with the easy bit. Imagine walking into the office as a fresh-faced intern and immediately seeing everyone around the water cooler first thing in the morning, cups of steaming coffee in hand and all clad in suits. That’s the typical setting you see on shows and in movies but it’s very much inspired by (one version of) workplace reality. 

There are tons of things you’ll often—or even only—see happen at an office and some of these might strike you as odd or unnecessary. Are they acceptable or are they just plain unusual? We’ll go through a few of the most common examples. 

Dress codes

A lot of companies have certain expectations of how their employees or team should dress but is there a legitimate reason for enforcing dress codes?

Workplace dress codes can vary widely, from formal business attire to more casual dress. While these rules might seem random/restrictive, they serve several important purposes.

“There are various reasons but the main one would be displaying a sense of professionalism in the workplace, and also just allowing everyone to look like they’re part of one team. Therefore you’d be perceived as a ‘brand ambassador’ for that company,” explained Nan.

In certain industries where a professional presentation is highly valued, dressing formally helps employees convey competence and trustworthiness to clients and colleagues. For example, if you’re in finance, you’ll find yourself in a suit and/or tie quite frequently.

Additionally, certain jobs may have safety requirements that dictate specific attire, such as protective clothing in manufacturing or construction settings.

Nan frequently takes on candidate or employer meetings, so, to her, presentation is a key facet. “I need to ensure that I look presentable and professional. I wouldn’t really rock up to an employer call or candidate call wearing a t-shirt. For me, it’s a personal choice. Everyone is different, but at the same time, I’m a fashionista. I love dressing up so I would love to just wear a blazer or something like that.”

However, dress codes can also be problematic—especially if they’re overly rigid or outdated. This could clash with your feelings about how you should be able to freely exhibit your uniqueness or show your individuality through your presentation.

For instance, requirements like restrictively gender-specific clothing may create discomfort for employees. With this in mind, flexibility with a combination of professionalism and individuality could go a really long way.

Corpo talk

Corpo (short for corporate) talk is essentially the usage of terms designed and/or reserved primarily for the workplace. The use of industry-specific jargon and acronyms is quite prevalent in many workplaces, particularly in technical or specialised fields. 

While this language may seem cryptic or confusing at first, it serves as a shorthand for conveying complex ideas efficiently among colleagues. You may have heard some of these terms, such as ‘EOD’, ‘let’s circle back to this’, and ‘to piggyback of this’. 

These particular terms are very basic and general—but more advanced and indecipherable terms do exist and that’s where the issues usually come in.

As coworkers are likely to share a common understanding of the industry’s terminology, it rarely causes problems. For example, in tech, terms like “API” (Application Programming Interface) are commonly used to discuss technical concepts without the need for lengthy explanations.

“It just becomes more effective and easier to communicate because now you all speak the ‘same’ language. You don’t need to take too much time and you don’t get offended either,” Nan explained.

However, excessive use of jargon can create barriers to communication, particularly for new employees or those transitioning from different industries. You might feel excluded or frustrated and this could hinder collaboration across the team. 

When entering a new industry or starting a new job, note down terms you don’t understand and ask your supervisor or a knowledgeable coworker what it means. Alternatively, you can always Google it or check social media for more information.

Learn how to use these terms as you’ll inevitably start using many of them in the near future.

Organisational hierarchies

Organisational hierarchies could be hard to wrap your head around if you’re not used to such a strict structure—and most people don’t experience this outside of work. It’s essentially a structure of authority and decision-making within a company.

As this Economic Times piece highlights, an organisational structure is a “system that outlines how specific activities are handled to fulfill a strategic mission is known as an organizational structure. Rules, roles, and obligations are all part of these activities. The organizational structure also determines the flow of information between divisions within the corporation. A centralised structure, for example, makes choices from the top-down, whereas a decentralised structure distributes decision-making power throughout the organisation.”

While hierarchies can provide clarity and accountability in assigning responsibilities and facilitating workflow, they aren’t a one-size-fits-all model. A rigid hierarchical structure may sometimes discourage employees from voicing ideas or taking initiative, fearing repercussions from higher-ups.

There are established protocols for seeking approval, communicating with supervisors, and escalating issues and this can be particularly challenging for first-time employees. If you’re feeling intimidated or uncertain about how to voice your opinions or take up space, you’re not alone. 

It often (not always) lies in how you say what you want to say. Communicate openly and politely. It’s always good to keep a level head and genial tone when addressing your coworkers and management.

Why are there so many meetings?

In many workplaces, frequent or regular meetings are a common occurrence. Meetings serve as a platform for communication and collaboration among team members—especially for remote teams. 

They offer an opportunity for everyone to come together, share updates, discuss progress on projects, and coordinate efforts. Through meetings, team members can align their goals, clarify expectations, and ensure everyone is on the same page regarding tasks and responsibilities. 

Additionally, if a company has a lot of teams that don’t get to collaborate, they often set up team calls to allow for cross-departmental communication to take place. This is the place where you can exchange perspectives and be informed about what’s going on across the company. 

Meetings also play a vital role in decision-making processes within organisations. They provide a forum for brainstorming ideas, evaluating options, and reaching consensus on important matters.

However, while meetings are valuable in many situations, there are instances where they may not be beneficial or necessary. For example, lengthy daily meetings can be unproductive as they disrupt the daily workflow. Additionally, meetings that lack a clear agenda or purpose may lead to confusion and disengagement among attendees.

Often, you’ll find that some meetings could’ve just been an email and this can be very frustrating. The downside is that you may not be able to shift the meeting schedule every time but negotiating smaller-scale meeting timings is certainly possible—especially if it’s a one-on-one. (Just be sure not to request to move a call where you’re certain you’re getting a scolding!)

Performance reviews

Performance evaluations are a way for your company/supervisors to tell you how well you’re doing at work and where you could improve. These evaluations usually happen once or twice a year and give you a chance to talk about your performance, set goals for the future, and discuss any career opportunities you’re interested in.

To prepare for your performance review, start by thinking about your achievements over the past few months or the past year. What projects did you work on? What goals did you meet? Be ready to talk about these accomplishments with your boss.

During the review, your supervisor will likely discuss your strengths and areas for improvement. They might give you feedback on your work habits, communication skills, or how well you work with others. It’s essential to listen carefully to their feedback and ask questions if you’re not sure about something.

Every company has its own way of doing performance evaluations, so it’s essential to understand your company’s guidelines. They might have specific criteria they use to evaluate employees, or they might focus on different areas depending on the job role.

Overall, performance evaluations are a chance for you to show how valuable you are to the company and to plan your career path moving forward. So, take the opportunity to showcase your accomplishments, listen to feedback, and set goals for the future.

Networking

Socialising and networking activities are integral parts of workplace culture. Networking is the process of building sustainable relationships with colleagues, industry professionals, and even brands/companies. 

In workplaces, it involves making connections, sharing information, and fostering a sense of camaraderie within teams. While participation in social events and team-building exercises may be encouraged or even mandated by employers, it’s essential to recognise and respect individual preferences and boundaries.

For some, mandatory socialising may feel forced or uncomfortable, particularly if you’re somebody who prefers to maintain a separation between their personal and professional lives. 

Nan elaborated, “You want to be connected. I get it from that angle. But in the same breath, one needs to be comfortable in attending those social settings. No one should ever be forced to attend a social setting, especially if you are not comfortable.”

If work parties aren’t your thing, try taking the initiative and setting something up with your colleagues instead. Fostering more organic social connections through shared interests or hobbies can facilitate more meaningful relationships. 

Networking can seriously help you with your professional growth—and the payoff can surface in both the short and long term.

Workplace behaviours that are actually unusual

Now, on the other hand, it’s time to address the dark side of unusual workplace behaviours. 

Let’s explore some of these more problematic behaviours, shedding light on why they occur along with a few practical tips for dealing with them. 

Micromanagement 

Micromanagement and excessive control by managers are common sources of frustration among employees. If you’re experiencing any of the following, you might be getting micromanaged:

  • Constant monitoring of progress
  • Excessive negative remarks
  • Lack of choice/input when working on projects
  • Using surveillance tech to keep track of you at work
  • Consistent critiquing while you work
  • Taking over your tasks and doing it themselves

Now, some of these could be happening to a particularly poorly behaved employee but they are also some of the most common signs of micromanagement. The issue is that micromanagement can have a stunting effect on your professional growth if you’re entering a junior or higher position. 

On the other hand, if you’re only just starting out, your supervisor may do more hand-holding at the start and gradually ease up. 

If the ‘assistance’ is feeling excessive, you can address it with your supervisor with a delicate balance of diplomacy and facts. Present the particular incidents that have caused you to feel discomfort but ensure to factually highlight that you can handle the task at hand without eyes over your shoulder.

Discuss your preferred working style and try to establish boundaries. Make sure to seek clarification on any expectations.

You can offer to provide regular updates on your progress and seek feedback to alleviate your managers’ concerns about oversight. This way, you’ll be demonstrating competence and initiative while building trust. 

However, this approach may not work if your manager is unwilling to accept your feedback. In such a situation, the manager is at fault for not allowing you to address your concerns.

Bullying

Workplace bullying is a very serious issue that can have detrimental effects on employees’ well-being and productivity. It often involves repeated mistreatment, harassment, or intimidation of an employee by a colleague or supervisor. This behaviour is unacceptable and can have serious consequences for individuals and organisations. 

If you’re being bullied at work, make sure to keep detailed records of any instances, including dates, times, and descriptions of the behaviour. This documentation can be crucial if you need to escalate the issue to HR or management.

Reach out to HR, a trusted supervisor, or a mentor for guidance and support. They can help you navigate the situation, provide resources for addressing bullying, and ensure your safety and well-being.

Familiarise yourself with your company’s policies on harassment and bullying, as well as your legal rights. You have the right to work in a safe and respectful environment, free from intimidation and harassment.

Lack of transparency

A lack of transparency in the workplace can lead to confusion, mistrust, and disengagement among employees. When faced with this issue, take the initiative to ask questions and seek clarification on company policies, decisions, and changes. 

You are well within your rights to request details from management to stay informed about important matters affecting your work or your employment.

If you feel left in the dark about important issues, express your concerns to your supervisor or HR department. Make sure to explain how the lack of transparency is impacting your ability to perform effectively and engage with your work.

If you have a colleague you trust, try speaking to them about the issue. Share perspectives and explore your concerns. Fostering open communication amongst the team can greatly help improve transparency.

Gossiping

Office gossip can create a terribly toxic and dangerous work environment. It could significantly damage professional relationships and erode trust among colleagues and management alike. 

It’s important to refrain from engaging in gossip or spreading rumours about coworkers. Try redirecting such conversations to more positive or work-related topics, setting a good example for others to follow.

Always demonstrate professionalism and discretion in your interactions with coworkers and feel free to set boundaries. When a topic veers towards such uncomfortable territory, politely segue or step away from the conversation.

If it’s happening during work, you can emphasise the importance of focusing on the task at hand and its urgency instead.

When you find yourself being the subject of gossip or hear rumours about yourself, address the issue directly with the individuals involved. If you’re feeling unsafe and don’t want to do so, speak to a trusted colleague, your supervisor or HR.

The best course is to clarify any misunderstandings while assertively communicating your boundaries.

Not giving credit

Feeling undervalued or unappreciated for your contributions can be demoralising and affect your morale and motivation. For a newcomer, this could really deflate enthusiasm for your role.

Sometimes, you need to speak up for yourself! A little professional humble-bragging won’t hurt. Feel free to proactively share your achievements and contributions with your supervisor or team members as a highlight of your work week.

Keep track of statistics, facts and other figures to reflect your impact on projects and initiatives. This can be used during your performance review to highlight your value and what you’ve brought to the table. 

You can also bring it in as a prelude to seeking feedback on your performance and ways you can continue to grow and develop in your role. This way, you show commitment to excellence while talking about your achievements in the most humble way possible. It may even prompt your supervisor to recognise your efforts more effectively.

If you constantly feel actively overlooked or ignored, schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your concerns. Express your desire for more recognition and opportunities for advancement professionally and constructively, seeking solutions to address the issue.

Final thoughts

It’s very true that workplace culture can be difficult to navigate, especially if you’re just transitioning to work-life after being a student. Understanding the difference between what is acceptable and unacceptable is vital when entering the workplace. In addition to that, knowing your rights as an employee is key! 

Keep in mind that your rights may vary a little (or greatly) depending on your geographical location and employment status, among other things. As an example, let’s say you’re vying for an internship in London. You’ll definitely want to read up on your rights—but first, you need to understand your employment status to figure out which ‘rights’ apply to you.

If you want to kick your career off in 2024, book a call with us, and let’s talk about it. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for the latest career information, tips, and updates. (They’re both completely free!)

Kahless

Kahless

Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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