Robert Hosking shows how being a model employee just takes a little consideration

For accomplished administrative professionals, it’s tempting to think of good workplace behaviour as someone else’s problem. After all, if you told off-colour jokes, sent rude emails or made other similar gaffes, you’d never have reached your current position. But business protocol mistakes aren’t always so blatant. Because so much workplace communication takes place digitally, it can be difficult to tell proper behaviour from problematic. You could be breaking the rules without even realising it.

Modern workplace conduct isn’t just a matter of adhering to common norms. Some practices and habits that have become widespread aren’t necessarily acceptable, and you may offend or disappoint a supervisor or colleague by following them. Needless to say, a single poor impression on the wrong person can easily hinder your professional progress. Traditionally viewed as a way to blend in, proper behaviour may now be a way to stand out — and to keep your career moving forward.

Thoughtful Online Networking

LinkedIn and other professional networking sites are great resources for building connections and establishing a base of contacts. They also make it easy to create a large network without much regard for the individual relationships behind it. To protect your reputation, focus on the quality of your connections, not the quantity. Don’t invite strangers into your network. And don’t be offended if someone who knows you only vaguely doesn’t respond to your request to connect.

Another key rule: take the time to personalise any request. When seeking to make a new contact, for example, remind the person of how you know each other or of the last time you communicated. Likewise, rather than sending a generic request for an online recommendation to all your contacts, focus on members of your network who really know your skills, qualifications and work ethic. Write a note explaining why you would value the person’s endorsement. The more effort you put into crafting a gracious request, the more thoughtful the resulting recommendation is likely to be.

Know When to Say No

Good behaviour isn’t about agreeing to everything that’s asked of you; it’s about saying yes and no with equal tact and respect. When a member of your online network asks for an introduction to another contact of yours, don’t facilitate it without first considering whether it’s likely to benefit both parties. If the connection ends up causing annoyance for either one, it will reflect badly on you.

Treat requests for recommendations the same way. A dishonest endorsement can do much more damage to your reputation than politely declining a request. Also be careful to avoid the appearance of trading recommendations that are based on mutual interest rather than mutual admiration.

As with all networking efforts, you’ll get the best results if you help others before being asked. For example, think of the colleagues whose work you’ve appreciated the most, and proactively offer to write recommendations for them. The most memorable acts are those you perform because you want to, not those designed to fulfil an obligation or to inspire a favour in return.

Social Media Savvy

As the line between personal and professional expression continues to blur, many administrative staff are damaging their credibility with ill-advised keystrokes on Facebook or Twitter. Even if you don’t use these networks for business purposes, you could be leaving your professional reputation vulnerable.

Facebook and Twitter seem like ideal platforms for impromptu venting. But think twice before complaining about your bad day at work. Even if you make a point of not friending your co-workers, your complaint can easily find its way back to your workplace. You can never be sure of all the ways that your personal and professional circles overlap. The simple solution is to keep all of your job-related gripes offline. In fact, before you post anything — even something seemingly innocuous, like a comment about a recent news or pop culture item — consider how your employer or a future hiring manager might view it. If your account is traceable to you, a rude or offensive post can stick to your name for years to come.

At the very least, make sure you fully understand your social media account’s privacy settings and take advantage of them before posting candidly.

Small Gestures, Big Results

Avoiding offense is only half of the battle when it comes to good business behaviour. Small, thoughtful gestures can make a lasting positive impact. Use social media to pay attention to what others are saying or working on. Offer relevant suggestions, re-tweet judiciously, share your professional knowledge, send useful links or just leave a comment that shows you’ve read and understood someone’s post. In just a few minutes, you can establish yourself as an engaged and responsive professional.

Also, keep in mind your demands on your friends’ and followers’ time. When posting links, avoid vague commands like: ‘heck this out’. Instead, take the time to provide at least a hint of the link’s contents so members of your online network can determine if it’s worth viewing.

Smarter Smartphone Use

Smartphones may help boost productivity, but there’s no app for proper business conventions. Few things are more disruptive than the unexpected ping of an incoming message or a blaring ringtone. Thumb-typing during a meeting or interrupting any conversation to take a call can be highly insulting, even if it’s become common in your office.
If you’re expecting a truly critical call, let your colleagues know in advance that you might need to excuse yourself. Also, consider your surroundings before making or taking a call. Forcing others to eavesdrop on you is just as intrusive as eavesdropping. Sharing information that should remain private isn’t usually the main offense; colleagues are likely to be more annoyed by your disregard for their comfort and concentration.

More Effective Email

It pays to be polite, especially over email, where your messages lack voice or body language cues. But if recipients need 20 minutes to decipher a rambling email, no amount of ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ are likely to ease their frustration. Use bulleted lists to make key points and action items unmistakable. Also make sure the subject line clearly distinguishes the message’s contents. An inbox full of emails entitled ‘FYI’ or ‘one last thing …’ will create extra work for your co-workers down the line.

Before you hit send, consider whether any recipient might be upset by the email’s contents. Sharing criticism or voicing disagreement is usually best handled in person. In some cases, addressing a contentious subject over email can exacerbate tensions that could be relieved by a brief face-to-face interaction.

Humour can be a great tool for establishing common ground and relieving stress, but it’s tricky over email. Relying on subtle wording, or even emoticons, to convey your humorous intent is potentially hazardous. Even if your message doesn’t deeply offend anyone, the impression that you failed to consider potential reactions can be offensive in itself.

Modern workplace protocol has little to do with arbitrary rules, and everything to do with considering the needs of others. Letting that consideration inform all of your behaviour can help you establish yourself as an outstanding administrative professional, not just a polite one.

Robert Hosking is executive director of the administrative and customer support practice at Robert Half, where he leads operations for nearly 300 practice locations worldwide. With close to 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, he has extensive ... (Read More)

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