The workplace sometimes changes so rapidly it's hard to keep up with what we're supposed to do and not do. But some things stick around -- like the importance of good manners. That's why I thought it was a good issue to explore for my Gannett/USA Today column...
Is it OK to tweet during a business conference?
Should you stand up when shaking hands?
Do you get the boss a holiday gift this year?
These are all common etiquette questions that Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, can answer correctly. For the rest of us, the answers often are not as clear, turning the most capable professional into someone who may be seen as a mannerless slob.
"Using poor etiquette can severely limit your opportunities," Post says. "To advance, you need to be able to build relationships. People don't want to work with people who are a pain to be around."
So that Metallica ringtone on your cellphone? It's gotta go. Any cellphone in the office should be on vibrate — and then not left to gyrate in a desk drawer for 10 minutes, she says.
Along the same lines, don't answer your cellphone when you're in the middle of conversation with another person unless it's an emergency call from home. For the record, Post says an emergency is a wife having a baby, not a child unable to find his tennis shoes. (And children should be instructed on what constitutes an emergency to cut down on such types of calls.)
"Giving someone our undivided attention is how we show our respect for others," she says. "When you divide your attention, then that person feels respect has been diminished."
Some other workplace etiquette dilemmas that Post, as a co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition," addresses include these:
1. Tweeting responsibly. If you're attending a conference where you're expected to tweet updates, the speaker usually understands that.
But if that's not the case, put your phone away and listen.
2. Getting the phone off the table. "It's not another utensil you need to eat a meal," she says. "If you put it on the table 'just in case,' then that means the potential is there for you to answer it. It's like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off."
3. Giving up texting. Again, if you're texting during a meeting or a conversation, you're showing disrespect to others.
4. Shaking hands. If someone offers a handshake, you should return it and make sure you're standing.
The only excuse not to shake hands is if you're sick. Then Post says she's not sure what you're doing at work in the first place because infecting other people is rude. Still, if you're feeling under the weather and somehow still find yourself offered a handshake, explain that it's nice to see the person, but you're not well.
5. Remembering you don't owe anyone a holiday gift. It can be seen a "currying favor" to give the boss a gift, and you don't owe a colleague a present even if he or she gives you one.
"And don't lie about it and say you have something for the person at home when you don't," Post says. "Just say thank you."
Gifts such as cologne or clothes should be returned to any officemate who gives them to you with an "I appreciate the gesture, but I feel this is inappropriate" response. She advises that any gift from the boss that crosses the line should be reported to human resources.
Another common holiday dilemma: fundraising, whether it's a colleague collecting for the local food bank or a co-worker helping a child sell cookie dough for school.
In those cases, Post says it's best to come up with a policy and stick to it or be prepared to go broke with an ever-growing number of fundraisers.
"You can choose to give on a first-come, first-serve basis to whoever hits you up first." she says. "Or, you have a set amount of maybe $5 that you give to each one. Or, you can simply say, 'No, thank you and good luck.' "