Cubicle crimes

Last August, mining giant BHP Billiton issued a workplace etiquette guide to its employees outlining new rules such as "No food that emits strong odours is allowed" and "Mobile phone ringtones kept at low volume and forwarded to voicemail when out of office".

The first time I read this I thought "Are you kidding me?" Surely it wasn't necessary to put those kinds of restrictions in place. We're all grown-ups and I thought minding your manners at work was self-explanatory, right?

Wrong. Some studies have shown that as average desk space gets smaller, more and more of us are being bothered by our co workers' behaviour.

US researcher Harris Interactive found that 60 per cent of 5,700 respondents listed gossip as the biggest workplace annoyance. In second place at 54 per cent sat poor time management, which included people making personal phones calls at work or surfing the internet during work time. Others included:

Gossiping – 60 per cent, poor time management – 54 per cent, workplace messiness (dirty kitchens and desks) – 45 per cent, potent smells (perfume, food, bodily functions) – 42 per cent, noise pollution (speaker phones, noisy talkers, loud music) – 41 per cent, muddled meetings – 28 per cent, email exploitation – 22 per cent.

Other (dis)honourable mentions included falling asleep at your desk, smooching a colleague (when not invited), drinking alcohol at work, snooping, and taking credit for other people's work.

Now, I'm not going to waste your time by telling you not to gossip, to clean up after yourself, to avoid sleeping on the job (unless that's your job) or to avoid loading up on pungent cologne at work. You already know that stuff and to be honest, it's just plain rude if you're still doing it.

What I am going to do is help you out with the more complicated workplace etiquette. Just like the time I did a keynote presentation in front of 800 people with my fly undone, there are moments when you just don't realise that anything is wrong.

Poor time management
Firstly, let's look at how you manage your time at work. If your meeting is scheduled to start at 9am why don't you try being there at, amazingly, 9am! Be punctual to meetings and respect your colleague's valuable time. Also, don't waste hours on the internet and then complain that your deadlines are too tight. Tracking and managing your time is a valuable skill at work and if you're not sure how to do it, ask for help from your manager or enrol in a course.

Noise pollution
I'm sure most people have worked with someone like Clive the Slightly-Too-Loud (and by which I mean ridiculously loud) Commuter who has personal conversations about his health, relationships and even his (exaggerated) sex life in a loud, booming look-at-me voice in the workplace. Here's a tip, Clive, personal conversations should remain just that - personal. When the accounts department down the hallway can hear your phone conversation, you're doing something wrong. Likewise, turn down your ringtones, speakerphones and use your 'inside voices'. Let's be considerate of the people that we spend eight-hours + a day with.

Muddled meetings
Okay, I'm going to put something out there. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be turning up to their meetings prepared. Whether you need some a summary sheet, a video, the last meeting minutes, whatever it may be to get your meeting going, get it done beforehand. It's rude to show up to a meeting and waste everyone's time by faffing about with papers. Read the agenda, prepare and where possible put your meetings on a diet and trim them right back. Learn to say no to sporadic Outlook invites and give 45-minute meetings a shot.

Email sins
Thou shalt not continuously forward YouTube clips of singing, dancing and bow tie wearing cats. Let's get something straight. It's not technology that's the problem - it's the way it's used. My advice is to think before you click. Is the email appropriate? Necessary? Polite? ARE YOU INAPPROPRIATELY USING CAPITALS? Does it have too many exclamation marks!!! Think. Then send.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I understand that every workplace is different. You could have Cologne Fridays rather than Casual Fridays. So it's up to you to fit into a culture rather than the other way around. Invest time when you first start working in a new organisation to find out about the culture and what is acceptable and what's not. And if you're not 100 per cent sure, stick your hand up and ask.

What's your pet peeve in the office?