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Office Faux Pas: Will They Get You Fired?

Jeanine Skowronski, MainStreet Staff Writer

09/02/11 - 12:52 PM EDT
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- In the current economic climate, it's a good idea for workers to be on their best behavior, but that doesn't mean showing up late, calling in sick and gossiping around the water cooler have disappeared entirely from the workplace. It also shouldn't mean work/life balance is a thing of the past, despite the fact that a majority of Americans seemed inclined to facilitate its extinction.

But, while shoddy work and consistently poor work habits are likely to cost you a promotion or, worse yet, your job, we wondered just how stringent most employers were with their office handbook. We talked to job experts about just how detrimental a loose interpretation of these rules can be to your work life. Read on to find out whether many common assumptions about office etiquette are, indeed, fact or fiction.

Office etiquette is a mix of fact and fiction. We talked to job experts about just how detrimental being late or gossiping at the water cooler can be to your career.

No one notices when you are 15 minutes late.
Verdict: Fiction
Everybody notices, says Debra Wheatman, president of CareersDoneWrite.com., a career services website. They just won't always call you out on it, especially when tardiness is not something you're known for.

"Occasional lateness from a valued employee is generally tolerated," agrees Sandy Egan, director of service promotion with Workplace Options, an employee support services company. "If you add regular tardiness or poor work performance on top of being a few minutes late, your manager may start thinking about making some changes," Egan adds.

(Bonus fact: Wheatman points out that your employer probably isn't going to notice all the times you show up early, since that is almost expected.)

Asking for every holiday off is acceptable.
Verdict: Fact
Most experts agree, so long as you are following proper protocol, putting in multiple requests around a holiday are well within your rights as an employee. You shouldn't expect all of these requests to be honored, though.

Many organizations base holiday time off on seniority and conscientious office managers will look to divvy up days fairly. "You need to be understanding if you're not given the time off," Wheatman says.

And while human resources may not care that you'll be gone the entire two weeks during Christmas and New Year's, your co-workers might not be so understanding.

"If one employee always gets time off to the detriment of others, there can be some resentment," says Bruce Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing in New York.

"You don't want to be labeled a 'non-team player' and develop a reputation of being selfish," Egan cautions. "Pick and choose the dates you want off carefully."

It's OK to check Your personal email at work
Verdict: Fact
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but companies have actually become a lot more flexible about letting employees check their own email.

"Life can be complicated, and if you're a strong contributor to our organization we certainly want you to feel in control and on top of all aspects of your life," admits Carolyn Hughes, vice president of people at SimplyHired.com.

But again, be careful not to overdo it.

"If you don't make it obvious, and don't make it excessive, it is usually perfectly acceptable to conduct some personal business at work," says Jason Carney, director of human resources at WorkSmart Systems, a human resources outsourcing firm.

You should feel free to take a long lunch
Verdict: Fiction
"It's called a lunch hour for a reason," Wheatman says. As such, she asserts that you shouldn't be planning things during your midday break that are going take longer than the time allowed. Or, at the very least, refrain from doing this on a regular basis.

"Don't make a habit of it," Hughes agrees. "And when you do take a long lunch , make sure that it is because you are trying to reel in that amazing new client, and not because you had to get a pedicure with a friend."

Every now and then, a mental health day is in order.
Verdict: Fact
According to Carney, so long as you're not leaving your co-workers in a lurch, "an unplanned day from time to time can be a good thing."

"Your employer wants to you be able to focus and be effective at work," Hughes agrees. "If you're too stressed or have things at home that are distracting you from your work, don't be afraid to take a well-deserved mental health day."

Calling out sick on a Friday will raise some eyebrows.
Verdict: Fact, especially in the summer.
"Even if you are the perfect employee, people will think you are faking it," Hurwitz says.

Charles Purdy, a career expert with Monster.com, agrees and says those faced with calling out on a Friday should make sure you have a legitimate reason to do so.

"If you simply want to jump-start the weekend, take a vacation day," he says.

Slacking off after giving notice is to be expected.
Verdict: Fiction
It may be hard to give it your all when you're halfway out the door, but experts agree it's in your best interest to do so.

"Slacking on two weeks' notice is never a good idea," Egan says. "People definitely remember how you leave, and the last impression you make at work can be the one your boss and your co-workers remember."

"People change jobs very rapidly," Purdy says, adding that even though you've already secured a new position, you still may need your soon-to-be former employer as references in the future.

Partaking in office gossip is harmless.
Verdict: Fiction
It may seem harmless enough, but all experts agree you should refrain from blabbering around the water cooler. This is because gossiping isn't just a violation of office etiquette, it's also a potential career killer.

"The 'rumor mill' in companies can be quite seductive, but it's important to remember that it is often based on false premises, gossip and personal agendas," Hughes says. "Validators of the rumor mill are not frequently selected for promotions."

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