Whether you work in a traditional cubicle or an open concept office, when you spend the majority of your day at your desk facing a computer screen, it's easy to forget that you aren't alone. Those pesky little dividing walls intended to create the illusion of privacy sometimes work so well that we completely forget that even though we are at our desks, our actions are still on display.
While some might say that it shouldn't matter, that we should always be polite and professional, it's a fact that who we are and how we behave when we are by ourselves and what we do when there are others around are completely different things. Many of the annoying habits our co-workers have stem directly from this confusion about privacy.
At the office, even if you are lucky enough to have a door and even – gasp – a window, your office isn't a private retreat. It might feel like your personal space, but it's really not. Here are five things you shouldn't do at your desk:
Any sort of personal grooming – It's tempting to take care of small things at your desk, and I've certainly been guilty of it before. It always starts as a small thing and before long, it can evolve into something much worse. For example, it I see a rough edge on my nail, it's a simply fix to pull out a nail file and take care of it. Before long, that same urge can turn into feeling comfortable touching up my nail polish and giving myself a manicure. I'm ashamed to admit that I've sat at my desk and done things like adjust my panty hose, get something unstuck from my teeth and even changed my shoes. While it may not seem like a big deal, it's very unprofessional. If you wouldn't do it in front of your boss, you shouldn't do it at your desk.
Make lunch – While you may end up having to eat lunch at your desk, making lunch there isn't a good idea. Most offices have a kitchen area where this sort of thing is much more appropriate. It's bad manners to build a sandwich or start mixing things up in front of your entire office. For one, the smell might bother your co-workers, or it could make them hungry. Prepare your lunch in the kitchen, and if you must, bring it back to your desk.
Decorate too much – A nicely framed photo of your family or a small potted plant can make your desk area feel more homey, more inviting and more you. However, if you take this too far and begin covering your cubicle walls with motivational posters, newspaper clippings and pictures of your favorite celebrities, it can become overwhelming. Remember, this is a professional office, not a teenager's bedroom. If you really feel the need to make your space a reflection of your personality and your interests, choose a few small but tasteful items.
Getting too comfortable – Taking off your suit jacket and hanging it on the back of your chair is one thing, but taking off your shoes, or (and I've seen this before) changing into sweatpants or pajama pants is another. No matter how much more productive you think you would be if you were able to get more comfortable, resist the urge. No one wants to smell feet all day, and turning your cubicle or office into a pajama party just isn't professional.
Talking to yourself – I used to work at an office where a woman in the next cubicle would often talk to herself. She didn't carry on conversations; instead, she would just say a phrase or parts of a phrase out loud when she was deep in thought, without even realizing it. It was distracting, and to make matters worse, she would also grunt, moan or sigh without being aware of it. We all daydream, and sometimes those little fantasy trips aren't of the professional variety, but it's important to try to keep them to yourself.
There are lots of things that people do at their desks that they wouldn't do in front of their boss. I think we've all had the pleasure of working with someone who doesn't understand the line between what's appropriate for the workplace and what isn't. What other things do you think should be on this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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