Every workplace has them. These are the norms that are so internalized no one thinks to mention them.

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You’re starting a new job? Congratulations! You can expect to be introduced around, clued in on your major duties and maybe even supplied with a handbook.

You’re good to go, right?


You still need to acquaint yourself with your new company’s unwritten rules. Every workplace has them. These are the norms that are so internalized no one thinks to mention them.

The good news is that it often comes down to basic etiquette — don’t play loud music, don’t bring smelly food, don’t “reply all” to company-wide emails. You can save yourself much grief simply by being considerate and polite.

Sometimes, unwritten rules are tricky to suss out. Your new colleagues might expect, for example, that those who go for coffee first ask others if they want anything. They may usually say no. The point is that you asked.

Worse, you may run across practices that contradict official policy. Maybe it shouldn’t be this way. Maybe when you’re the one in charge it won’t be this way. But if it’s this way now, you could easily (and needlessly) step on toes without even realizing it.

For example, an awful lot of companies speak in glowing terms about their commitment to “teamwork” and their “open-door policies” when the reality is a rigid chain of command where deference to senior staff is expected and informality is frowned upon.

Another common unwritten rule concerns working from home. You may have accepted this job because of the advertised potential to work remotely. But before you start doing so, look around. Do people actually use this option? How often? Do they stay in close contact all day long or do they check in only once or twice?

It will always be up to you to decide how much discrepancy between hype and reality you’re prepared to accept.

Meanwhile, your best bet on starting any new job is to be observant. Listen to the ways people talk. Note their body language and the jokes they choose to tell. Identify someone who seems to be universally popular and, for a while, model your behavior after that person.

It shouldn’t take you long to work out a way to fit in and still be yourself at the same time.