5 Things for Newbies to Know about Office Culture

Certain aspects of office / cube farm life can be baffling to the uninitiated—new grads, etc.  If you’re coming off a food service or retail job, you already know how to handle customers (I hope), so I don’t need to mention that.  Here, in no particular order, are five things you should know before you start your first office job.

It’s more formal

You’ll probably have a dress code, and it probably won’t include sneakers and jeans, unless you’re really lucky and the company is okay with that.   I spent a lot of time working on things that got me dirty while wearing business clothes.  Every time I wore light-colored pants, the copier ran out of toner.  Every.  Stinking.  Time.

Club attire won’t do either.  Your shirts and pants should cover your bits, always.

Nice try, but no.

Nice try, but no.

Image:  photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s less noisy (sometimes)

Unless you’re in a call center or someplace where people are going to be on the phone a lot, chances are you’ll be slightly creeped out at first by the quiet.  All those people are working.  In some offices, you can go a couple of hours hearing only the clacking of computer keys.  I’ve worked in an office or two that was like a tomb—I even forgot certain coworkers were there.

Don’t whistle, hum, sing, pop gum, etc.   Yes, what Mrs. Nussbaum told you in third grade was actually relevant.  Other people are trying to concentrate, especially if you’re in an open plan office or a cube farm.

It’s not your house

Your cube is your space, but it’s still a workspace.  Plenty of companies allow you to personalize it to a degree.  But it’s unlikely you’ll be able to hang thrash metal posters or naked Arwen Undomiel photoshops on the walls, or play country music all day, unless you are allowed headphones.  Leave the following at home:

  • Burning candles or incense and chanting at your mid-afternoon meditation time
  • Draping the entire cube in black fabric because “I like my privacy”
  • Bringing your entire collection of 450 Disney bobbleheads just to keep you company
  • That spinning wheel you bought to make your own yarn because it’s so relaxing and you can do it at lunch (just bring your knitting instead)
If you’re lucky, you work somewhere that lets you do this!

If you’re lucky, you work somewhere that lets you do this!

Image:  deezoid/deviantart.com

See more cool cubies here.

Mental work will still make you tired

You might be surprised by how exhausted a day at the office will make you feel.  Imagine doing homework all day long, and you’ll get what I mean.  You’ll feel mental fatigue all over your body.

Sitting for eight hours won’t help.  Try to get up and move around frequently, and stretch in your cube.

Every office has weird little rules, but some are universal

Most people enjoy popcorn.  Many people like microwave popcorn.  No one, and I mean no one, likes the lingering, nostril hair-singing smell of burnt popcorn.  If you are from birth unable to nuke popcorn without burning it, eat it at home.


  • Don’t throw stinky food leftovers in the wastebasket at your desk.
  • Don’t talk smack about your boss behind his/her back.  It will bite you.
  • Your former workplace might have been super friendly, but please don’t touch/hug/air kiss/flirt with your new coworkers or your manager. (See letter #3 at the link.)  It will make them uncomfortable and you could get in huge trouble.
  • If you empty the ice tray, fill it back up.
  • Ditto the coffeemaker; if you take the last cup, brew another pot.
  • Clean up after yourself in the bathroom (If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie—wipe the seatie.  You know this one.)
  • For God’s sake, WASH YOUR HANDS after you go to the bathroom.  The first time you walk out without doing it and someone notices, don’t be surprised if people avoid coming anywhere near you after that.  (I even have to tell you this?  Come on.  You’re an awesome grown-up; surely you know.  But you’d be surprised how many people don’t.)
Whee! Thanks for the ride, lady!

Whee! Thanks for the ride, lady!

Image:  jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lest you think working in an office is just a boring, soul-sucking experience, it can be fun.  Some things I’ve done with officemates include:

  • Closing the office and walking to a nearby bar for sandwiches
  • Having potlucks
  • Pranking other officemates (this is definitely material for another post, LOL)
  • Waving signs at a presidential limo

Remember that you’re in a more conservative atmosphere now; you can’t goof around the way you did at Burger Barn when you stuck the EAT ME sign with a French fry stapled to it on the cashier’s back (true story), or like that summer you worked in the warehouse during college and made a pyramid out of wooden pallets (not true, but I’m sure somebody did it).

Congratulations on your first office job!  Just keep it professional when you’re at work and you’ll be fine.


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