When starting a new job, learning the unwritten rules is usually one of the biggest challenges. You have to learn the nuances of the corporate culture, and this is something that is carefully learned over time, through observation, experience and perhaps even the assistance of helpful coworkers who can help to guide you along the way. However, there can be unfortunate consequences of not learning the unwritten rules, including the worst-case scenario of losing your job. These rules apply to everyone within a company, from the custodial staff right up to the CEO.
Gossip is one thing that certainly finds many people in trouble - both in and out of the workplace. Many people have a hard time not sharing juicy bits of information that they heard from a friend or co-worker. However, as most of us have learned from playing the "telephone" game as children, stories have a way of morphing over time until they become more fiction than fact. Some types of gossip can be vindictive and intentionally spread to tarnish someone's reputation. The gossiper can be terminated because the act is a form of bullying.
Bad Mouthing the Boss
Even if you don't like your boss, you probably shouldn't go around advertising that fact. Spreading juicy gossip about your peers is bad enough, but when it is about the boss, it can have an even more detrimental effect on your relationship with your employer. Consider the fact that your boss has the ability to make your work life a lot more difficult, perhaps even suspending or terminating your position. Alienating someone who is in a position of power is always a bad idea.
Representing the Company Badly
One of the best rules of thumb when talking about your employer - in any public forum - is to act like a representative of your company. Even if you're not in sales or marketing, you represent the ideals and products of the organization. It is in your best interest to consider yourself as an ambassador of your employer in every situation. Some who have failed to live up to this unwritten rule have found themselves in hot water. Negatively representing your organization or the products or services it sells can buy you a one-way ticket out the door.
Sharing confidential information about your coworkers or the company you work for is definitely something to avoid. There are some positions within a company where this might be written right into the employment contract, such as for medical staff, human resources personnel or legal professionals.
Those who work in a company's research and development department may find a similar clause in their contracts where information relates to trade secrets. However, even for those who don't normally work in areas of the company that deal with sensitive information, it can still create problems when private information about the company is shared publicly. This could include such things as the company's financial performance, private information about the wellness of another employee, or perhaps even details of the company's strategic plans.
Not Keeping Company Secrets Secret
As noted above, some highly-specific job contracts may outline the need to keep company secrets confidential, though this is generally something that's left out of many employment contracts. A survey completed by Forrester Research found that 82% of the 150 companies that were surveyed monitor social media for intelligence coming from their competitors. This only makes sense. Every company wants to gain a competitive advantage. Allowing your company to lose its advantage can result in a significant economic impact to the organization.
Care to Put That in Writing?
Creating a document that contains private information could be dangerous if there aren't measures in place to keep that document secret. For example, sending emails that contain private or personal information or opinions, rather than facts, doesn't really constitute good business sense. This extends to email, which is generally considered the property of your employer, thus giving them the right to monitor what you're sending and receiving at your work account. You should also be careful with memos, printed or hand-written documents and instant messages sent while at work.
Social Media Messes
Our current world depends largely upon social media to dispel news and communicate with those in our networks of friends, family, colleagues and other associates. However, posting anything to a social media site that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying in front of your boss definitely has the potential to come back and haunt you.
Numerous cases exist of people who lost their jobs because they said something in an online forum that insulted their boss, the company that they work for or a co-worker. Realistically, you could be fired for breaking any number of the above unwritten rules when posting to a social media site. People should always consider these sites completely public because you have no idea who will see what you've said or if one of your contacts will spread the information you thought you were posting in confidence.
The Bottom Line
If you've made any these blunders in the workplace, don't despair. Everyone makes mistakes, and don't forget that rules can change over time. The most important thing you can do is learn from both the mistakes and successes of others, and observe the actions of your boss. Try to avoid doing anything at work that you'd feel uncomfortable doing in front of your boss. Even if the boss isn't present, there's always a chance that word will work its way through the office, and your boss will find out. Do your best to maintain decorum and follow the company's guidelines - written or otherwise - on all things relating to attendance and deadlines.