Learning the unwritten rules is easily one of the biggest challenges when you start a new job. You have to learn the ins and outs of the corporate culture—something that only comes over time through observation, experience, and perhaps even with the assistance of helpful coworkers who can help guide you along the way.
But there may be unfortunate consequences if you don't learn these 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 company's chief executive officer (CEO).
- Breaking certain rules in the workplace—whether written or unwritten—may get you fired.
- Resist the temptation to gossip about fellow employees and don't express your disdain for your supervisor or manager to others.
- You are always a representative of your company even if you're off the clock.
- Don't reveal any confidential information or company secrets to anyone.
- Think before you post on social media.
Gossip is one thing that certainly finds many people in trouble—both in and out of the workplace. A lot of people have a hard time not sharing juicy bits of information they heard from a friend or co-worker.
But as most of us have learned from playing the "telephone" game as children, stories have a way of morphing and evolving over time until they become more fiction than fact. Some types of gossip can be vindictive and may be intentionally spread to tarnish someone's reputation.
What's the result? The gossiper may be terminated because the act is a form of workplace bullying. And anyone else who may have spread the (mis)information may also face the consequences as well.
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's 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.
You may be fired for using company time and equipment—including your work email—to search for a new job.
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. Let's face it, when you sign that job contract, you're essentially signing up to represent the company for which you work, so it's 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 something you never want to do. 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 (R&D) department may find a similar clause in their contracts where the information relates to trade secrets.
But even for those who don't normally work in areas 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.
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. 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. For example, sending emails that contain private or personal information or opinions, rather than facts, doesn't really constitute good business sense.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 19% of adult Americans are bullied in the workplace.
You should also be careful with memos, printed or hand-written documents, and instant messages sent while at work. If you're using work-related equipment or tools to create these documents, your employer may have the right to monitor them.
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.
Most employers now 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 on the organization.
Social Media Messes
Our world depends largely upon social media to disperse news and communicate with those in our networks of friends, family, colleagues, and other associates. 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.
The percentage of employers who reportedly used social media to check up on employees in 2018, according to a CareerBuilder survey.
Numerous cases exist of people losing their jobs because they said something in an online forum that insulted their boss, the company they work for, a co-worker, or expressed an opinion that goes against their employer's image. Even if your profile is private, you really 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.
5 Signs You’re About To Be Fired
The Bottom Line
If you've made any these blunders in the workplace, don't despair. Everyone makes mistakes. The most important thing you can do is learn and observe the actions of your boss. Try to avoid doing anything at work 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, show enthusiasm for your job, and follow the company's guidelines—written or otherwise—on all things related to attendance and deadlines.