do you know what signals you’re sending at work?

When it comes to how you’re judged at work, you might think that the quality of your work is all that matters. But human perceptions is a lot more complicated than that, and you might be sending signals that you don’t realize or intend.

Here are five of the top ways that you inadvertently send signals about yourself at work – and how your boss and coworkers might be reading them.

1. Who you hang out with at work. No matter how good your work is, if you’re always hanging around coworkers who only do the bare minimum, have a complaint about everything, or don’t get along well with their managers, you’re likely to be perceived as sharing those same traits – even if you don’t. Likewise, if you spend time with the office’s high achievers, you’re likely to be perceived as having a similar work ethic and values (and those things can rub off on you in reality too).

2. What time you leave each day. If you watch the clock and leave every day at 5:00 on the dot, be prepared to be seen as someone not especially committed to work, and only putting in what’s absolutely required. That can impact you when it’s time for raises and promotions. On the other hand, if you always stay hours longer than everyone else, you might be seen as committed – but you might instead be seen as someone struggling to handle her workload. Better than each of these is a more balanced approach – not running out the door at the stroke of 5:00 each day, but leaving around the same time most other people do.

3. What you wear. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is an old saying for a reason. You might be able to get away with wearing jeans and ratty shirts in your role, but if the people above you look more polished, you’ll probably go farther by wearing more business-like clothes. Fairly or not, people have an easier time picturing you managing others, doing higher-profile work, and dealing with clients when you look polished and well put together.

Rather than thinking of the dress code as telling you the minimum you can get away with, think of your work clothes as telling other people how you’d like to be perceived.

4. How you behave in meetings. If you sit silently in meetings without participating, you’re signaling that you don’t have much to contribute, or that you don’t care enough to contribute. Even worse, if you spend most of the time checking texts on your phone or reading sports scores, you signal that you’re unengaged with the company’s business. So try to participate if you can – and at an absolute minimum, make sure you look attentive.

5. How your office is decorated. If your office is utterly barren – no photos, no décor, no evidence that someone inhabits it – you might be signaling that you’re just passing through, that you’ll be on your way as soon as you find something better. It’s easy to bring in a lamp and put an art print on the wall, and it will make a difference in how people see you. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t go overboard: If every surface in your office is covered with photos, art, and figurines, you’ll look like your focus is somewhere other than on work. You also want to avoid a messy office, which can make you look disorganized and unconscientious.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    So, in short: “Moderation in all things.”
    “Look around and follow the norms of your office, and try to be a bit more professional than the standard if you’re looking to move up.”

  2. Anonicorn*

    For the advice about staying late, does it work the same if you sometimes come in early?

    I am far more productive in the morning than late in the afternoon. But unless I’m responding to emails, nobody knows I’m putting in the extra time because I’m there earlier than everyone, including my boss.

    1. Aonymous*

      Have you communicated this to your boss? A lot of places are fine with flex time like that, but if it means you’re leaving at 5PM (or the equivalent) on the dot every day and no one knows you’re clocking in extra time on the front end, it could raise some eyebrows. Transparency with your preferred work habits could help you avoid that with your supervisor (though, of course, then you also risk her saying that she’d prefer you worked normal hours…)

      1. Anonicorn*

        Fortunately my boss is more concerned with whether the work gets done, and is aware that I come in early from time to time. So mainly I worry that a few particular coworkers perceive me differently, even though we do have flex time where we can come in early/late and leave early/late, because they always arrive late and stay late. Kinda ticks me off.

    2. Angry Writer*

      I’ve learned (the hard way) over the years that perception is reality. If your coworkers don’t see you coming in earlier, but leaving early/right at 5, the perception is that you’re hauling A outta there every day before them … even if this is not the case. Not fair, but what I’ve learned.

      1. Angry Writer*

        Adding, even if they know you come in early, I’ve always still gotten the “It must be nice to leave right at 5 every day” comments, even though they KNOW I come in early. For some reason it just doesn’t add into the equation.

        1. Andie*

          When your co-workers say that to you. You should reply “That is what happens when you come to work earlier you don’t stay late.” or you can use my favorite “Don’t hate me because you ain’t me!”

        2. Holly*

          I realize this is reality, but it frustrates me as someone who consistently gets in before my boss because I get a lot more done in the morning than in the afternoon. I can stay until 6 if everyone wants – but little of nothing is going to get done because I’m long brain dead by that point, so it’s more making appearances than productivity.

        3. Nikki J.*

          Just realize that the people making those comments are being more unprofessional that you are for leaving on time to live your life outside of work.

        4. Anonicorn*

          That’s horrible. I agree with Nikki J above; that’s so much more unprofessional of them.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yes, it might be unprofessional of them to make those comments, but recall that on this very forum we learn that prospective employers might secretly call some of these ‘unprofessionals’ to comment on your professionalism.

            1. Angry Writer*

              Exactly. That is what I mean when I say “perception is reality.” I’m not bitter about it or anything (anymore) but just realize it does factor in.

        5. Vicki*

          I’ve said “Yep. I was here at 7am. It’s quieter then, except when the vacuum cleaner is running…”

          A lot of people tend to shut up when you mention 7am.

      2. Shannon*

        Yes, it is quite true. Perception *is* very much reality, while not necessarily *truth*. Ironic, isn’t it?

    3. KellyK*

      And this right here is (one of the reasons) why people should refrain from judging coworkers based on whether they stay late.

      I know, that doesn’t help you at all, because you have to deal with the fact that people *do,* but I feel compelled to point out that it is stupid. Some people work better early, some people have completely inflexible schedules (kids to pick up, buses to catch, evening commitments, etc.). If you really were a slacker who didn’t want to put in a minute’s extra effort, that would show in the quality of your work.

      But, as far as practically addressing the issue is concerned, I like anonymous’s recommendation of making sure your boss knows and is okay with how you schedule your day.

      If you’re in an office culture where staying late is highly valued, you could also make “check and respond to email” one of your primary morning tasks so people see that you’re “working” before 9. Also, if you have mindless tasks that can be done later (and your schedule allows staying late), you might want to clean your desk or deal with shredding or filing at 5 some days so you’re occasionally seen leaving at 5:15.

      I mean, it’s stupid to have to play those sorts of games, but the crappy thing about subtle perceptions is that there’s usually no way to combat them head-on.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I’m in an office where coming in early is highly valued, actually. So when I roll in at 9 (totally allowed) people are like “wow, must be nice to sleep late!” and I say that it is and remind them that I’m the one here at night to cover down on things that crop up. It all works.

        1. Seal*

          I worked in a place like that – drove me nuts. To this day it galls me that my coworkers there equated coming in later/leaving later with getting away with something.

          1. Anon*

            Absolutely! At my first job, I would routinely come in at 9 or 9:30 (most people arrived between 8:30-9, with some arriving earlier). I stayed later than anyone else, though, usually until at least 6:30, sometimes 7 or later. About 6 months after I started, my supervisor’s boss talked to her because she was concerned that I was “not making my hours.”

            I kept a time sheet (even though I was exempt), which my supervisor signed on a bi-weekly basis. That, combined with the building’s security system, allowed me to explain to my boss’ boss that I was actually getting 40-50 hours every week. I loved being able to explain to her that the reason she didn’t see me in the office 40 hours a week was that she came in at 7 and left at 3, thereby missing the last 3-4 hours of my work day.

            It was really galling at first, though, to think that she was under the impression that I wasn’t putting in the appropriate hours, even after she gave me a glowing review and constantly praised my work.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        I think the point that Alison was making is to not goof off all day and then stay late to get your work done, and then try to impress everyone because you’re willling to put in extra hours.

        If you finish up what you’re doing around quitting time instead of packing up and watching the clock waiting for the 5 0 0 and then running out like your hair is on fire, you’ll make a better impression on your boss, and a well-deserved one at that.

    4. The IT Manager*

      There are perception issues with working extra early as other have pointed especially if eveyone else stays late.

      But I do think that leaving as soon as you can everyday is a bad thing. Because if you walk out the earliest possible moment everyday, you have probably been clock watching for at least the last 15 minutes possibly more and killing time instead of really working. Becuase if you were really working you’d have a bit more variety to your departure time and want to spend a few extra minutes wrapping up an email or thought before logging out for the day.

      So I do think if you walk out at quitting time everyday on the dot everyday, your co-workers may get a negative perception of your work ethic. I’d say vary it a bit even by as little a 5 – 15 minutes a couple of times a week.

      1. BCW*

        Well, I don’t necessarily agree. I leave right on the hour at my job, but I also ride the train. I leave 15 minutes later, I miss my train, and there isn’t another one for an hour.

        Also, and some may disagree, I think that if my work is always getting done on time and high quality, why do you care if I’m watching the clock? I will say that, and this isn’t a dig on her at all, I’m far more efficient in my work than my co-worker. So if we have the same amount of work (I actually have a higher workload) but I’m still getting it done and well, then why should she be looked at more favorably because she takes longer to do work, and also has a higher level of flexibility because she drives.

        1. The IT Manager*

          why should she be looked at more favorably because she takes longer to do work, and also has a higher level of flexibility because she drives.

          She shouldn’t, but in reality, not everyone is in a position to see the intangibles. They just sees the time you leave and they judge on that. I do hope your boss notices that you accomplish more and values you more highly because of it.

        2. Jamie*

          I think the problem with clock watchers is that some leave on the dot regardless, even if an extra 5-15 minutes would mean the difference between something being completed and something waiting until morning.

          For some people this is a result of public transportation, and if it’s not an issue with their job – fine. But for some jobs it just wouldn’t work…if you’re a project manager you don’t tell a customer that you’re leaving at 5:00 even if the engineer you need is available at 5:15 to solve the issue.

          I wouldn’t walk out mid task because of the clock. Some jobs require a level of flexibility that many clock watchers refuse to provide. I know people like this who are good enough at what they do during the day to keep their jobs – but they’ve hurt their overall prospects because when you say – either aloud or via your actions – that I’m paid for 40 hours and you’re not getting 40 hours and 5 minutes out of me you aren’t really someone wants managing others.

          A lot of jobs may work with the clock watching mentality, but a lot don’t and that’s why there is a negative perception.

          1. Rob Aught*

            Just to add to that, there is a huge difference between a dedicated clock watcher and someone who just happens to come in early and leave early due to their schedule.

            I used to have a job where I came in at 7:30 and left at 4:30. No one said a thing about it because if there was a problem I’d be the last one to go home and everyone knew it. Yet I still came in at 7:30 the next day.

            That’s the problem with coming in early. If you come in late and stay later than normal, not much lost. If you come in early and stay late, ouch.

            The clockwatchers though, doesn’t matter when they come in. Earlier than everyone else, later, same time, they still leave at their designated departure time even if their help could make a difference. I get life outside of work but the idea that they can never stick around? I find it hard to believe.

            1. BCW*

              Well, you also need to decide if its really vital that they finish before they leave that day. Of course it depends on their job, but in mine for example, very little would be lost if a task was finished at 5:15 or 9:15 the next day. If I truly had a task that HAD to be done that day, I’d have no problem staying. However, since most of mine don’t have that sense of urgency, I’m not going to wait on a train that doesn’t come for another hour just because.

              1. Rob Aught*

                To add to that point, we’ve had projects where the team has been cranking away but just get fatigued. Sometimes you just have to call it. Let people go home and get some rest.

                That’s still totally different than people who are just not engaged.

                Some things really can wait till tomorrow. I just think what I consider a clockwatcher never bothers to make that evaluation. They just leave.

          2. ChristineSW*

            This is a concern I’ve had over the years. For those who use public transportation, it can work when the buses or trains run more frequently, such as during peak periods as with the trains in my state. If you have to miss the 5:15 train because of a late-day issue, you can just catch the 5:40 train. (The buses, sadly, are not quite as flexible except in a couple of locations.)

            For me, however, I sometimes use a door-to-door transportation service (because of my vision impairment) where I *have* to be ready at the beginning of my pickup window. This was incredibly panic-inducing whenever I got stuck on a call or someone approached me at the last nano-second with a quick, but critical issue.

            So yes, please be sure that you understand the bigger issue before judging someone leaves right at quitting time.

            1. Mimi*

              …Or maybe someone has kids, and has to leave right at 5pm to pick them up from daycare. I had a co-worker who worked really hard during the day, but always had to leave at 5pm sharp.

            2. Chinook*

              I do wonder about the optics of my having to leave every day by 4:25 (I am in the office by 7:15 am) but the only way someone is going to convince me to miss the last commuter bus home is for them to pay the $50 cab ride up front.

              1. Rob Aught*

                I think the larger point that is getting missed is that what time you leave can send a bad signal. If it’s common knowledge you come in early, snarkiness about it is just unprofessional.

                If you’re getting your work done, it’s not a big deal. At least in my eyes. People do have outside work commitments.

                There is a huge difference between someone who has to catch a train or make it to their kids hockey practice and someone who has spent the last 15 minutes making sure everything is ready to be shut down and has had their hands on their car keys.

          3. Anonymous*

            The term “clock watcher” makes me crazy…I get up in the morning on time so that I can get in the shower on time and out the door on time so I can get to work on time . So I guess that makes me a clock watcher. Should my husband be yelling at me in the morning for being a clock watcher during my ‘personal’ time?

            Knowing what time it is and doing things accordingly is not a BAD thing. Ensuring that I leave my house at a time that allows me to get to work when I need to be there is not an expression of disinterest in what is going on in my house. And ensuring that I leave work at a specific time to get home when I need to be there is not an expression of disinterest in what is going on at work.

            Obviously, if we are talking about someone who is sitting with their car keys in their hands at 4:59 pm every day and sprinting for the door as soon as the clock ticks to 5:00, that is an issue. But planning your day to get to work and leave work at approx. the same time each day is not a mortal sin.

            1. Leslie Yep*

              “Obviously, if we are talking about someone who is sitting with their car keys in their hands at 4:59 pm every day and sprinting for the door as soon as the clock ticks to 5:00, that is an issue.”

              But isn’t that the only issue we’re talking about? I don’t think anyone is opposing the idea that people should be punctual.

              1. Anonymous*

                YMMV but I got the sense that if somoene organizeds their day and is fully engaged throughout the day but always leaves on time, that was still being perceived as a negative.

                I think you could have two people who both leave at 5pm on the dot every day and one person could clearly be disengaged throughout the day and just waiting for the bell to ring, the other person could be engaged and active and effective all day and leave at 5pm. But in the context of this article, it sounded like both scenarios would present the same problem – leaving on time every day.

        3. Girasol*

          I’ve talked to my manager about my ridesharing. My rideshare is a dependable and well respected member of another team, and we both work proper hours. I work from home and work longer on days when we don’t rideshare to make up for it. But I hate to be a reverse clock watcher, drag out his days and chew into his family time in a fake effort to appear loyal. But I always wonder if it’s going to come back to haunt me.

      2. Angry Writer*

        I agree. It’s a game I play but I always make sure I’m NOT the first one out.

      3. Vicki*

        Who needs to watch a clock when they have these neat little features called “an alarm”?

        Some of us have trains or busses or shuttles to catch. If you miss it, it can be up to an hour before the next one.

    5. Christine*

      Ooh, this one touched a nerve for me. A few weeks after I started at my current job, my boss told me that someone had been complaining to him that I was leaving at 4. I was getting to work at 7! He knew that, and knew that I eat lunch at my desk, so he did not have a problem with my hours. He asked me to make sure I was seen by coworkers when I arrived, even if I was just chatting with them and not getting work done! How ridiculous. As long as I’m getting my work done, why should anyone care about my hours?

      1. Jazzy Red*

        I’ve been working for many years, and I can tell you this: there will *always* be people watching everyone else and complaining that they’re getting preferential treatment.

        One of my recent co-workers would bring up my quitting time in meetings once in a while, saying that she stayed until 6:00. I finally got tired of that and replied that staying until 6 would be a lot more impressive if she didn’t come in to work 2 hours later than I did.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I’d love to know what her reaction was when you said that. I think there is something ironic about people who are watching the (perceived) clock-watchers. How is it any better to be doing that? These people are taking time away from their work to notice when so and so is coming and going. They are watching for what time that person arrives and leaves. That’s totally OK, but the clock-watchers are the evil ones? OK.

          This issue bugs me because one thing I’ve learned in 20+ years in various fields is that you never know what kind of set-up someone has or why. It could be they come in early and leave early because they have a medical condition to attend to (a lot of doctor’s appts. and so on)/kids to pick up/they work later at home/etc.

          It’s just not my business and I’m not going to “tattle” on someone who comes in late/leaves early or any derivative thereof. If it doesn’t affect my work, then I don’t care.

      2. Mimi*

        Why didn’t your boss just respond to the employee that you arrive at 7? Why go through this whole pretense of having to be “seen”? That’s silly on his part, too.

        1. JMegan*

          Or even better, if the boss had told the other employee to focus on getting their own work done, rather than worrying about other people’s start times! :)

        2. tcookson*


          I hate it when bosses cave to the complaints of people who have nothing better to do than monitor and comment on others’ behavior. A good boss should be confident in what he knows the truth is, not worried about appeasing all the office malcontents.

      3. Lynn*

        I used to work at a job that officially had flex hours to begin with. I was in a part-time degree program that my employer was paying for. One semester, I had an 8 am class, which meant I was arriving at work around 10. This was officially allowed for everyone, and I had my manager’s approval to keep this schedule.

        Didn’t matter. I got endless bitchy comments about “sleeping in” and “rolling in late”. I was actually waking up at 6:45 to go to my class, and staying late to make up my work. Plus I got a heck of a lot more done than the hall-monitor types who were remarking on my comings and goings. I don’t know, do people think they’re making charming small talk or something?

    6. Meg*

      I work with flex hours (work 8 hours a day, must overlap 10am-3pm… but if you need to leave before 3 or arrive after 10, it’s not a big deal as long as you let your manager know).

      My coworker teleworks in the mornings from about 9 to 12, then comes in from 12 to 5 (for meetings and stuff). No one has a problem with it because he gets things done. To the average person though, it looks like he only works from 12-5.

      I tend to work 8-4. The traffic isn’t terrible at either times, and before, I was using the metro to commute and where I live now, it took over an hour on the metro, but a 30-min drive in rush hour, 15 minutes in light traffic. But no one in my department is here at 8am except me, and I’m usually the first to leave. But we’re all adults and we all work honestly. So not a big deal if no one sees me at 8am.

  3. AnotherAlison*

    Couldn’t help but think this:

    “Now, it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare
    minimum. Well, like Brian, for example, has 37 pieces of flair. And a terrific smile.”

    1. Heather*

      If you want me to wear 35 pieces of flair, why don’t you just make the minimum 35 pieces of flair?

    2. Ash*

      This is exactly how I feel about office decorations. I’ve posted about my trials and tribulations regarding them in my current and previous positions, but my thought is, Who cares? Why does it matter if I have photos in my office or not? The very presence of personal articles does no indicate whether or not I am passing through here. I could bring an autographed chocolate teapot and a stuffed ginger cat and easily throw them into my purse or extra bag when/if I leave. I find it weirder that people use the amount of junk in someone’s office as a measurement of how dedicated to their job and/or the organization itself.

      And as a follow up to my previous stories, I have found a way to remove everything from my desk except my inbox, printer, computer, phone, and note stand. Everything personal is at home, all other works items are squirreled away in drawers and cubbies, and my only decorations are my name plate on the front of the cube and a cheap nerdy calendar a friend gave me. It’s gotten to the point where I now work better because I don’t have a bunch of random crap in my office; it’s very Zen. Although I am thinking about getting a small marimo tank for my shelf. :3

      1. Meg*

        Same. I don’t keep personal things at work. What I DO have though are business cards and lunch menus tacked to my cubicle, work-related books, a pen holder, and stickers from a work-related conference I went to. It looks “lived in” without being distracting because of the personal stuffs.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t want to get too much stuff, because I already moved to a (bigger) cube. The temptation is to fill it up but then I would have that much more stuff to lug if they moved me again! FWIW, I hope they don’t; I like my new big cube. :)

      3. Vicki*

        I finally decided that the more “stuff” I have in a cube, the more stuff I need to pack when moving to another cube. And gods help me if (when) the next layoff happens.

        I have my Balans “back” chair, personal trackball, pens, and a handfull of magnets the I can put on the cabinet fronts to look “lived in”. And a bottle of excedrin.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    On the “How you behave in meetings” I’d add interrupting. That’s a mortal sin to me. I HATE being interrupted and if I’m leading the meeting and someone tries to speak over me you’d better believe you’re on my list.

    I’d also add how you present yourself in writing and orally. I know someone very smart and competent but she talks like a valley girl and it REALLY undermines her credibility when people first meet her.

    1. Jamie*

      Yep – if we’re being completely honest about how we judge people how well spoken you are and the quality of your written communication tops the list for me.

    2. Anonymous*

      I work with really bad interrupter. I have actually been thinking about how to deal with him. He will just continue to talk over me in meetings, even if he’s not adding anything valuable or just repeating what I say. In fact he does that all the time too: ‘I was going to say that!’

        1. KarenT*

          Yes! Yes!

          And if people break off into side chatter, just look at them and say “is there something you’d like to share with the group?” I promise they’ll stop talking.

      1. Kat M*

        I once had a manager who got called out by multiple subordinates (anonymously) in her annual reviews for being an interrupter who was too busy giving answers to fully listen to the question at hand.

        She brought this up in a staff meeting, denying that she did it, and asked for someone to help her understand where this feedback was coming from.

        When one brave co-worker started to explain her experience, the manager proceeded to interrupt her and explain why she was wrong, right there in the meeting. After that, nobody had the guts to explain it further. We just got used to repeating ourselves three times in order to make ourselves fully understood.

        She wasn’t a terrible manager, but she did have some serious communication issues.

    3. Meg*

      I tend to be the interrupter :(

      I realized it’s because I forget what I thought of at that moment if I wait until the person is finished talking, or if I don’t understand something. I don’t intentionally interrupt though; I thought they came to a natural pause and that gives me time to ask without interrupt. I’m often wrong.

      I’ve tried a lot of things to stop doing it, like focusing on what I thought of to save it until after, but then I couldn’t focus on the rest of the meeting or conversation. I’m now making notes, but sometimes I find I can’t write fast enough about what was said and what it made me think of (I tried writing what I thought of, but couldn’t remember what it was related to).

      I won’t talk over someone though. If I started talking and you weren’t finished, I’d stop right away.

      1. EM*

        I do it too. I think, for me, it’s a manifestation of sub-clinical ADD. (My dad and my sister have both been diagnosed with it). Impulse control in terms of not blurting things out is a challenge for me. :/

      2. Anonymous*

        Not everyone is silently judging you for interrupting Meg :) I have been on both sides of this and tend to have the same reasons for you as being the interrupter (not helped by the fact that 95% of my meetings are calls where I can’t see any of the other participants). I know this is an issue for me so I will never be the one to give someone else a frosty “please let me finish!”. If I get interrupted and they don’t stop (they may not have realized I wasn’t done talking), when they are done, I’ll say “I had x more things I wanted to add on that”. Unless someone is clearly intending to talk over me, I chalk it up to the back and forth of conversation and people eager to give their POV.

      3. Rana*

        I have this problem too, and I also take notes to deal with it (you do get more efficient with practice, at least).

        In work settings this works well; alas, it’s a lot harder to do in personal conversations. (My husband’s family kills me – they talk very carefully, building each sentence one brick at a time, and they circle around an idea several times before getting to the point of what they’re trying to say, and by that stage I’ve forgotten what my own thoughts on the matter were, have had several other thoughts, and am now both lost and frustrated. It’s so much easier to stay focused and attentive if I can write things down.)

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I actually warned my team when I started in this role. I told them that one thing that would REALLY aggravate me is being interrupted. It’s hard to keep my thoughts together sometime and it makes me lose my train of thought.

          They were warned!

    4. Ruffingit*

      +1 on the interruption thing. I absolutely hate that. But then, I’ve also learned that as a general rule, most people listen with the intent to reply, not the intent to understand.

  5. the gold digger*

    My cubicle has no decor. Part of that is because I hate having tschokes (sp?) at work. Part of it is because I am in a cubicle, so there is not that much space for non-work stuff. And most of it is because I take the bus to work, so I am not going to carry stuff five blocks to the bus stop, hold it on my lap for 40 minutes, and then carry it to my cube.

    PS But yes – I hope I am just passing through!

    1. Jamie*

      I have a couple of things on my desk – not much – but when they are in a drawer or my purse I’m feeling disgruntled. It’s my tell.

      Just looked around and have my HK cup, my KISS HK doll, and my thinking putty. I’m happy today. :)

      1. anon*

        No offense, because I like Hello Kitty, too, but I when I see Hello Kitty stuff on someone’s desk, I see them as less professional. Same thing with Twilight posters, bobbleheads, or other stuffed animals.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s fine – if it mattered where I worked I wouldn’t have it. You have to be able to read your environment. All of my HK stuff at work was given to me by people with whom I work – we’re quirky (imo in a good way).

          For me in a weird way it serves a collateral benefit (other than just having something to futz with while I’m on the phone) and that some people find it makes me more approachable. I’m the Director of IT and a lead internal auditor…when I go to audit people with whom I have no relationship my HK lanyard holding my ID and flash drive is shorthand for “she’s not totally horrible…probably.”

          I’m a friendly person but if I don’t know you or an busy you probably won’t get that from me. I don’t smile unless there is something to actively elicit that and my neutral facial expression tends to make people ask me if I’m mad. A lot. It’s called bitch face, informally.

          If I were to lose my little bit of whimsy and be completely austere and “professional” people would find me more intimidating and it would be longer before they discovered how pleasant and delightful I am.

          What works one place for one person wouldn’t work everywhere for everyone. And I’m sure there are some people who think I should drink out of a more grown up coffee cup, but since the people who actually can affect my career don’t mind I don’t lose a lot of sleep over trying to make sure everyone approves of everything I do.

          1. anon*

            I think you took offense where none was intended. I am sure you are highly capable and well thought of, but this thread is about perceptions, and I think mine about displaying dolls and figurines with a child-like theme (like Hello Kitty) is valid.

            1. Jamie*

              Actually I didn’t take offense – I agree with you…but I can see how it read as snarky. I’m sorry about that.

              I do totally agree that it’s about perception and that absolutely you need to take that into account and people should be aware that there are people out there with a bias against cutsie stuff in the office. But the other side of that is for some people where the perception may be more stoic than the reality for others it could help soften the image a little.

              It’s just about knowing your audience – like so many things at work.

              For example – upon completion of the most spectacular achievement of my career (forget putting it on my resume – I may have it tattooed on my forehead) my boss got me a white gold HK necklace with an amethyst in her bow. In some cases that could be considered inappropriate or too girlie or too personal…but for us it was an inside joke and really sweet and funny (and most importantly accompanied by a more professional expression of thanks.)

              I love it, I’ll keep it forever…but I wouldn’t wear it on a job interview. :) Know the audience.

              1. fposte*

                And I also think that this relates to Alison’s word, “signals.” A signal is a possible indicator that is interpreted in context, not just on its own. If I leave at 4 every day, that’s going to be dealt with differently if I answer emails till ten and stay till whenever meetings are done than if I regularly walk out mid-project. Hello Kitty is going to read differently on your desk than on the desk of a ditz who can’t reliably find her way to her desk chair without arrows on the floor.

                People won’t always read beyond some signals–that’s why people who come in at 7 can get grief for leaving at 4–but I think mostly it’s about being aware of the signals that you send and whether they’re working for you where you are.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            If I saw you drinking out of your HK cup, I’d smile.

            I have a Garfield mug at home, but I won’t bring it in because I don’t want it to get broken/stolen.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I went into the internal tech support area in another building yesterday to talk to someone, and it was festooned with nerd plushies (Yoda!) and nerdy stuff in cubes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I was all, “I wanna sit over here!!”

      2. Shannon*

        I’m a manager, and I have a stuffed tribble from Star Trek right on my desk by my computer screen. It’s deliberate–thankfully, people already respect me because of my performance so I don’t have to worry about that…But I want people to know right when then walk in my office that I am a manager, professional, nerdy, and have a sense of humor. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive.

    2. Xay*

      I decorated when I had an office. But in my current position, I have moved 4 times in 2.5 years – I’m not bringing anything more to work than I can carry in my purse. I save my decoration for my computer’s desktop wallpaper.

    3. Al Lo*

      I work for a small non-profit, where virtually everything in the office has been donated, either by individuals or by corporate offices upgrading and giving away their furniture/computers to non-profits. So, there’s not much money for any sort of office fund (except for consumables like pens, notepads, etc). I’ve brought in all kinds of my own stuff — lamps, pencil cup, mini fridge, etc — as well as more personality-type things like a few photos, cute thumbtacks, a Keurig for my desk, etc. When I leave, I’ll have quite the haul to take with me — but then again, that’s the way it is for just about everyone, since we’ve all brought in some of our own amenities that might be supplied in other offices.

      My officemate and I share the largest office in the building, and are currently rearranging the room in our minds, and putting out the word that we want things like a couch and coffee table if anyone has donations. We already have a piano; once we get the couch and a couple of comfy chairs and do some furniture rearranging, we’ll have quite the space here!

        1. Al Lo*

          It’s great! Our office gets used as an extra sectional/audition space on occasion, and there was an extra piano sitting in one of the studios, not being used. Made way more sense to send it our way for those times (plus, we often run into the need to plunk something out during the course of a day, even just on our own).

          Also, it just adds to the homey feeling of the room (especially when we get that sitting area pulled together!).

    4. anon o*

      I didn’t bring stuff in (I take the bus too) but after a while you sort of accumulate things – I have a funny shaped stress ball that a supplier gave me, I taped up something reminding me of a tough project I finished, stuff like that. I don’t have a ton of personal stuff but it’s still me. I like to use pencils but I’m the only one so I brought some pattered ones from the dollar store. I used to work with someone that had nothing at their desk – not even work-type things (phone lists, etc). That really looked like she was just passing through.

  6. Be The Change*

    If your day/shift ends at 5pm, it ends at 5pm. If some non-exempt employee was staying after on their own time people would be screaming that she needs to be paid. Get your nose out of other people’s business. The people so focused on when others leave clearly aren’t working themselves with their focus on others. Overall I think office culture needs to take a step back and stop being so worried how they look to others. Is your work done? Good, then leave/take a break/etc…

    1. anonymous*

      I SO agree with this! This whole list irritated me (except for the dress code stuff.) What? Are we back in high school or something? Geez!

    2. BCW*

      Exactly. I guess I don’t get why places will have a hard start time, but expect you to have a soft end time. Its absurd. Its like if you tell me my hours are 8:30-5, then don’t expect me to stay past 5 while at the same time talking to me about getting in after 8:30.

  7. Rob Aught*

    Not going to recap because the whole article needs to be read, but all 5 of those are fantastic and I’ve touched on each of those in the past with employees.

    In particular though, who you hang out with at work is important.

    I had to explain this to a team lead who was fantastic in all ways except she routinely went out to lunch with a crowd that would spend most of their time bad mouthing their manager and the upper management in general. This was well known.

    She was shocked when I said she might be careful about who she hung out with at work. That she was being considered for management but there were reservations because she tended to hang out with a bad attitude crowd. She had never really considered it. I hated to be the one to tell her, but it was for her own good.

    She didn’t stop being friends with them, which wasn’t what I was suggesting anyway, but she did moderate her time with them a lot more.

    1. Jamie*

      This also applies to associating with former employees with bad reputations or who are considered persona non grata at work.

      Whether it’s fair or not is irrelevant, it’s will hurt how you are perceived and can cause tptb to have trust issues with you. Some associations you’re better off not broadcasting.

      1. Rob Aught*

        We had a good relationship. She took me to task one time for going around her and said “Why aren’t you letting me do my job!?”

        I learned a lot from my co-workers and my managers, but I have learned a lot from employees since getting into management.

        That conversation suuucked and was uncomfortable as all get out. I felt I owed it to have it and if she hated me for it I still owed it to her because of her routinely excellent performance.

        The compliment is nice but looking back on it, I didn’t feel awesome about it and still don’t. Sometimes the right thing to do is stomach churning.

        1. anon*

          Kudos to you for doing it even if it was, as you said, uncomfortable and stomach churning. I’ve worked with too many managers unwilling to have the tough conversations and it’s refreshing to see that there are some who are willing to push past it for the good of their employees.

  8. Sabrina*

    #1 – I agree. I stopped going to lunch with a Negative Nelly for this reason. I liked everyone else in the lunch group but I didn’t want to be associated with her attitude.

    #2 – Unless you’re hourly and overtime is restricted.

    # 5 – Well I *am* just passing through, and they’ve laid me off before. I have no reason to trust them. Not having a lot of personal stuff here makes it easier to make a hasty exit.

  9. Ed*

    1. Whom you hang out with at work.

    It’s amazing how many adults think this only applies to teenagers. We continue to be influenced by our friends, relatives and co-workers the rest of our lives. I think it has the most affect on those in the middle of the pack. The people at the very top of their game (high performers) and those at the bottom (barely employed) are probably the least influenced by others. I may go out of my way to include someone who just needs a little direction but I have no time for slackers.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      My grandma used to say “birds of feather flock together”. Others say “you’re known by the company you keep”. It was true then and it’s true now. If people don’t know you very well, they make a judgement about you based on who you hang with.

  10. Non-exempts and capped at 40 hours*

    Haven’t seen this issue related to #2 addressed in the comments yet. I leave pretty much on the dot because I am, for the first time in my professional life, non-exempt! I work at a non-profit and because of budgetary concerns, non-exempts are not allowed to work overtime and state laws prohibit non-exempt employees from working off the clock. (The reason I occupy a non-exempt position is too complicated to get into, and a source of much frustration for me).

    I am the kind of person who hates to leave mid-task. I find it much more difficult to re-start something the next morning than to finish it up. And I’m not averse to working long hours when necessary to get something done, though I prefer this to not always be the case. Being non-exempt and not allowed to work any overtime has been difficult for me; it has turned me into a clock-watcher.

    1. Jamie*

      That’s totally different. If there are directives against OT, or you just don’t have carte blanche which most non-exempt people do not then it’s the responsible thing to do.

      Your boss shouldn’t have to shoo you out at the end of each day if he’s trying to avoid OT – because approved or not if you work it they have to pay it.

    2. SerfinUSA*

      Same here. Most of us save little mindless tasks for the last bit of the day. Filing, cleaning up inboxes, etc. When the clock strikes the appropriate hour, out we go, without being in the middle of something complicated.

    3. Non-exempts and capped at 40 h0urs*

      Thanks for your comments. To elaborate just a bit, I think I’m in a somewhat odd situation in that I basically occupy an administrative assistant position but, because of my work experience and education, I am taking on projects that are much, much higher than my level. This manager- and director-level work takes the majority of my time and I feel tremendous pressure to get things done and quickly. Being very aware of our budgetary contraints and a responsible employee, my boss does not have to shoo me out the door, but I sometimes worry about not getting things done as quickly as I’d like because I have to stop at 8 hours, stopping mid-task and picking up the next day (not always very efficient), and how leaving at 5 or a few minutes thereafter looks. I can only do what I can do in the time I have!

    4. AgilePhalanges*

      Do you (and your company) know your state laws for OT? California, for example, requires employers to pay OT rates for anything over 8 hours in a day. But many/most other states are based on weekly hours going over 40. So at my company, non-exempt workers can put in extra hours on a day or two in the week, and then put in fewer hours another day or two to make up for it, and as long as they don’t exceed 40 hours in the work week (defined by the company, but must be the same 7-day period each time, no mixing and matching to make it work). This allowed even non-exempt people to have quite flexible schedules, either on an as-needed basis, or even as a regular thing, working 4 10-hour days, or 4 nine-hour days and a half day on Friday, for example.

      1. Non-exempts and capped at 40 h0urs*

        I (and the organization) sure do know the overtime laws. In California, where we are based, unless workers are on an approved alternative workweek schedule or under a special wage order, non-exempt employees generally must be paid overtime after 8 hours in a day. California allows “making up for lost time” within a work week, but the statute and related regulations are very clear that doing so must be for the employee’s convenience and not the employer’s. I like leaving early on Fridays, so I often use the make up for lost time option. :)

  11. Coelura*

    AAM A-

    I’d love to see some points like this for telecommuters. All of my staff telecommute as does almost 30% of our Fortune 100 company. The things people do that create negative perceptions when telecommuting are very different than when they work in the office.

    1. The IT Manager*

      +1. I had this thought too when I read this article.

      I don’t work from home all the time, but my team is “virtual” so we all communicate via phone or computer so of the items on this list don’t really work virtually.

  12. anon*

    Re #2… my friend once worked at a place where it was perceived very negatively if anyone stayed past their usual quitting time. All of her co-workers were strict about their clock-in/clock-out times. She’s the type to stay behind to finish off a task instead of full-stopping in the middle of it just because the clock struck 4:30pm. Well, after she did this a few times, the co-workers complained that she was trying to “show off” and one-up the rest of them by staying behind. Needless to say, she did not last long there.

  13. anon*

    Going along with being perceived by who you hang out with at work, one thing that I think is worth noting is that it could look odd to have your significant other visit work a lot, or if you always bring your significant other to work events or happy hours when no one else does. (Exceptions being if your spouse works with you or you are going out to a Happy Hour for your promotion).

    I’ve worked with two highly competent women who always did this and it threw the dynamic of the event off, and it made them seem like they relied on their husbands too much. Maybe I am weird and most people don’t think anything of this.

  14. A teacher*

    I like the thread about office decor, clearly I teach high school so my space is classroom and an attached computer lab. When you think of classrooms you probably think of a lot of desks, a few white boards/smart board, a TV set up and a projector. I don’t believe in desks so I don’t have them in my room. I also hate clutter so I had to find a way to make it work. I use fish bowl or a double u shaped seating with no seating chart. I have 3 long tables with office chairs I got at garage sales or goodwill, 2 couches, 2 rocking chairs, some circle chairs, a few library chairs, and 3 gaming chairs. All of which I purchased myself. I don’t do assigned seating, kids can eat in my room, and they (as I’ve said before) can use phones or tablets for note taking. If you walk in my room it looks like this comfy hangout space and yet I have very few discipline referrals. I also love quotations so there are many hanging and I like to display student work because its their space. I also have high expectations and am a documentation nut with a triple check system (in education you need to be).

    Some of my coworkers were very quick to judge my set up last year when I switched from desks to the current seating. By the end of the year administration asked me to talk to several coworkers about thinking outside the box. What works for me doesnt work for others and vice versa It’s really easy to perceive people as one way but you have to walk in their shoes to really get who they are.

    1. VintageLydia*

      Hmmm, can I forward this comment to a teacher friend of mine? I don’t know if she has this sort of flexibility, but she might be able to use some of these ideas. Creating a space kids are comfortable in can be the motivation some of them need to do well.

      1. A teacher*

        Please do. I took a calculated risk and it worked for me. I should also note I have lap desks/clipboards and TV trays for kids to use as well…

          1. A Teacher*

            Depends on the class, but last year my smallest class was 24 and my largest class was 29. The year before my smallest class was 26 and the largest was 31. I also have one of the smaller classrooms in the building so with the desks it was very cozy and not conducive to teaching the First Aid/CPR portion or doing the debate/discover-learn style of teaching I like to do.

    2. Zahra*

      My favorite teacher, ever, used a double U configuration. When we had pop quizzes (1 per semester, worth 10% of that semester’s grade), we could correct our own copy. We were 15 through 17 years old at that point and his confidence in us was very appreciated.

      1. A Teacher*

        I’m very big on treating them as equals, within reason–I don’t like formality so my students shorten my last name to my first initial or just call me by my last initial and it works in my room for me. Other teachers do it differently and if that works for them, that’s great. The Double U has been the most successful–I would rearrange my room at random and try different seating arrangements, if I moved so much as one chair the kids would get a bit stressed. Even though I don’t assign seats, most of them sit in the same spot every day so it becomes “their” spot.

  15. Anonymous*

    Good timing on this post. We had some clients (a multi-million, multi-year account) in the office today for a big meeting and I was kind of horrified at the outfit choice of the account manager – a knit shirt, jeans and sneakers. I have to admit, I was totally judging her. To me, that’s an occasion to dress up!

  16. Jalil Lespert*

    I apologize, but this article and many of the comments here are complete BULLSHIT. What it boils down to is the ability (or inability) to play office politics and go along with infantile office behavior that is the usual status quo . This is the typical viewpoint of someone who expects all employees to obey the “unspoken rules” of the office, and feels everyone should be of the same personality type as their cohorts and/or managers.

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