Being in the workplace

What happens in a workplace can vary a lot. Even within the same organisation departments may operate in different ways and have different expectations of staff.

It can help to have some background in the social rules, culture and processes that are often found in workplaces

Workplace etiquette is not often spoken about until someone has breached an unwritten rule. To make it more complicated still, rules vary from office to office, and even from one work area to another within the same company.

Workplace etiquette refers to the way people behave at work and is often the sort of thing that often no one tells you about, perhaps until someone has broken an unwritten rule

Workplaces are social environments that can be hard for autistic people to work out. To stand the best chance of getting it right from the start, ask for this information to be included in your induction. If in doubt, ask your line manager or a colleague you trust.

General guidelines:

  • Be on time when starting work and for meetings or other events.
  • Say hello to people when you arrive and goodbye when you leave.
  • Pay attention to people’s names – try to memorise the names of the people you need to speak to regularly .
  • Keep the noise down in the office – people are trying to work.
  • Find out whether people offer to make tea and coffee for each other. If they do, make sure you take turns. Some places have a rota to say whose turn it is. Unless drinks are provided by your employer, be prepared to contribute to the cost.
  • Don’t use someone else’s mug. Take your own in unless everyone uses the same design, which is a clue the company has probably provided them.
  • Don’t eat food that you have not brought or bought yourself unless specifically invited to do so. Take in or buy your own.
  • Be aware of your personal hygiene and the need to wash your body and clothes regularly. Don’t forget to use a deodorant. No-one likes working with someone who smells of body odour.
  • Only use your personal mobile phone at meal or breaktime and away from your colleagues. It distracts everyone and is not what you are paid for.
  • If someone brings in cake, sweets or other food for everyone to share, only take one helping until everyone who want one has had a piece.
  • If there are birthday traditions, try to do the same when it is your birthday.
  • Try to be positive. Don’t be the person who moans and complains all the time. If you have a complaint about a work situation, there is a formal process for that.
  • If there is a rota for any other job in the workplace – e.g. cleaning the kitchen area, make sure you take your turn.
  • Coughing and sneezing can’t be helped, but do use a tissue and wash your hands to prevent spreading an infection
  • If someone looks busy and doesn’t look up as you approach, try not to interrupt them.
  • If you have to interrupt, apologise for interrupting before you launch into what you need to say. If you are not sure, try saying, ‘Sorry to interrupt, but I have a question I need to ask… Is now a good moment or should I drop you an email?’

 Body language and non-verbal communication

The way you use your body affects how other people see you

Body language is the way people give information without using words – this may involve: facial expressions, hand gestures, touching, the way they stand, and many other signs, including eye contact. How you feel has an impact on the way you stand, the way you sit and whether you speak up. You can study how this works and use it to create the impression you want other people to have of you.

Be aware that people respond to body language without knowing it and may not be familiar with the different ways that autistic people sometimes respond

If you find eye contact painful, for example, you need to inform the person that you are speaking to so that they do not judge your non-verbal communication negatively. Or you may need to ask someone to say something in a different way if they have you an expression, term or gesture that isn’t obvious to you.