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.

Unless you are working on your own in a remote location, you are likely to need to interact with other people.

It is important to be able to get on with people in the work environment and socialising often helps people to do that better.  You may want to minimise the times you need to use these skills as it gets very tiring to concentrate on this as well as the work. Social events can be formal and planned, or informal and arranged by the teams themselves. Many organisations put time and money into making sure that their workers feel part of a team. This is important to most employees and is thought to help individuals get to know their colleagues so that they can collaborate in work more effectively.


You may be expected to attend some social or team activities, others you can avoid without causing offence


Team building – daytime or evening events designed to improve communication, build trust, reduce conflict, and improve collaboration. You will probably be asked to work with other people in teams and may be asked to solve a problem. It is paid for by the company and counts as working time. They are usually held away from the office, so ask for all of the details of the event in advance and to be assigned to a team with your line manager or another colleague that you like so that you feel as comfortable as possible. Examples might include an evening bowling, team quizzes, going sailing, or an escape-room challenge.


If the venue or event type isn’t accessible for you, you may need to ask for a reasonable adjustment or explain why you feel unable to attend


Going out after work – often an informal arrangement where groups of people go out for a drink or other activity, with or without a meal, in your own time. You do not necessarily have to attend these informal events, but they are often an opportunity to find out more about your colleagues and build relationships and understanding.
If you want to get involved in these kinds of informal team activities, you might want to talk to a trusted colleague about what would make it easier for you to attend – for example knowing where you’re likely to go and whether you’re planning to stay out for meal times in advance. Sometimes going out after work is spontaneous – for example as a response to something really good happening at work that day. And sometimes plans change, meaning colleagues might decide to change venues during the evening. It’s OK to go out for a while and then go home when you’re ready to do so, you don’t need to feel you have to stay until a particular time or until others choose to go home.

Christmas Meal – many workplaces celebrate Christmas by going out. This could be a Christmas lunch, or an evening meal. Ask whether or not you will need to pay or contribute a proportion of the costs for the meal and drinks as not all companies will pay. You can expect to pay a price per person and choose options from a set menu. Find out who is organising the event, check the menu in advance and agree to go to a venue that serves food you are ok to eat. If you are based in an office, factory, shop or place of work with other people, you will probably be expected to go unless you are ill, but you do not have to go if you don’t want to.

Office Party – held in the office itself, at a hotel, bar or other venue. You will probably be expected to go and look happy to be there. In reality, not everyone enjoys work parties and the fact that many who attend often consume lots of alcohol. If it is held outside work time, you do not have to go and there is no need to drink alcohol if you do not want to.

Going out for lunch or coffee break – Work colleagues will often go out in small groups to buy lunch or snacks and bring it back or eat lunch out together. If they are happy for you to join them, they will invite you. You do not have to say yes. You can also suggest lunch with a colleague yourself. Teams sometimes go out for a working lunch, where everyone needs to attend as you will be discussing work. If you are working on that project or in that team you will be expected to go with them. You should discuss any dietary requirements with the person booking the venue to make sure there is something you are able to eat. Also, be ready to cover your share of the