How to Uncover Unwritten Rules at Work to Thrive

Understanding your work’s culture is essential to help you succeed in many workplace situations. This means you’ll need to notice the unwritten rules at work and adjust accordingly. You’ll need to use all your senses to observe the environment and the people within it.

Common Unwritten Rules to Notice

What should you wear?

I love walking around barefooted. The next best thing for me is to wear sandals. However, few company cultures will support this type of footwear. I wore a pair of heeled sandals to the office one summer, the kind of shoes that has a strap between your first and second toe. I was politely told that the department head frowns upon any footwear with anything between the toes. Who would have thought this was an unwritten rule? I would never find this rule written anywhere in the employee handbook. You may be thinking, what’s the big deal with what type of shoes I wear to work? What I also gleaned was that even though this was a fairly progressive company there were pockets of tradition embedded within the organization’s culture that one would need to be mindful of.

What are your hours of work?

You would think this is a very straight-forward question right? You signed a contract with work hours that is supposed to start at 9:00 am and finish at 5:00 pm. During your first week of work, you get to the office at 8:50 am thinking you are early but you notice that everyone has been there for quite some time. You must wonder - what time did everyone arrive at work? You also question why people are not leaving at 5:00 pm. You may also notice that people take longer lunch breaks than what you are used to. Again, these observations of unwritten rules will lead you to understand more about your company's culture. Your observations and willingness to ask for clarity will help you to make informed decisions to thrive in a new work setting.

What are the main communication channels?

Your manager said that she has an open-door policy. However, while her office door remains open most of the time she is rarely in her office. You notice that your colleagues usually connect with her via email or if it’s an urgent matter, they would call her cell phone. You also notice that your manager is copied on almost all the emails that your colleagues send to the team. This seems to make sense now if your manager is rarely in the office. Copying her on emails is a way to keep her abreast of any departmental changes. Being attuned to the unwritten rules of your manager’s communication preferences can often provide you insight as to how you can be the most effective with your work.

You may think I am being too sensitive. However, being aware of these nuances within your workplace climate can help you progress within the company. Observing and collecting this information will help you to better navigate your work environment.

ACTION: I challenge you to notice one unwritten rule at work today that can’t be found within your company’s written policies and procedures. Reflect on how you have or have not conformed to this unwritten rule? What does this unwritten rule tell you about your company’s culture?

Originally published at Excelsior.