7 outdated professional etiquette tips that are holding you back

2021 called and it wants its professional etiquette acknowledged. What used to be helpful in terms of social norms and politeness can now backfire and hold you back.

“Alongside the changing business landscape, we have also seen a simultaneous evolution of the workspace. Etiquettes that would once have been considered the norm, like never eating at your desk, are now simply laughable,” said Alex Magnin, consumer tech and digital monetization expert, who was featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2014.

From never discussing your salary with your coworkers to being super humble about praise, Ladders asked seasoned leaders and professionals from various industries to share their insights on counterproductive professional etiquette tips. Here are seven practices that are more harmful than well-mannered.

1. Only talking about inclusivity and transparency

Magnin says, “The workplaces of 2021 are a far cry from those back in the 90s or even the early 2000s. They are less stuffy, more focused on the business at hand, rather than how you look doing it. The bottom line for all professional conduct today is inclusivity and transparency.”

And principles like inclusivity and transparency are best expressed in actionable ways — it’s one thing to say you value those things and another thing to demonstrate it through day-to-day behaviors that make up the fabric of organizational culture.

2. Not discussing your salary at work

Disclosing how much you earn in the right setting may not be taboo after all. In fact, it could combat systemic issues such as pay disparity.

“In 2021, you can discuss your salary at work. For the longest time, it was considered taboo to share your salary details with coworkers. However, this outdated professional advice is harmful because it helps cover up pay discrimination, and other unfair remuneration practices,” says Sai Blackbyrn, CEO of CoachFoundation.

3. No visible tattoos or piercings

Stephanie Currais, founder of Argon Agency, a substance abuse treatment organization, employs a lot of younger staff members who happen to have tattoos or piercings. According to her, being strict about appearance when it comes to hiring can make you miss out on candidates who would be a great fit.

“The work we do is critically important and can make the difference between life and death. My staffs’ past and their appearance does not affect their quality of work, if anything it makes them better,” she says.
“In 2021, I’d like to see more offices and businesses be more open-minded about applicants’ appearances and pasts.”

4. Respecting authority

While you’d never want to walk around deliberately disrespecting others, the idea of respecting authority at all costs is a bit archaic, especially if you want to be an engaged, impactful contributor.

“Most team members try to seek harmony and respect authority. Conversely, employees that rise to leadership often openly challenge the status quo and politely disagree with senior leaders,” says corporate training expert Jay Guilford, who led the design of Cirque du Soleil’s corporate training program, SPARK.

“Withholding your expert opinion in order to be agreeable limits your professional growth. Seeking agreement, instead of the best possible outcome, also limits the growth of your team members and the overall success of the business and the organization.”

5. Never interrupting

There is a fine line between active listening and being effective at managing precious resources such as time.

“It’s hard to strike a middle ground which is incredibly important, especially during long, group-based discussions. On the one hand, you don’t want to interrupt important points, but at the same time you don’t want the speaker to drone on longer than they should — that can be a huge time-waster,” says Karl Hughes, founder of Draft.dev.

“Professional etiquette dictates that you give respondents time to communicate properly and that you practice active listening. I would propose that, as professionals, it’s up to us to understand when to listen or to interrupt. But one and wording are important. Just because you’re interrupting doesn’t mean you should be rude or strike a negative tone.”

6. Wife jokes

There was a time when adhering to the boys’ club custom of making wife jokes would help you mingle and build rapport. But it’s an outdated and harmful practice that needs to go because it’s getting in the way of bringing diverse perspectives to the workplace, says Rebecca Wise, president of non-profit Business and Professional Women of Maryland.

“I constantly see men wasting time in meetings with jocular bonding rituals like complaining about their wives or poking fun at each others’ nationalities. It’s not only offensive, but it also accomplishes nothing,” she says. “Patriarchal office etiquette is actively driving other voices away.”

7. Brushing off praise

Being overly humble about praise is also an old-school norm that can hold women back at work.

“Traditionally, North American culture teaches women to discount their achievements. Refusing praise when granted by management completely undercuts your abilities and can make you look unconfident in your work. Instead of saying ‘It was nothing,’ when your boss or colleagues congratulate you on a job well done, say ‘Thank you for the support,’ says Charlotte Spence, Head of Sleep Health Research at Mattress Nerd.