BHP policy highlights office dos and don’ts

An etiquette expert says start-ups should ensure office etiquette is outlined from day one to avoid bombarding staff with rules further down the track, in light of BHP Billiton’s strict new employee policies.


Danielle Di-Masi, an expert coach on business etiquette and personal brand, says start-ups are never too small to outline an office etiquette policy to their staff.


“It’s all about perception… If you’ve got jackets everywhere, messy desks and files everywhere, a client might perceive that is disorganised and even dirty,” she says.


Di-Masi’s comments come on the back of BHP Billiton’s new policy on office etiquette, which is being rolled out across all head offices in Australia.


The policy, titled Office Environment Standard, bans workers from eating food with strong odours, placing jackets on their chairs, and leaving Post-it notes on their monitors or keyboards.


“Other than workstation identification and first aid or fire warden signage, nothing is to be placed on workstation dividers, walls or doors at any time,” the policy states.


“Small bags may be stored under work stations during the day or stored in cupboards. Food must NOT be eaten at your work station.”


Employees are told to keep mobile phone ring tones at a low volume. No iPods or MP3 players are to be used in the office, and workers are also ordered to watch the tone and volume of their voices and the language they use.


De-Masi says the tone of the policy makes it seem a lot harsher than it actually is, although she agrees with the rule prohibiting workers from eating foods with strong odours.


“It’s up to the start-up but if they’ve got three people in their office, they’re generally in close proximity to each other. Stinky food sticks around and distracts others,” she says.


According to De-Masi, strong-smelling food can also have an impact on clients’ perceptions of the business.


“It’s not just about distracting people – you must consider the perceptions of your clients. If the office smells like an Asian noodle house, you have no idea what that will conjure up for people,” she says.


De-Masi also agrees with the policy prohibiting people from leaving their mobile phone ring tones at a normal volume, claiming noisy mobile phones are distracting and unprofessional.


However, she disagrees with the ban on workstation identification, saying some leniency in this regard can help to build loyalty.


“People really need to embrace their workplace – they need to feel like they can stay there for as long as possible. If you take that away from them, you’re essentially turning the office into a factor floor,” she says.


That’s not to say Di-Masi disagrees with a clean desk policy.


“It’s about making the office look organised so that when a client comes in, you look ready for business,” she says.


For those start-ups that operate from home, Di-Masi says it’s important to put in place a policy on etiquette as soon as you hire your first staff member.


“You need to say: ‘This is the person I am but this is the image I want to deliver and this is what I expect. What are your thoughts?’ Set those basic guidelines but do it in a good way,” she says.


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