The Workplace Survival Guide, Part 1

“i do my job, so why don’t they like me?”

Sometimes in the Career Center, we see patrons who aren’t sure why they’re having such a rough time in the working world. Often, they have difficulty keeping a job, or they seem to constantly be in trouble at work. Sometimes, they complain about their bosses not liking them, their co-workers excluding them, or generally not fitting in.

There are many reasons that could be happening, but the most common one, we’ve found, is that these patrons don’t know the “unwritten rules” of the workplace. These unwritten rules discuss behaviors which, while you’ll never find them listed in a job description, are always a good idea on the job. Following these rules can help you start a job on the right foot, get along with co-workers, make a good impression on boss, and generally succeed in your career.

The 6 unwritten rules of the workplace

This information was adapted from the seminar “Preparing At-Risk Youth for Workplace Success”
by Dr. Steve Parese of Workin’ It Out Training. Please visit their website for more information about their soft skills training classes.

  1. Work comes first. Personal issues shouldn’t get in the way. This can be difficult, because you do have a life outside of work, and that’s perfectly normal. But make sure that life doesn’t interfere with your job. Ask yourself – are you constantly talking about your personal life at work? Do you have issues in your personal life that are affecting your attendance, reliability, productivity, or attitude? If so, your personal life is getting in the way of your job.
  2. Don’t get involved in other people’s problems. As an extension of the previous rule – in addition to keeping your personal issues out of the way, make sure you don’t let other people’s personal issues get in the way of work either. Avoid gossip and rumormongering. If you have co-workers who bring drama to the job, stay out of it. Their business is none of your business. Work is not a social club or a high-school clique, and behaving as if it were can backfire and make enemies for you.
  3. Try to fit in. Don’t act or dress TOO different from everyone else. Observe what everyone else is doing – does everyone in the department dress a certain way? What are the popular topics of conversation among your co-workers? What sorts of personalities, attitudes, and work styles are most common? The more you align yourself with the group, the more you’ll fit in with your co-workers. Of course, you’re a unique individual, and you’re not going to be exactly like anyone else at the company. But if your personal culture is vastly different from the company culture, you’re going to have trouble making a good impression.
  4. Stay busy (or at least LOOK busy) the whole time you’re at work. If you finish your work ahead of time, that’s great! But sitting around doing nothing for the rest of your shift. . .that’s a bad look. Your boss is not likely to think, “How efficient of that employee to finish their work early!” No, probably, your boss is going to think, “How lazy of that employee to do nothing. Why am I paying them for this?” Now it’s only human to occasionally need some downtime, but if you’re going to goof off at work, do so in such a way that no one can tell you’re goofing off. Perception is key.
  5. Do what they ask, even if you don’t want to. No boss ever wants to hear, “I’m not doing that. That’s not in my job description.” If you’re not willing to go above and beyond occasionally, that suggests an uncooperative, do-the-bare-minimum attitude. Please note, however, that we are NOT suggesting that you let a boss bully you into doing something dangerous, inappropriate, or illegal. In that case, you can absolutely stand up for your rights as a worker. However, it’s probably a good idea to agree to perform any task that could reasonably be expected of an employee in your position or department.
  6. Work is not always fun. That’s why they pay you. This reinforces every previous rule. Staying busy, fitting in, doing unpleasant tasks, and avoiding personal issues – none of that sounds fun. But that’s the point – work isn’t a fun recreational activity; otherwise you’d do it for free. Even the best, most fulfilling job in the world will occasionally include things you don’t want to do. A true professional accepts this.


  1. Jasmine works as a cashier at Winn Dixie. At a slow point, her boss asks her to clean up a spill in the soda aisle. She ignores him.
    • What she’s thinking: “I’m a cashier, not a janitor. He shouldn’t tell me to do stuff that’s not my job. I hate the way he bosses me around.”
    • What her boss is thinking: “If she’s just standing there doing nothing, I’m going to ask her to help out. She thinks the rules don’t apply to her, but we all have to do the work that needs doing.”
    • What unwritten workplace rules apply to this situation?
    • What would you advise Jasmine to do?
  2. Carlos works on the lawn care crew at Radisson Hotel. His boss tells him to take out his piercings and cover up his tattoos. Carlos is angry.
    • What he’s thinking: “It’s my body; I should be able to look how I want. What does my nose ring have to do with my ability to cut grass?”
    • What his boss is thinking: “Our company must maintain a certain image. Our guests expect the staff to look professional. All those piercings and tattoos may scare or offend people.”
    • What unwritten workplace rules apply to this situation?
    • What would you advise Carlos to do?

If you would like further assistance with these soft skills, please call us at 225-231-3733, email our Career Coach at, or visit our YouTube channel.

Written by Lynnette Lee