Unwritten Rules in the Workplace and How They Affect You

  • The “real” office hours
  • Expected email response time
  • Open door policies
  • Dress codes
  • Using vacation days
  • Camera on or off during virtual meetings


Above are just some examples of unwritten rules each workplace seems to have. These guidelines aren’t found in any employee handbook, shared during orientation and training, or rarely even spoken aloud.

Many times, these unwritten rules have developed over time and while some have merit in maintaining peace and order within the work center, others can show a blatant bias or workplace culture deficiency. In simple terms, they’ve been created to work around a bad manager.

Currently, each individual must dig through and unearth these office behavioral nuances. We believe that leadership teams need to take more responsibility in this regard. Unwritten rules often dictate and sum up a culture within a workplace. They are also the true measure of such culture.  

How does one learn and understand these unspoken, unwritten behavioral rules?

We’ve compiled a few easy-to-follow steps to help you navigate the tricky waters of unwritten workplace rules:

Observe – This may seem like a “common sense” suggestion, but we are taking it further. Observe specifically the people closest to your level who seem to be the most respected by their peers, and by management. Identify their behaviors in relation to specific situations that arise and how they respond to them. Then, observe others’ reactions in return. This can be a good indicator of them following an unwritten rule.

Ask Questions – This step applies to clarifying instructions you receive, and your interactions with others in the workplace. Asking questions shows you have a desire to be competent and involved. They display an interest in others, which is important to forming and maintaining relationships with fellow employees and team members.

Document – Even if these unspoken and written rules are not physically there for you to reference, you can still keep track of your observations on your own. It’s important to document answers to questions you’ve received so you can refer back to them when necessary. 

These three steps serve as a guide for you to follow as you come to learn your new workplace culture and the unwritten rules that exist. For more information on workplace culture and how to successfully traverse your way through, make sure you look for The Human Centered Team by Glenn Akramoff, available soon.