Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

You may have noticed that some of your younger employees behave as if they still live in a dorm. Their desk is littered with bobbleheads and postcards of the next club event. They chew gum, arrive late to meetings, and are too casual about matters of decorum.

But it's not their fault. When recent grads first come on staff, they are often untrained and unfamiliar with protocol and the basics of business etiquette. Letting a millennial fend for herself without any sort of mentoring or guidance regarding company culture is a bit like throwing a baby into the deep end of a pool and expecting her to know how to swim. The less tolerant among your employees, some of whom have been in the organization for many years, won't have patience for poor workplace etiquette practised by these younger employees.

Do your millennials a kindness and insist on a 10-minute sit-down to discuss some basic expectations. While some of these guidelines may seem pretty rudimentary, rest assured that your new, young employees will appreciate some kindly "rules" and advice. If you want to sweeten your talk, you can honestly say that these are some of the rules you wish someone had bothered to teach you before you started.

Punctuality is a sign of respect. Be on time.

Show up to work at 9 a.m., or whenever your office opens for business. Better yet, show up 10 minutes early so you'll have a chance to grab a coffee, turn on your computer, and be up and running by starting time. The same holds true for meetings. Don't be the person to saunter in and get glared at five minutes after the meeting has convened. Everyone who has been patiently waiting will be annoyed with you, and no new employee should have to handle all that negative attention directed their way.

Scope out people's titles, job descriptions, and the system of alliances.

Find out who runs each department, and learn the names and titles of everyone at the workplace. As a new employee, this will save you potential embarrassment when discussing work-related issues with both your higher-ups and colleagues. Learn who the "go-to" person is on each team. (Often this has little to do with his or her title.) Once you figure out who's who in your office, do your due diligence on the client side as well. This will make you a more effective and efficient employee.

Speak up, but be smart.

Your opinion counts, and the company values your perspective. However, when you have a suggestion or feedback, deliver a prepared argument or statement. Young employees sometimes feel that they need to be heard to be noticed. Those who are circumspect and have well-reasoned and well-articulated opinions are valued more than those who just like the sound of their own voice. You can't be too good a listener either, especially when you're brand new at a job.

Be a finisher.

Companies like energetic young doers. But overvolunteering for challenging tasks can deplete your energy and make you feel scattered. Do fewer things better, and develop a reputation for reliability. When you promise you'll see something through, make it a habit to exceed expectations. Then your higher-ups will think of you for new opportunities that arise.

Propose solutions, not problems.

Young employees sometimes have a lot of questions and opinions, and they tend to want to change things – fast. If you hate the fact that there's a mandatory departmental meeting at 9 a.m. every Friday, don't gripe about it. Either attend it uncomplainingly, or suggest a viable alternative with points to back up your new proposal. If you fail to persuade others to change the meeting time or date, then resolve to stay neutral. Don't be the problem; be part of the solution.

Behave in a deferential manner.

Act respectful toward elders and those who have been at the company for a long time. The old geezer who stares out of the window daydreaming may very well be the mastermind behind the company's new software setup. Don't make assumptions about anyone. Give everyone respect, and you can expect the same back.

Vicky Oliver is a Manhattan-based job interview consultant and career adviser, and the bestselling author of five career development books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.