9 Times It Pays to Break The Rules at Work

Wear a suit. Stay till 8pm. Suck up to your boss. Don’t run in the halls.

They may not be laminated and stuck to the classroom door, but the unspoken workplace rules can still feel compulsory to anyone who wishes to shimmy up the greasy pole.

But as any good rebel knows, rules are made to be broken. Especially when playing the maverick could be your key to workplace success!


1. Send Informal Emails

There’s a reason “formal” is often seen as the antithesis of “fun.” If a colleague emails about bringing brownies into the office and your reply is peppered with “yours sincerely” and “to whom it may concern” you’ll look robotic, if not downright rude.

Informal emails, complete with jokes, personal enquiries, or even – gasp! – emojis make you seem more likeable. And likeability pays – not just with colleagues, but with managers and clients too. Human beings are social creatures and we are conditioned to promote, buy from and help the people we have a good rapport with.


2. Refuse to Stay Late

You’ve probably heard the maxim that successful people “arrive before their boss and leave after them.” Most bosses, however, would agree that the employees they value most are those who produce the highest quality work, and evidence from the Economist suggests that overtime and productivity are mutually exclusive.

When you put in long hours, your brain struggles to cope with the workload. You subsequently become less creative, less productive and more mistake-prone.

Cutting away at your personal time has a negative effect on your work output, too: employees with a good work-life balance work 21% harder despite spending less time in the office.


3. Check Social Media at Work

To paraphrase Bill Murray, there are two types of people in this world: those who browse Facebook/ASOS/Buzzfeed at work, and liars.

Luckily, it turns out that a habit of watching cute pandas tumble over may actually be the mark of a high achiever. According to research from the University of Melbourne, taking time out to aimlessly surf the net gives our brain the rest it needs to refocus on the task at hand.

Keep these breaks short and snappy (and under 20% of your workday) and it translates into a 9% productivity boost.


4. Say No

Being a Yes-Person can make you seem like an enthusiastic go-getter… right up to the point where you run out of time and energy to complete the mammoth pile of task you’ve committed to, and end up burnt out.

Never be afraid to say no if you feel overburdened or out of your depth – providing you do it the right way and explain why you’re saying no, it won’t be held against you.

Remember that the only person who is fully aware of how much you’re doing is you, so appoint yourself as your own personal time-management ambassador. You’ll be more respected as a worker if you consistently turn in the high-quality work that comes from fully focusing on a task.


5. Chatter with Co-Workers

There’s a good reason job applications are stuffed with requests for “people skills” and “team-players” – collaboration boosts creativity and sparks new ideas.

Luckily for the office chatterboxes, a non-work-related chat is just as effective. Nattering away to colleagues for ten minutes has been shown to boost your brainpower.

And having work friends doesn’t just make you like your job more, strong social connections actually make you more productive.

So, take the time to get to know your coworkers so you can be happier at work. You’ll be better at your job – turns out happy employees are better employees.


6. Don’t Speak Politely

Using tentative language might seem more polite and less aggressive, but it will also make your statements lack authority. We listen to people who sound like they know what they’re talking about, so don’t be afraid to be assertive!

The same logic should be applied by people (usually women) who are frequently interrupted and spoken over in meetings. If your voice isn’t heard, you won’t be remembered when it comes to implementing a suggestion or doling out promotions. So, if someone cuts you off mid-flow, don’t be afraid to call them out on it.


7. Ignore That Email

You might think that ignoring a work email is rude, but there are two very good reasons why you should do it:

  1. A typical worker checks their email 36 times an hour.
  2. It takes an average of 16 minutes to refocus on a task after interrupting it to check your email.

If you keep flicking to your email, in other words, you’re going to struggle to get anything done.

Solution? Block out a set time each morning and afternoon in which to reply to all your emails. It’s not unreasonable for colleagues or clients to wait a couple of hours for a response – if it’s that urgent, they’ll call or visit you!

Sarah’s Tip: Install an extension like Inbox Pause to put new emails on hold until set times. Out of sight, out of mind.


8. Call in Sick

Nobody who has ever had a bad cold will be surprised by the finding that sick workers are 20% less productive than well ones. Yet a cult of ‘presenteeism’ sees many unwell employees slogging into work regardless.

Stop. Such martyrdom is benefiting no one.

Not getting sufficient rest delays the recovery process, so you end up functioning at a lower productivity for longer than if you’d just taken the day off to get well. And if you have something infectious you’ll end up making half the office sick, setting off a low-productivity spiral that won’t clear till the New Year.


9. Disagree with Your Boss

Yes, there will always be egomaniacal managers who just want to be brown-nosed. But good bosses know that feedback, cooperation and disagreement are all essential to finding creative solutions, developing ideas and avoiding disasters.

Consequently, as long as you approach your objection – or correction – constructively, they should appreciate your input. Always frame a disagreement as a discussion, not an obstruction. Point out positive aspects of the idea, explain carefully why you digress on the points you do and paint a case for an alternative, better solution.

Your manager still may not take up your idea. But by handling the disagreement correctly, you’ll have presented yourself as a thoughtful, engaged and confident employee – exactly the sort of person they’ll want to move forward within the business!


How many rules at work do you break? Which one is the hardest to break? Tell us in the comments or on social media! And for more unconventional tips for getting ahead at work, subscribe to the Punched Clocks newsletter!


About the Author:

Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a recruitment agency specialising in finding candidates their dream internship.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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