The unwritten rules of the employee handbook

Are you aware of these unwritten rules in your office?

unwritten rules
Every organization has an employee handbook and even an on-boarding process where newbies can learn the nuts and bolts of being part of that company. But one thing will become very clear is that many people seem to ignore those processes that have been so precisely laid out, and get away with it. There is also a sub-code of unwritten rules which are not apparent and visible, which no one openly talks about. You will sit there and wonder how something has happened. Any questions will be met with a knowing look leaving you even more baffled.

So how do you get in the know with these unwritten rules and find out which ones you need to leverage to give your career a vital boost? Here are the unwritten rules that oil the corporate machine:Tweet this

# Employee handbook:  We are an equal opportunity employer

Unwritten rule: If you are a white male your chances of promotion and a higher salary are increased

A recent  study from The LeanIn Org and McKinsey showed that women and minorities are less likely to be promoted than men. Is this true where you work? Take a look at the organogram for the company. How does it look?  If the hierarchy is male dominated, where are the sticking points? Take the time to find out what is going on. Do women get stuck there or do they leave? Establish the reasons for that.  Check out social proofing sites such as Fairy Godboss and  – preferably before you accept the job. Learn strategies for dealing with requests to do “office housework” and other male coded behaviours such as interruptions and having your ideas hi-jacked that frequently hold women back.

Read: Social proofing by women and employer branding

# Employee handbook:  There is no “I” in team

Unwritten rule: There are lots of “I”s in teams

No matter how strong your team everyone is out for themselves

No matter how strong your team everyone is out for themselves

You were looking forward to being part of a balanced team with open communication and transparent accountability. Now you find there are the pushy types, the favourites and the sinecure holders who have been there since forever who come and go as they please. No one is even clear about what they do. Learning to build up strategic alliances within the group as well as some outside it will be key. Develop a strong internal network to get invaluable support. Focus on your own performance and doing the best you can.Tweet this

#Employee handbook: Promotion is based on performance and merit

Unwritten rule:  A promotion is based on lots of things, sometimes doing a good job isn’t one of them. 

Very often promotions are based on who you know and self- promotion. Make sure you are visible within your organization and have the support of key stakeholders who can be your mentors and even sponsor.

Read: Believe in yourself to succeed

#Employee handbook:  zero tolerance of bullying and harassment  

Unwritten rule: Not always

If all the organizations that claimed a zero tolerance of bullying and harassment did actually follow through then the statsitic of 75% of all employees experiencing workplace bullying would no longer exist. But the fact is that it does go on and is very often unreported. When it is flagged, often times no action is taken. 50% of women claim to have experienced bullying and sexual harassment in the office. Women are also more likely to be bullied by another woman as  a man.

Read: Every day sexism highlighted in 4 videos

#Employee handbook: Shows the C-suite executives as the decision makers

Unwritten rule: The real power is somewhere else


Think critically about who’s really in charge

In many organizations the real decision makers are not always visible. We have all heard stories of the CEO who will not make decisions without the input of the CFO or the VP of Sales who no one wants to upset. We know also that the gate keepers filter who gets to see these top dogs. In some ways they have a direct impact on the decision makers by controlling the flow of information and contacts.

#Employee handbook: We are a meritocracy

Unwritten rule: There are different rules for different folks

See also  the point above about real decision makers. Different departments can call the shots and  this will depend on the current leadership strategy of the Board. In a period of innovation R&D (research and development) and even Marketing might rule the roost. In a downturn maybe Finance will be the key player. During a product launch Sales will drive an organization. This will lead to departments following their own rules if they’re the flavour of the month.

Read: New rules for supporting your colleagues

# Employee handbook: Everyone has a voice

Unwritten rule: It depends

Not all voices are treat equally

Not all voices are treat equally

Some companies have a very open and transparent communication style. Executives sit in open plan offices with their teams, town hall meetings when anyone can speak are regular parts of the calendar. Employee engagement surveys are held at intervals and there is a genuine commitment to inclusion. Contrast this with execs on the VIP floor, un-minuted meetings and irregular or no contact with senior management which means that the unwritten rules to get your voice heard will come into play.

# Employee handbook: Our customers are our top priority

Unwritten rule: Operational needs are the last thing on the list

Even though there is a business plan in place, very often heads are scratched and questions asked why Marketing has had a tech upgrade when Supply Chain, who need it more to meet customer demands, hasn’t.  Frequently it is those with influence that impact outcomes. One day it’s that system enhancement, another it’s for increased headcount or more luxurious office furniture. Find out who the key influencers are in your company.Tweet this

Successful navigation

Getting on top of these subtle messages is not easy and navigating them is even more challenging. Having a strong internal network and cross functional relationships will help you find out the unspoken messages and unwritten rules in your organization.  These can be significant to understanding the corporate culture. Asking the right questions, checking on social media and social proofing sites, as well as researching key players can all help to bring you up to speed.

It’s office politics that is frequently the deal breaker for women. Getting an understanding of those unwritten rules and what goes on between the lines can make the corridors of power easier to navigate.

Need help? Check out the 3Plus coaching and mentoring programs

3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Career, Communication, Conversations about leadership, Culture, Leadership, Negotiating salary and benefits: value your work, Personal & Professional Development, Workplace, Worth Knowing
Staff Writer: Career
Web | Email |

3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

Leave a Reply

Found that interesting? Learn more about our services
Individual services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
more info
Corporate services
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
more info
Upcoming events
How to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace
2018-03-27 @ 18.00 - 21.00
Chester&Fields , Rue Père de Deken 14 Brussels , Belgium
Download and listen free podcasts
When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage
Free Download
The importance of Hard Talk
Free Download
Taking Care of your COW
Free Download
How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace
Free Download