Independent Living Skills and Cognitive Disabilities: Reduce Anxiety, Solve Problems

Archive for September, 2013

New Job Etiquette: I Didn’t Know That Was Your Lunch


A lunch sits on a blue tablecloth with a brown...

A lunch sits on a blue tablecloth with a brown paper bag and red napkin. There are carrots, a pear, a sandwich on wheat bread with lettuce (chicken salad) and a carton of milk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your First Job: Employee Break Room Etiquette

Getting your first job is an exciting, but nervous time, especially the lunch break. You may not know anyone, and if you haven’t spent time in an employee break room before, you might not know the social rules or the etiquette of the break room.  It’s different than at home or at school, so let’s talk about it.

Can I Have a Cupcake?

The main thing to know about the employee break room is to understand what food is okay to eat, and what food you need to leave alone. If you see some cupcakes on the counter, they may or may not be there for you to eat.

People bring or buy their own lunch, and sometimes people bring food to share. Sometimes a big company will have an employee cafeteria where you can buy food. Many businesses will have a refrigerator where employees can put their lunches or treats. It can be confusing to figure out what is free to eat and what is actually someone’s lunch, so let’s break it down.

Refrigerator Rule: Only eat food that you brought or bought.

Most food in a refrigerator work belongs to other people. If a refrigerator is available, employees put their lunches and drinks in the refrigerator. When it is time for lunch, they expect to find their own food and drinks that they brought.

This means that you cannot take food that you see in the refrigerator the way that you might do at home. If you did, you would be taking someone else’s lunch or drink. They would not be happy, and you would get in trouble when they figure out who is taking others’ food.  The main thing to remember is: If you see food that looks interesting, but you didn’t bring it, leave it there unless invited to have some. Only eat food that you brought or bought.

TIP: If you bring a lunch in a paper bag, write your name on the outside. If you set a can or bottle in the refrigerator, write your name on that, too. That way, it will be easy to tell which one belongs to you, and others will leave it alone.

Party! Sometimes Food is For Sharing

Celebrations are fun, whether it’s someone’s birthday, a holiday, or a company event, and they usually involve eating. On special occasions, you may see food in the refrigerator or on the counter that is meant to be shared. Sometimes the food is set out to be eaten anytime, such as donuts, and sometimes it is meant to be eaten when the group gathers at a certain time, such as lunch or a party. Sometimes, the food is not meant for you to eat at all.

Maybe Later, Maybe Not: Food that is sitting on a counter or in the refrigerator could be for a special employee luncheon or party later in the day. If the food is covered up, leave it alone unless you hear that it’s okay to eat. Sometimes a group within the company may be having a smaller celebration. The food may be just for that group. In this case, the food is not meant for you, now or later.

Potluck: Sometimes employees bring dishes to share with each other. In this case, you will hear about it ahead of time, and you would be expected to bring a dish of food to share as well.This is often called a potluck. In this case, the dishes are set out on a table and everyone makes their own plate of food.

Treats: Another time when the food is for sharing is when someone brings treats to share. The person who brought the food may tell you to help yourself. If it’s unwrapped and on a table, it’s probably okay to eat. If in doubt, wait for someone else to go first.

Let’s review. If you see several large containers of food, a big cake, or a plate of cookies in the employee break room, be sure to ask whether it is meant for the employees to eat or whether it is for another group. Someone might be saving it for later in the day or for a certain group.

Okay, so what do you need to remember about food in the break room? Here are the big ideas.

The 5 Rules You Need to Know About Food at Work

  1. Eat food that you BROUGHT or BOUGHT.
  2. If the food is covered with a lid or plastic wrap, it is probably being saved for someone else or for later in the day. It’s best to leave it alone.
  3. It’s usually safer to wait for someone else to uncover the food or to invite you to help yourself.
  4. If the food is sitting on the break table where employees usually sit or where they often put treats to share, then it is probably okay to eat.
  5. If you are in doubt, it’s always best to ask.

If you follow these guidelines, you will save yourself the embarrassment of eating someone else’s food and having to say, “Sorry, I didn’t know that was your lunch.” You’ll be seen as someone with good social skills.

What tips do you have for the employee break room or when starting a new job?

(c) 2013 Smart Steps, LLC

Increasing the Employment Rate for Persons with Disabilities Through Networking

Handshake icon

Handshake icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best way to get a job is through your personal network. Who do you know? Who do your friends know? Who do family members know? Who do your neighbors know? Who do those contacts know? Tell people that you want a job and ask them if they have any ideas for you. When they suggest a business or person for you to contact, ask if you can mention them. You would say something like, “John Smith referred me to you. I am looking for a job and John thought you might have a need for someone with my skills.”

Sell Yourself

Speaking of skills, do you know what you do well? Can you list a few things that you can do and that you enjoy? If not, spend some time reviewing your work history, volunteer jobs, hobbies, and group activities. What compliments have you received? If you can’t remember, ask your family, friends, or others who have worked with you. Include these skills on your resume and/or business card to help you remember.

Meet New People

If you have asked everyone in your network and you have run out of contacts to call, it’s time to meet new people. How? Networking is a great way. You might already go to events or meetings where there are lots of people. If not, think about joining a bowling league, trying out a new sport, going to a dance, going to a meet-up related to an interest that you have (, or find a local networking group. Make a point of introducing yourself to someone new instead of hanging out with your friends.

How’s Your Handshake?

Smile, stick out your hand and give a firm handshake. (Practice if you need to, making sure that you are holding the person’s entire hand and not just their fingers.) Shake the other person’s hand for a count of two and then let go.

Say, “Hi, I’m –.” Listen for their name, and say, “–, it’s nice to meet you.”

Start a Conversation By Asking a Question About The Other Person

Ask where they work, and let them know that you are looking for work if they have any ideas for you. They might want to know what type of job you want or what you can do. This is when you need to say what you are good at and what types of jobs or volunteer work you have done in the past. If you have a business card with your name and number, hand them your card.

What other tips would you add to this list?

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