workplace behavior

5 New Year's resolutions ... for your coworkers

January 7, 2014: 5:00 AM ET

Wouldn't it be great if you could make resolutions for other people in the office that they would keep? Here's a wish list.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

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FORTUNE -- By now, you may have made a New Year's resolution or two. You probably haven't broken any yet. But wouldn't it be great if you could make resolutions for other people in the office that they would keep?

Here's a starting point for the wish list:

Give useful feedback

Sure, it would be nice if your supervisor resolved to offer you a raise or a few exotic travel assignments. But most of us working stiffs would be satisfied simply to receive practical, concrete feedback on our work from our bosses, rather than unrealistic goals, indiscriminate criticism, or -- sometimes worst of all -- silent lack of acknowledgment of our hard work. We spend our most productive hours at work, in a quest for meaning and purpose. In 2014, please don't let these efforts be in vain. (No, this resolution doesn't cover unsolicited advice about my wardrobe or relatives.)

Treat the kitchen kindly

Is there a more fraught location in the office than the shared kitchen? Maybe you've seen half-and-half cartons labeled with black permanent marker and lunch leftovers padlocked for protection. These drastic steps spring from our colleagues' traumatic past experiences of having their food stolen or subsidizing an anonymous coworker's coffee habit.

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Wash your own dishes. Don't leave a trail of crumbs or greasy fingerprints behind you. Respect this shared space. And please, resolve to stop using the microwave to cook stinky food. If you must heat something that spills or spatters all over the walls, clean up after your lunch explosion.

Most of all, we beg, stop using the office kitchen to store your three bottles of salad dressing, two flavors of mustard, a cheese assortment, or any other staples. Nobody wants to watch your science projects blossom mold or begin to stink up the communal space.

Stop being passive-aggressive

I've often thought that instead of charging people a quarter for cursing, we should charge them a dollar for muttering under their breath or pulling other passive-aggressive moves in the office. That covers the administrative assistant who drags his feet in fulfilling your urgent request, the team members who ignore your emails, and the colleague who makes snide remarks in meetings, just low enough to escape comprehension.

If your presence is so superfluous to a meeting that you can play Candy Crush all the way through it, just excuse yourself. If we have to suffer through a boring meeting, then you do too. For those rare occasions when you must take an urgent call or respond to an email, excuse yourself from the table.

Unless you're hoping to be slapped with a restraining order, keep the overly zealous observations to yourself. It's one thing to compliment a colleague's scarf. It's another to notice changes in habit that border on the creepy: "Oh, you're using different sticky notes today," or "You're eating lunch earlier than usual."

And can someone please pass this article to the coworkers who send an email and then walk over to watch you read it -- or call to discuss it before you've had a chance to open it?

Respect shared space

The speakerphone is a wonderful invention that should be limited to just one purpose: allowing a room full of people to hear someone on the telephone. Your colleagues in the office down the hall don't need to hear both sides of your loud conversation with the big shot on the phone with you. This goes double if you're in a cube farm or any other workspace without soundproofing.

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When you pop into someone's office to chat, pay attention to body language that might signal that person is too busy or doesn't want to be interrupted. That includes if she's on the phone, hunched over her laptop, or holding a finger to a lip in the universal sign for "Please be quiet." Bonus points if you can resolve to stop lingering in other people's offices complaining about how swamped you are.

Finally, keep your personal grooming habits and associated noises to the bathroom or in your home. Nobody wants to hear you clip your nails or witness the detritus that lingers after the fact. Loud eaters and incessant pen clickers, we're talking about you too.

Don't pass the buck

If I've sent you a document, it's officially your problem. Most email clients these days have decent search functions, so there's no need for you to call and ask me to send something again. Instead of asking me to remind you two days before something is due, how about putting it on your calendar?

When we've got a crisis or problem in a project, let's focus on solutions. There's no need to explain why you couldn't hold up your end of the work or expound upon how everyone else is to blame. "No excuses" isn't just a fitness slogan.

Talkback: Do you have any resolutions for your coworkers? Share them with us. Leave a comment below. 

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