Steer well clear of all meetings ...

Guy Browning offers 20 top tips for surviving life in the workplace

1 Never offer to make coffee

In an open plan office there is a ritual where everyone waits hours for the first person to say: "Who wants a coffee?" That person then finds themselves in the kitchen for the rest of the day working as a junior catering manager. Also remember that nobody ever gets to the top of an organisation by drinking stinky teas. No one wants to have a serious meeting in a room that smells of peppermint/rhubarb/aloe vera.

2 Ignore all emails

Working in the post room is not generally a career choice for most people. Yet with the epidemic of email most people spend half their working lives slaving away in their own personal computer post room. Most emails are biodegradable, however. If you let them sink to the bottom of the pile and go unanswered they will eventually become irrelevant. To some people, doing this might seem like just about the most daring and suicidal thing you could possibly do in an office but, if something really matters, the person who sent it will eventually call you to ask you about it.

3 Get yourself noticed

Getting ahead in business means getting noticed, but working hard makes you almost invisible. Therefore it's a lot better to work hard at getting yourself noticed. What senior management likes more than anything else is junior managers who show signs of initiative and volunteer to do things. Most of the reason for this is that the more junior managers volunteer to do, the less senior managers will have to do themselves. Of course, volunteering for things and doing things are two different matters. Once you have got the credit for volunteering for a project, it's best to get as far away as possible from the project before the work kicks in. The best way to do that is to volunteer for another project.

4 Remember that less is more

You would think that lazy people would form an inert mass at the bottom of an organisation. On the contrary they are found at all levels in business, right up to chair person. The reason for this is simple: when something goes wrong in business it's generally because someone somewhere has tried to do something. Obviously, if you don't do anything, you can't be blamed when it goes wrong. People who sit all day like a lemon, busily straightening paperclips, are therefore the only people with a 100% record of success, and with that sort of record, promotion is inevitable.

5 Treat appraisals as auditions for panto

An appraisal is where you have an exchange of opinion with your boss. It's called an exchange of opinion because you go in with your opinion and leave with their opinion. When you have had a bad year, the best approach is a balance between cringeing apology and grovelling sycophancy, something like: "My respect for you is so intense that it sometimes distracted me, thereby causing the continual string of major cock-ups that have been the main feature of my performance this year." Interestingly, giving appraisals is actually as hard as getting them. The secret is to mix criticism with recognition. For example: "You've made a number of mistakes Martin, but we recognise you made them because you are a total idiot."

6 Get up to speed with the jargon

What differentiates a business thought from a normal thought is that business thoughts have a "going forward" at the end of them going forward. It's also vital that you know that for the envelope to be pushed out of the box and through the window of opportunity, customers should first become stakeholders and then delighted beyond their expectations. In order to do this, top executives will go forward the extra mile while wearing the shoes of the customer. And remember, the customer is king (unless she is a woman).

7 Be nice to PAs

If you put all the country's chief executives in one room, all they would produce would be a range of jammy share options for themselves and some meaningless corporate waffle for the City. Give them one good PA and they might get some useful work done. That's why it's very difficult for PAs to become managers. It's not that PAs couldn't do management jobs, it's because management couldn't do management jobs without PAs. Remember that for every senior executive on the golf course, there is a PA running the business back in the office.

8 Try not to upset anyone

Think how easy it is to upset someone at home and then triple it: that is how easy it is to upset someone at work. Upsetting your boss is the easiest thing to do in the office (apart from their job that is). All you have to do is turn up and you've got yourself well and truly in their bad books. Keeping on the right side of them is simply a matter of anticipating their every whim, completing work before they decide it's needed and laughing at their pathetic jokes rather than their pathetic dress sense. People at the bottom of the office pile are equally easy to upset. If your job is to push a button you are not going to take kindly to anyone who tells you where, when and how to push it. Only those people who respect your absolute mastery of button-pushing will be allowed to benefit from a display of the aforesaid mastery.

9 Manage without bosses

The difference between a boss and a high street bank is that a bank sometimes gives you credit for things. Bosses give you things to do and then blame you for doing them. What they never understand is that if they didn't give you things to do in the first place, you wouldn't make so many spectacular foul-ups. Naturally there are good bosses and bad bosses. Some take the trouble to get interested in what you are doing, encourage your personal development and generally provide you with a stimulating and challenging environment in which to work. There are also good bosses who lock themselves in their rooms, have five-hour lunches and leave you completely alone.

10 Steer clear of paper

Steer clear of all paper as the thing it's most likely to have on it is work. There is a saying that a job is not finished until the paperwork is done. It's a saying that is not used much these days because most people's entire job is paperwork. It would be like saying to a shipbuilder: "The job's not over until the ship is built," which is blindingly obvious and might get you a rivet in the forehead. There is, however, a slight difference in that you can launch a ship and it will disappear over the horizon, whereas you can finish your paperwork and it will have multiplied and be back on your desk by the following day.

11 Don't drink under the influence of work

Alcohol and business don't mix, which is why you really shouldn't bother with work if you like a drink. Excessive drinking at work makes you feel sociable, light-headed and confident. In other words, it makes you feel like you work in sales. The day after, when you feel like the whole world is a grim, head-crushing torture chamber, it makes you feel like you work in IT. It's an absolute rule that the person who earns least in the office will be the first person to buy a round after work. He is also the first to get absolutely hammered and say something so offensive that he gets passed over for a raise for the seventh year running.

12 Dress up not down

Since the collapse of communism, dress-down Fridays have done more than anything else to impair the smooth running of capitalism. Business suits are for doing business in. If you are wearing a welder's helmet people expect rivets, if you are wearing a suit people expect business. But if you are wearing shorts and sandals, people expect you to be on your way to San Francisco with flowers in your hair. On the other hand, never look too businesslike. This marks you out as someone who works in organised crime or as an undertaker, if not both.

13 Never answer a phone

Answering a phone in an office generally means speaking to a customer or your boss. As neither will call unless they want something, answering the phone will probably mean doing work. Don't pick up a phone unless you know it's a social call. As you will never know whether an incoming call is social or not, it's best to make a lot of pre-emptive outgoing social calls. Managers always get terribly upset about unanswered calls and pretend it could have been someone offering millions of pounds of new business. You know that is very unlikely because you have just had someone on the phone offering millions of pounds of new business and been so rude to him that he rang off.

14 Cycle to work

Office car parks are all built to a rigid standard which requires that they have 30% fewer spaces than cars. The reason why bosses get to work first is because they have such huge cars that they can only park them if they arrive first and can drive straight in without any reversing and manoeuvring. It's left to the Micra-driving minions to squeeze into the tiny little gaps senior management leaves behind. If you use reverse gear more than 18 times to get into a space, you probably shouldn't be parking there. Remember, it's no good sitting there in the world's smallest gap feeling all pleased with yourself if you can't open the door.

15 Refuse to go to conferences

Conferences are the business equivalent of going for a curry, in that everyone thinks having one is a fantastic idea, but you always end up drinking too much, talking rubbish and feeling sick for days afterwards. The biggest fear in the business world is having to make a speech at a conference. This is because you generally have nothing of interest to say and no one in the audience has the slightest interest in anything you have to say anyway. For example, when you are the IT director, it's your job to make sure the IT works. If it does work they know already and if it doesn't, they don't want to hear your pathetic excuses.

16 Ignore consultants

A consultant is someone in business with an ego so large it takes more than one company to support it. At a personal level, consultants work either by trying to inspire fear or trying to be friends. It's in trying to be friends with you that they inspire the most fear. The acid test of a consultant is whether they can say, "Everything's fine, we'll be off then." No real consultant can. Instead they will sell you a project that costs just enough to keep your profits suppressed to a level that requires further remedial consultancy.

17 Find the right person

Everyone in the office is the right person for something. They have the experience, the programme, the form, the docket, the knowledge or the key to make something happen in the easiest manner possible. But when somebody else wants to do this particular thing the last person in the universe they will ask is the right person. Instead they reinvent the wheel, take their driving test and do a couple of horrific crash tests. In this way everyone has to learn to do everything from scratch. That is what they mean when they talk about a learning organisation.

18 Leave networking to trawlermen

The old school tie used to be the fan belt of British manufacturing industry, which explains why we no longer have one. However, in business they still say it's not what you know, it's who you know, which is a bit depressing when you have just completed 15 years of formal education. Networkers give you their card within the first 30 seconds of conversation. After about 20 minutes telling you how brilliant they are, ask whether they would like your card. Then return their own to them and watch them slip it straight back into their pocket.

19 Learn to recycle reports

Reports are the office equivalent of cones in the road. They are not actually work themselves but they are a big, clear sign that real work might be done at some stage. In the meantime, they slow everything down and cause anger and annoyance all round. The quickest and easiest way to write a report is to change the names in the last report. When you do this, be aware that there will always be one name that escapes your changes and that will be in the sentence, "We are committed to personal service to ..." The other thing people always forget to change in reports are the headers and footers which you only notice are completely wrong in the lift on the way to your presentation.

20 Steer well clear of all meetings

Half of every working day is spent in meetings, half of which are not worth having, and of those that are, half the time is wasted. Which means that nearly one third of office life is spent in small rooms with people you don't like, doing things that don't matter. The only reason people have so many meetings is that they are the one time you can get away from your work, your phone and your customers. People say that the secret of a good meeting is preparation. But if people really prepared for meetings, the first thing they would realise is that most are unnecessary. In fact, a tightly run meeting is one of the most frightening things in office life. These are meetings for which you have to prepare, in which you have to work and after which you have to take action. Fortunately, these meetings are as rare as a sense of gay abandon in the finance department.

· Office Politics: How Work Really Works by Guy Browning is published by Ebury Press. To order a copy for £9.99 with free UK p&p go to or call 0870 836 0875.

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