When starting a new job it can be a bit tricky to know the official and unofficial hierarchy and when you must follow instructions. When I'm new, I basically do what anyone tells me to do as long as there more senior than me (but not necessarily my direct boss/supervisor/manager). Is this a good approach?

Sometimes at work it is unclear if something is an official policy, or more a personal suggestion made by a colleague. For example with my new job, in the the official offer letter it said "since people in our company may have many different roles, you are free to dress however you like as long as it's respectful" but on the first day of training we were taught not to wear shorts etc. (which is too bad as it gets damn hot). I sometimes see other people wearing shorts, but for all I know they're breaking the rules. I'm using this as a specific example but I'm curious in general to know techniques how to distinguish between advice and policy.

Another example is how we can't be one minute late to work or back from a break, and we actually need to be 15 minutes early to setup our tools so we can start working right on the dot. Lot's of people have verbally told me this, though I would like to see some official documentation. How can I ask for this? In one meeting for new hires we were told we aren't supposed to spend more than 5 minutes a day in the bathroom (the guy who said this isn't my direct boss though he's been with the company for 12 years, so how do I know if I must follow this?).

I ask this question because there's some rules at my job I really don't like and am thinking quitting because of them. I want to make sure I understand them correctly before I do.

  • 2
    Being expected to be 15 minutes early for any reason whatsoever isn't being 15 minutes early, it's essentially extending your work hours and reducing your break by 15 minutes. Limiting bathroom breaks to 5 minutes a day is absolutely ridiculous and unreasonable, and I frankly wouldn't be surprised if it were illegal in some places. Jul 16, 2017 at 8:43
  • From the rules you told us about, it seems to be more of a "Do I want to work in a place where more than 5 minutes in a bathroom is considered bad?" rather than a "Are those rules or advices?" situation
    – sh5164
    Jul 17, 2017 at 14:52

3 Answers 3


It seems to me that the easiest way to distinguish between general advice and official policy would be to ask someone in a position to answer such questions. Perhaps HR, or your supervisor? Especially if you're thinking of quitting over the answer, you should take the time to clarify those points.

Compile a list of the specific points you're uncertain about and then go find someone to ask, in each case, if this is policy or just a suggestion. If ti is policy, you may also want to ask what the penalties are if you fail to adhere. If you don't know who to ask, ask your boss who you should be talking to about the finer details of official company policy, and then go ask them.

Don't tell anyone you're thinking of quitting over these issues. That can only cause you trouble. Ask for the clarification you need without going into what you plan to do if the answer is not what you want it to be. Get the answers, then decide if you really want to quit or not. And then, if you ultimately decide to quit, give your notice and move on.

  • Who told you the rule and how were you told?

    If you were told once (or only by one random employee) verbally, I would consider that rule a whole lot less serious than something that appears in your contract or some other document, that everyone keeps repeating or that you get scolded over by your manager.

  • What's the reasoning behind the rule and what effect does breaking it have?

    I don't mean whether you might get caught and how you might get punished.

    I mean what direct consequence could the act of breaking it have.

    Perhaps your company has contracts with their clients committing to certain work hours and 5-minute response time, then there's some argument behind limiting bathroom time (no, actually that's still ridiculous) and asking you to come in a bit earlier to actually start working at a certain time (but then your "official" work hours should reflect when they want you to come in). In such a case, breaking these rules could destroy the trust of clients and potentially cause contracts to be lost.

    If clients come to the office, especially but not exclusively if you meet with them, dressing unprofessionally can create a negative image of the company and indirectly affect the company's income (dressing "respectfully" is very vague and may or may not include not wearing shorts).

    Some rules may have security implications, like not letting others, even other employees, into the building without having them swipe their card or whatever.

    Many rules might fall under trying to prevent abuse (e.g. limiting bathroom time to avoid employees spending a few hours in "the bathroom") - some of these could be strongly enforced, while others could exist simply as a way to deal with or prevent abuse.

  • Are most other employees following the rule?

    If there are one or two employees breaking the rule, you probably shouldn't put too much weight into that, but if every other employee is doing it, the rule probably isn't much of a rule.

  • How much does following the rule affect you?

    If you are physically unable to follow the rule or it greatly negatively affects your health and/or happiness, that would be a good argument for not following it.

    You could consider talking to your manager or HR if the rule seems serious, but you have a good reason for not following it.

While you should of course not wilfully break any official rules, some "rules" may come from those without the authority to make such rules (an onboarding training instructor is a good example of someone who can convince employees that fake rules exist in order to further their own preferences) and some rules may be closer to legend than an actual rule.


Many rules you just pick up as you go by observation. Everyone has a settling in period, best to just ride through it as quietly as possible.

A lot of workplaces have something like a Workers handbook which outlines responsibilities and rules amongst other things like safety measures etc,. See if something like that is available, if not, just soldier through until you have proven yourself a good employee.

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