You have seen them in your onboarding training and on the company website—the written rules of your company. For instance, on a corporate level:

· We are a company that values diversity

· We are a company where our employees come first

· We support work-life balance

Or on a departmental level:

· We have a policy against dating co-workers

· Our hours are 8:30 to 5:30 with an hour for lunch

· We have zero tolerance for bullying behavior

Your company also has unwritten rules. These rules are observed in the behaviors of your co-workers. They reflect reality.

· We are a company that has no minorities on the board

· We are a company where our employees are expected to work around the clock

· We support work-life balance unless you try to alter your schedule in any way

Or on a departmental level:

· We have a policy against dating co-workers but actually, it’s okay

· Our hours are 8:30 to 5:30 with an hour for lunch unless you are the boss who disappears for two hours a day

· We have zero tolerance for bullying behavior but witness it daily

You, as a minion, are NOT going to change the rules. Period. These are the rules of the game.

Are they fair? No. Can they be unethical? Yes.

There are unwritten rules at every company

Can you quit and go somewhere else? Of course, but there will be other unwritten rules at your next company. Different unwritten rules. But there will always be unwritten rules observed in behaviors. You just need to know that every place has unwritten rules and that these rules are fixed.

If you take these issues to HR, or leadership, your expectation is that they will do something about it.

But they won’t.

It is the unwritten rule of “don’t rock the boat” or “that’s just the way it is around here”.

For those who try to change the unwritten rules, the efforts backfire.

People that don’t follow the unwritten rules, or challenge them, get “managed out” of the company. A precise term used by HR professionals. After all, cronyism is the norm and HR is part of the game.

The unwritten rules, are the rules

Think of the unwritten rules as the instructions to a board game.

For instance, in Monopoly, “ Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.” There is no ambiguity. There is a knowledge that you are going to go to jail and there are no workarounds.

That is what the unwritten rules represent at your company.

But knowing the rules, gives you a leg up on the corporate conformists at your company. You can take stock of what the rules are, so you don’t step on any landmines that can risk the progress of your work, and your career path.

What are the unwritten rules in your company?

Stop and think about the unwritten rules at your company. Start with lunch. Do people go to lunch together? Do they bring in lunch and eat at their desks? Do people have working lunches? What are the observed behaviors?

Now, extend that way of thinking to other observed behaviors. Who whispers in the hall. Who are in the closed door meetings? Which people are friends? Which colleagues are enemies?

If you notice an admin always talking with your boss, and one of your peers, you can rest assured that anything said about you will cycle through their conversations.

Offense or defense?

This can be used as a defensive tactic, for instance, don’t say anything that you don’t want them talking about. Or, if you are trying to influence a decision, seed a well thought out headline, and give it to one of them. They will socialize your idea for you, giving it legs.

Write down all of the observed unwritten rules you find at your company. It is the situations in this list, that you must avoid, or navigate intelligently to advance your ideas.

To get tangled up in them in anything but a strategic way, is to invite time and wasted energy that you will need to spend in other ways to be successful.

Once you have your list of unwritten rules, you have the rules of the game. Your work results and career path move faster if you use the unwritten rules to your advantage.