Office politics

Don't make a David Brent of yourself. Finbarr Bermingham has some tips from insiders to give you an early heads-up on the City dynamic

Thinking of a career in the City? You would do well to heed the case of Daniel England. A trainee lawyer at Shearman & Sterling, England and three friends (the self-anointed "G4") used their work email to outline the rules of a "lads" rugby trip to Dubai. Promiscuity was encouraged, as was "getting a round in for England", while chanting "about your surrounding environment, being oily and how rich we are" was deemed compulsory. Perhaps inevitably, the "tour rules" email ended up in the wrong hands and went viral, circulating among thousands of employees at firms across the City, before the press, no doubt rubbing their eyes in gleeful disbelief, got their mitts on it. Shearman & Sterling have released a statement saying it has "taken appropriate action", while our source in a City law firm reckons the group's careers are "in tatters".

At university, email accounts are often used as a dumping ground for "banter" and forwards, something that's unacceptable in many workplaces. How you use email is just one of a number of things which you should think about before embarking on a career in the City. While the employees' handbook will give you the official line on just about everything, it's not always going to be enough to guide you through the realities of everyday office life. So we spoke to our anonymous sources at a City bank and law firm and asked them for some "need-to-knows" for new starters.

Email etiquette

Banker: There's a golden rule for emails: never assume they're private. It's far better to assume that anyone in the world can read it - that way you stay out of trouble. When writing an email, never use all capital letters. IT MAKES IT LOOK LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING. See? Which pisses people off. Use exclamation marks sparingly. Again, misuse can make it look like you're a hyperactive liability! Which also pisses people off! Say please when asking for something, and say thank-you early and often. Come on, you learnt this when you were a baby. Please don't forget it just because you're a City hotshot (or think you are).

Lawyer: Never, ever put banter in emails, it'll only come back to haunt you. It's a bit sad that Daniel England couldn't trust his friends to keep his emails confidential, but using his work email was a (public) schoolboy error. The scariest thing is, I'm not at all surprised by the type of chat that was going on. I can think of loads of people who speak of themselves in a similar way.

Social taboos

Banker: This is a tricky one. As a junior, you're expected to weigh in with "banter" (if you appear standoffish, you will be considered a damp squib) but also defer to seniority. Don't overstep the mark. If you're getting slated by your boss, humour them rather than giving them as good as you've got. And the golden rule is: never win. I know someone who tried having some banter with a managing director at a Christmas social, while the latter's wife was present. The chat turned a bit sour, but was never spiteful, yet they were fired in the morning.

Lawyer: Never offer to make tea for clients. I usually say: "Would you like a drink? Help yourselves to tea or coffee," pointing to where it's all set out for them. I never actually do the "milk and sugar?" thing, because I want to make it clear that I'm not there to make the tea. Regarding swearing, I've heard the C-bomb, but would never say it myself. I rarely swear in front of superiors. It's more socially acceptable in private conversations or in the pub, but you need to know your audience. It's always better to err on the side of caution than massively offend someone with your sailor tongue.

Gossiping, brown-nosing and backstabbing

Banker: Everyone gossips, all the time. If you ever catch wind of someone gossiping about you, don't be a hero and confront people about it and don't report it to HR like they tell you to during your training. This isn't school; there are no prizes for telling the teacher. Gossiping, like its close friend bitching, is never personal. It's therapeutic.

As for backstabbing, if you cannot honestly say you would be prepared to do something to advance your career at the expense of a colleague, then you should ask yourself whether the City is for you. You should be prepared to do the following kinds of things: taking credit for someone else's work; blaming someone else for a mistake you made when they weren't there; sticking the knife into a colleague when a senior is being critical about them. These things are the bread and butter of any serious City professional's repertoire. You don't have friends, you have interests. Remember that.

Lawyer: Brown-nosing is everywhere. I don't do it blatantly and think people would lose respect for me if I did. But to a certain extent, you need to let people know you're there and interested. Some gentle brown-nosing here and there is to be encouraged as it helps with team relations. E-brown-nosing is becoming more prevalent, too. Proceed with caution, though, as emails can be forwarded to unintended witnesses to your brown-nosing.

Office fashion

Our sources, one male and one female, on how to dress well

If you're a man, there are certain wardrobe malfunctions that should be avoided at all costs and some rules that should always be adhered to:

  • Never wear a patterned tie on a patterned shirt, one of those blue shirts with a white collar, or one of those shirts with a shirt pocket (unless you're in IT or operations, in which case it's the uniform... have to keep all those pencils somewhere).
  • Never keep your suit jacket on inside the office - it doesn't matter how cold the air conditioning makes it.
  • Buy yourself a decent pair of cufflinks. You're going to earn more money than the average office worker, so you're expected to invest in looking good.
  • Wear black shoes. Brown, blue, green or any other colour under the sun is going to attract funny looks from all over the office.
  • Get rid of all facial hair. You're not in Nathan Barley.

For women, things are probably less simple, but most major faux pas can be avoided with a bit of common sense. Here are some pointers:

  • Never wear open-toed shoes or heels you struggle to walk in. Equally, though, I've also heard some colleagues reprimanded for wearing flat shoes. It's all about balance.
  • Nail varnish should be applied neatly and while I've got away with wearing dark colours, it's best to stick to see-through.
  • Don't buy shirts at a cheap, high street store. It may well be snobbery, but you're expected use your salary wisely. I get my shirts at TM Lewin - they look better and last longer.
  • Makeup should be applied sparingly, as should fake tan. Don't expose too much cleavage and remember, just because your social life revolves around work, you shouldn't confuse the two dress codes.


No one in the City speaks English. They speak City Speak. So if you're finding no one in the office understands a word you're saying, it's probably because you're speaking English or some other real language. To help you avoid this ultimate no-no, here's a quick guide to some key City Speak terms and their closest translations.

"Let's touch base": "Let's talk." Nothing to do with baseball.

"Let's discuss offline": When members of a larger group decide to discuss something in a smaller group. Nothing to do with your internet connection.

"Keep me posted": "Let me know the outcome." Nothing to do with Royal Mail.

"We have low visibility on this": "We have no effing idea how this will turn out." Nothing to do with driving conditions.

"How can we improve the optics on this?": "How can we make this situation appear to be less bad to everyone else." Nothing to do with Specsavers or, sadly, bottles of whiskey.

"The firm": Your employer. Nothing to do with the 1993 Tom Cruise film of the same name, nor the book upon which it was based.

"Let's do a deep dive on this": "Let's assess this proposal/document in great detail." Nothing to do with the Olympics or Tom Daley.

"Let's park that": "Let's revisit the problem in the morning." Nothing to do with three-point turns.