Workplace Taboos That No Longer Apply

Whether or not you attribute recent cultural changes in the workplace to the rise of the Millennial generation, there’s no doubt that employers have become more accepting of many behaviors that were once considered career blunders.

According to research from Gallup, workplace change is coming at a “dizzying pace,” forcing employers to rethink how they manage people.

Before you rush out and get a Mohawk, or demand to set your own work schedule, it’s important to note that management practices and cultures vary across companies and industries. Consider your specific situation before taking action. But with that in mind, here are some workplace “taboos” that seem to be on the way out:


It has become completely acceptable to think of yourself as a business, not an anonymous cog in the corporate machine. Even if they have full-time jobs, entrepreneurial-minded pros are still promoting their personal brands by posting instructional videos online, having a personal website, speaking at conferences, giving code reviews, and so forth.

How do employers feel about such activities? Many companies welcome it; an employee who becomes a “thought leader” in a particular sub-industry or skill reflects well on the overall brand.

Pursuing Other Career Opportunities

Many employers have come around to the fact that their workers are always looking for their next job opportunity. While conversing with a recruiter within earshot of your boss still isn’t a good idea, it’s unlikely that you’ll be fired for appearing to be in demand.

“Dressing up for work and then disappearing for a few hours could send the subtle message that you’re looking,” explained Rick Brenner, a former software engineer and principal consultant with Chaco Canyon Consulting. “And that could give you an edge during salary reviews, especially if you’re a top performer.”

Job Hopping

Job-hopping used to be considered career suicide, but with 42 percent of Millennials changing jobs every one to three years, employers simply can’t afford to ignore an entire generation of qualified, migratory workers. As younger tech pros are promoted into leadership roles, they’re bringing their job-hopping habits with them.


The days of being labeled a traitor or persona non grata for accepting a better offer are over. In fact, employers are encouraging workers to take charge of their own self-development and careers, and they understand that such growth sometimes leads those employees right out the company’s front door.

Depending on circumstances, though, the employee who leaves could very well come back, loaded up with new skills and experience that makes them more valuable. Firms recognize that fact, which is why the stigma of rehiring former employees is on the wane in many offices.

Having an Office Romance

Although employers don’t really like it, they’ve had to accept the fact that employees are going to socialize outside of the office… and perhaps even date their co-workers, said Joe O’Grady, professor of business and management for the Robert P. Stiller School of Business at Champlain College.

“Frankly, they don’t really have a choice when people work 50 or more hours a week,” he noted.

“Some companies may ask you to sign a ‘love contract’ and keep in mind that dating a subordinate is never a good idea.”

Talking Politics

Given the impact of the political environment on everything from hiring practices and data privacy to the availability of grants, sometimes you can’t really avoid talking about politics when you work in tech. While navigating the topics can be tricky, sharing opinions or having work-related political discussions are no longer off-limits in many organizations.

Tattoos, Piercings and Far-Out Hairstyles

An employer can’t really hang onto a 1960s dress code without making employees feel oppressed or violating the law in some cases, O’Grady noted. That means the door is open to body art and more colorful styles—within reason. (Getting your whole face tattooed probably isn’t a good idea, still.)

Second Jobs

It used to be that working a side job was frowned upon or even forbidden. But these days, employers actually encourage tech pros to build mobile apps or consult in their spare time. Such activities help build the tech pro’s reputation and skills, which can ultimately benefit their work at the company.

Setting Your Own Schedule

The idea of imposing set hours on knowledge workers is passé, Brenner said. “People want to work whenever and wherever they want… While some managers have trouble dealing with it, there’s not a lot of inflexible organizations left.” The ability to set more flexible hours is a standard perk at organizations that want their employees’ work habits optimized.

11 Responses to “Workplace Taboos That No Longer Apply”

  1. Visible tats, purple hair, and body piercings are still a no-no, especially if your job requires customer contact. Exceptions to this rule are job-specific (for instance, purple hair may be OK for a job in the Ravens front office).

  2. Nichole

    I’ve been working for many years now and have not had an issue getting a job despite the fact that I have a tongue ring, I’ve gone on interviews with blue hair, and I haven’t had a job for more than four years. My mom who does HR for a living hates my appearance, but I make sure to dress appropriately (I would never wear jeans to an interview, unless I was interviewing at Google) The fact is, the rules are changing. Even though not all employers would be accepting of a person walking into an interview with blue hair, there are many that are (at least in NYC).

  3. Jadagio77

    Actually, Leo and Frank….purple hair is acceptable in a wide range of businesses. I have had pink, blue, and purple hair off and on in the last six years and am in a leadership position in a Fortune 100 software company. My VP has full-sleeve tattoos and I interface with clients from all over the world with my nose ring intact and have amazing relationships with them. If you work in a progressive industry and/or in a metro area, no one with any sense cares what color someone’s hair is, what body jewelry they have, or how many tattoos. If someone is unkempt, that’s another story, but it’s not 1960 anymore. The newer generations care about what’s important – what we bring to the table and not what we look like when we bring it. To be clear – I’m not a millennial. I’m 40 years old with an MBA and a helluva career going for me….pink hair and all.

  4. There is a stigma against dyed hair and tattoos that’s is held by the previous two generations before millennials. They view body art and fashion differently than we do. It’s so common now that larger companies may have to fear not being able to fill positions with knowledgeable, young, ambitious people because part of their tattoo might be partially showing from underneath the sleeve of a dress shirt. Being a working professional should come from your demeanor and client interaction+success.

  5. office romances are a bad idea, particularly if it’s subordinate boss relationship. it can open a company up to lawsuits and not just from the subordinate. whoever wrote the article didn’t do their homework.

  6. The individual who wrote this article is way ahead in understanding the future of cultural change and diversity in the workforce. Some comments as written should first consider doing research on the different generations and how the workforce culture has changed from generation to generation. There are work-habit differences between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y(millennials). Being a Generation X’er. I have noticed how fast the workforce culture is changing around me daily. I have seen it all in the professional workplace cultures to include pink, purple, and blue hair and it is acceptable. The other day I saw a news correspondent with blue hair which I thought looked very classy. The culture is changing into a more diverse workforce; individuals with body piercings, colored hair, or visible tattoos are acceptable, especially if the individual has strong work experience in the field in which they currently work and/or they are applying for, and will certainly be a great contributor to that company. If this culture of workers are not embraced fairly then what’s the point of having a diversity committee in each company.

  7. Ubiquitous Professional

    The need to publish these “trends” which are receiving less bias than they were in the 60’s and late 20th century speaks to the hidden bias many employees and employers still have about these body trends and behavior trends than the cheerful “it’s OK now” message the author was attempting to convey.

    The one item I would like to discuss is the self-promotion. Today heavy self-promotion is a tool and a process many employees successfully deploy to get ahead. The tools available to preprocess and reprocess an image or an article or a video exist.

    Reposting and upping the hit rate of a particular piece yields a temporary boost in ‘what I refer to here as upvotes’. Do upvotes represent increased VALUE or WISDOM? Without Value and Wisdom, these upvoted and viral articles an self-promotion become that TV commercial that someone paid too much money for and we’ve all seen 1000 times and can’t stand, or the commercial we can repeat without being able to remember what product is being advertised.

    A more long lasting and valuable system, when developed, will render a “value score” to articles and images. This score will in the long run be more valuable than the flash in the pan media sensation “viral” presence someone has. In the long run, employers will hire fewer of the “viral content” producers and hire more of the high scorers on the Wisdom and Value system. Predicting an Exception — entertainment industry, artists

    To Josef’s comment — we don’t need to BE or DO those things. What the article was attempting to say is–to fit into today’s workplace one needs to refrain from judging those who DO have tats, purple hair and other physical alterations–we need to leave any bias we might have about those trends at home and not bring bias about those things to work. The opposite bias also stands. I’ve met plenty of abysmally clueless gifs wearing a sharp haircut and $1000 suit. Plenty of bias gives THOSE gits credence they don’t deserve. Let’s work on leaving THAT bias at home too, please.

  8. Joe Biggs

    Political discussions in the workplace are always fine as long as your a leftist. But, if you are a conservative and try to discuss your views at a tech company, you better have a fallback plan.

  9. Office romances are probably more frowned upon now more than ever before. And for good reason; it’s not so much the romances themselves that are terrible, it’s the courtship attempts.

    People shouldn’t have to spend part of their workday fending off advances from their peers or, worse, managers.