10 Work Lessons You Can Learn from Mad Men

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: December 4, 2013

Lessons to be Learned from Don Draper & Company

The fifth season of Mad Men came to an end on Sunday night, closing for a time everyone's favorite window into the working world of days gone by. While the expectations for workplace behavior have certainly changed since the 1960s, this season of Mad Men still offered up a few useful lessons for today's ambitious professional. 

And thus we present you with the Top 10 Workplace Do's and Don'ts, as gleaned from season five of Mad Men.

1. Don't Make Lewd Comments About Coworkers

In the season premiere, Megan performed a sexy song-and-dance number at a birthday party for new husband Don, garnering some lascivious attention from male coworkers. The next day, at the office, Harry Crane offered a very crude take on Mrs. Draper's appeal to Ken Cosgrove and, unwittingly, Megan herself.

As the kids might say, "awk-ward." And probably not good for one's standing in the office either.

2. Do Make Strategic Use of Flattery

When Michael Ginsberg first showed up for a job interview in episode 3, his chances didn't look good.

He arrived in wrinkled clothes, insulted Peggy, and pulled a crumpled resume from the sleeve of his jacket. But once he got an audience with Don Draper, Ginsberg turned on the charm, praising his would-be boss and anticipating great things for the firm. He started the next day. Which just goes to show that sometimes, flattery will get you everywhere.

3. Don't Start Fist Fights at the Office

Pete impugned Lane's masculinity and competence. Lane called Pete a "grimy little pimp." Fisticuffs ensued, complete with a bunch of executives looking on as if it were a schoolyard brawl. In the end, Lane had a swollen hand, Pete had a bloody nose and a sprained ego, and everyone felt a little foolish.

Seriously boys, at least take it outside the office.

4. Don't Let the Boss Find Out About Side Projects

Congenial accounts man Ken Cosgrove revealed his secret alter ego this season; in his off-hours he was up-and-coming sci-fi author Ben Hargrove. However, when word of these endeavors makes it to Roger Sterling, the boss chastises Ken and threatens to fire him if he doesn't give up his literary ambitions.

Ambition is fine, but letting your second career interfere with your current job can only cause trouble. 

5. Do Think Well on Your Feet

When the Heinz baked beans account was all but lost, Don and Megan turned on the charm and bantered their way through a new pitch, charming the bean executive into changing his mind. And a few episodes later, Peggy pulled a similar trick, improvising a new spin on an old cologne ad to prevent the client from pulling its ads.

In both cases, quick thinking saved an account and won colleagues' respect.  

6. Don't Undermine Your Colleagues

One night, Don happened upon some of Ginsberg's ideas for the Pepsi Sno Ball campaign, and, suddenly feeling competitive, drafted his own rival idea. But on the day of the pitch, he left Ginsberg's work behind in the taxi, presenting only his own ideas to the client. He sold the concept, but earned the scorn of his former disciple and most of the viewing audience.

Uncool, Don. Uncool.  

7. Don't Steal

This one ought to go without saying. There are, after all, laws against such behavior.

But in case we needed reminding that it is never a good idea to embezzle from your employer, Lane's downward spiral during the last half of the season -- culminating in his firing and suicide -- certainly served as a cautionary tale. 

8. Do Take a Mental Health Day

Some days you just can't be at work. And when one of those days hit Joan in episode 10, she and Don left the office behind to spend the afternoon driving around in a borrowed Jaguar, flirting in dark, old-fashioned bars, and indulging a little nostalgia.

You know what they say about all work and no play. 

9. Do Know Your Worth

As Don's protege, Peggy has always been grateful for the opportunities he has given her, but ambitious for more. And after a season of disrespect from her mentor, Peggy finally decided to break free from SCDP, taking a very well-paid job as copy chief at a rival agency.

The moral? When the boss yells at you in front of clients, throws cash in your face, and refuses to put you on any of the good accounts, it might just be time to look for another job. (And since the Internet and Salary.com exist now, check here to see if your salary is sufficient for your job title)

10. Do Accept Inevitable Change

When Peggy told Don she was leaving for another job, he took the news less than graciously. But in the season finale, the two former colleagues bumped into each other at the movies and Don seemed to have come to terms, albeit ruefully, with her departure. Times change and fighting this evolution is more likely to make you irrelevant than victorious. 

So, what abhorrent and admirable workplace behavior did you observe during this season?