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Respect in the workplace

Sorry to bang on about manners. It obviously goes without saying that work colleagues should be polite to each other. Less than a decade ago, most work was conducted on a face-to-face basis; in meetings with co-workers or clients, meaning that forging meaningful human relationships was at the core of business and people were forced to be civilised in their dealings.

Today, however, most communication is neither face-to-face nor even real-time. The global nature of business means many people travel extensively and, combined with people increasingly working from home, the office, which used to be busy and sociable, can often resemble a ghost-town, and interpersonal contact with colleagues reduced to the point where social niceties are less likely to be observed.

A recent study, from Michigan University, showed that today’s college students are less empathetic than previous generations, probably because of their increased reliance on electronic communication. Another study found Americans had one third fewer friends or confidants than two decades before, again, because digital communications were replacing personal connections.

Basically, the lack of emphasis on personal connections, means manners are flying out the office windows. Managers fire out ‘urgent’ emails, expecting them to be acted on immediately and customer complaints can be safely ignored or indefinitely postponed.

It is difficult to explain to grown-ups that you require good manners in the workplace, but it is worth drawing up some kind of ‘style guide’ to remind people of the standards of politeness you require towards colleagues and customers. It is worth trying to stamp out bad behaviour, which is mostly not intentional, by highlighting examples of a lack of workplace manners.

We all want to work with pleasant and courteous colleagues, in a polite and friendly atmosphere, but, because of technology, we might have to make extra efforts to curb any bad manner habits that it can encourage.

Barbara Griffin, an organisational psychologist, published a report on a study conducted in Australia and New Zealand, which showed that one in five people surveyed experienced bad manners at work, at least once a month and that rudeness, or undermining other colleagues, impacted negatively on productivity and engagement.

Lisa Quast, in a recent article for Forbes magazine, listed her pet peeves regarding bad manners at work, which (casting a bit of light on the type of people Forbes employs), included:

• People who go to work when they are sick and spread their germs
• People who drown themselves in perfume or aftershave
• Letting a mobile phone ring loudly in the workplace
• People who are always late for meetings and people who run over allotted meeting times, forcing another group to wait in a corridor outside.
• People who eat smelly food in the office
• Women who reveal a lot of cleavage

Quast says that bad behaviour should not be reciprocated and that you should, if possible, meet with someone who has offended you and explain why. This can, obviously be awkward. I once shared an office with a colleague with terrible body odour and we essentially told his manager it was his duty to approach him sensitively about this lack of personal hygiene.

He bottled it and ended up sticking a can of deodorant on his colleague’s desk, which made him paranoid and slightly upset.

Good manners are genuine. David Cameron recently apologised to the families of the victims of Hillsborough (where 96 people died 23 years ago). Although his apology was genuine and heartfelt, politicians are increasingly apologising for things that are not their fault (slavery, thalidomide etc) and never apologising for their genuine mistakes, rarely going further than the weasily; “I am sorry if my actions caused offence”.

Anyway, thank you for reading.

Nigel Phillips

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