Office etiquette

When things get hectic and deadlines loom, it’s often easy to brush colleagues off or to be short in communications—not because we’re trying to be rude, but because we’re short on time. Trying or not, though, it still may appear to others as rude behaviour and even the littlest things can affect office relationships and productivity.In fact, some research suggests that 96 percent of 900 Americans and Canadians surveyed report experiencing rudeness at work. What’s more, 48 percent of these employees admit to then having intentionally decreased their productivity after such a experience. The end result of this, says Christine Pearson, coauthor of The Cost of Bad Behavior, and her colleagues, is that workplace rudeness costs employers an average of US$50,000 per worker, per year.

“Those are very high costs associated for seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and actions,” notes Pearson.

The definition of “rude” is a broad one that is open to interpretation that differs from person to person. However, there are some basic rules of office etiquette that we can all remind ourselves of in order to be proactive in putting our best foot forward with colleagues:

  • Make an effort
    Positive attitudes and good manners in the workplace can be quite contagious. Think: Pay it forward. Make a comitment to yourself to be more mindful of how you treat your co-workers and see others begin to do the same. All relationships take work, even the professional ones.
  • Establish an open door policy
    Notes on the refrigerator in the break room, e-mail chains and interoffice memos make it all too easy to be passive aggressive when things are bothering us. Far less time and energy is taken from a work day when problems are approached head on, in an honest way. Encourage your team to let one another know in a respectful way when something is bothering them and give them the tools to solve the problem on their own.
  • Be on time and be timely
    Time is a valuable commodity for us all, which is why it should be respected. Being late to a meeting, even an internal one or one that was organized by you to begin with, can send the message that you think your time is more valuable than others’. Be on time or let others know that you will arrive late, whenever possible. Alternately, when responding to phone calls, voice mail messages and e-mails, do so in a timely manner as another means of respecting the time of others. Hint at timeliness as a priority in your office by distributing handy desktop clocks to keep everyone on the same timeline, or stock all meeting rooms with a timer to keep meetings short and respectful of everyone’s time.
  • Avoid the urge to be “helpful” in other peoples’ conversations
    In most workplaces—especially in the land of cubicles—privacy is hard to come by. If you overhear a private conversation, try to practice selective hearing. Try your best not to interject yourself into others’ conversations uninvited. Not only can this be misconstrued as nosiness, it can also disturb others around you who would rather conversations take place elsewhere altogether.
  • Be adaptable
    As you get to know your colleagues, you’ll learn how they prefer to communicate as well as a few of their idiosyncrasies and their level of sensitivity to certain work topics. Adapt to these personality traits when working with individuals as a means of preventing conflict and building a strong team relationship based on understanding and trust.

  • Encourage respect and show appreciation
    Just like you’ve made a personal commitment to be more mindful of your manners in the office, encourage others to do the same. Ask everyone to take a pledge of respect and outline office etiquette expectations. Hand out magnets or desk clips for everyone to post this pledge or outline prominently. Or, develop a workplace manners challenge to spur office-wide participation in conscientiously respecting one another on a daily basis. Distribute a few fun prizes or tokens, like an Inkbend Star Pen or Star Note Clips, to various members of the office for them to distribute to their peers when they spot a office etiquette “stars.”

Refresh your office etiquette skills today and improve your working environment, the relationships with colleagues and your overall approach to customer service internally and externally tomorrow.

Immen, Wallace. “Don’t you people have any work to do?” The Globe and Mail , 5 Feb. 2010. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

Eckel, Sara. “Office Etiquette Essentials.” Forbes.com. Forbes Magazine, 10 Jan. 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2010.

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