Cursed at lately? Talked over frequently? Ignored often? You aren’t imagining it.
People have forgotten their workplace manners, making many managers wonder, “Can we bring back office etiquette?”
People certainly let down their guard while working remotely the last few years. And many might have forgotten it when they stepped back in the office.
What’s gone awry:
- Language: Sentieo researchers recently analyzed conference call transcripts and found the number of expletives in conversations was at a five-year high. Yep, the F-bombs are dropping and the $#!+ is rising in most workplaces.
- Courtesy: Some employees weren’t using “please” and “thank you” with housemates – and they aren’t using those niceties in the office.
- Kindness: Others who were isolated throughout the pandemic forgot how to be kind citizens. Now they interrupt in meetings, ignore colleagues, belittle co-workers or just Quietly Quit.
- Attire: You might know a person or two who doesn’t realize sweatpants and t-shirts are OK at home, but not in the office.
- Communication: Now, more than ever, it’s riddled with grammar and spelling errors and peppered with emojis.
Is this really how we’re supposed to work now?
“You’re probably not picking up on ‘forgetting their manners’ … but that the scope of what’s considered acceptable at work has changed,” says Tessa West, author of Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them. “The main challenge is to make sure norms are super explicit to begin with–to not assume that people know what manners and etiquette are here. And those things are surprisingly variable from workplace to workplace.”
So how can resourceful managers restore workplace manners? Here are the five biggest issues and strategies to address them:
Cursing at work is nothing new and it’s not exactly terrible.
“Beliefs around who swears and when it’s acceptable to swear are changing. In fact, there’s some new scientific research indicating that people who swear have good ‘verbal fluency’ overall – they aren’t swearing out of a lack of manners or because they can’t find other, more appropriate words to use. They’re actually pretty smart!” says West.
Of course, there are still caveats: Not all curse words are created equal. And not all employees feel the same about profanity. If you must, draw the line in the sand. Prohibit profanity completely. Otherwise, remind employees that everyone is expected to speak with respect for each other and the workplace.
“This is very culturally determined. I consult for a UK based company, and if I said “crap” in a meeting that would be considered very inappropriate. So if you’re going to drop some F bombs at work, make sure everyone is on board before you do. This isn’t a norm you want to violate first and then change your behavior later,” says West.
Also, note that business coaches and career experts agree that everyone needs to avoid using curse words in email, text and chat, and when you’re talking to a large audience. Those are the times when an errant $#!% can spread quickly and out of context.
The biggest problem with communication etiquette lies in expectations. One manager expects a Slack response immediately. An employee prefers to respond to messages at just three points throughout the day. A hiring manager wants to hear back from candidates in a day. Candidates think anything under a week makes them look eager. Some people love emojis. Others despise them.
Yet, communicating well is still a matter of manners. It’s about treating people the way they want to be treated.
Best bet: Set a baseline of communication expectations on your team. For instance, Slack messages answered within an hour. Email within a day. Phone calls immediately.
From there, encourage employees and colleagues to get more specific about their personal communication expectations.
We won’t likely ever go back to the days when the ubiquitous IBM uniform – pin-striped suits, white button-down shirts, red ties and wing-tipped shoes – ruled the workplace. Tellingly, necktie sales are just a fraction of what they used to be. And the share of dress wear sold in the U.S. dropped almost 25% last year, according to an analysis by Coresight Research and Euromonitor.
So what’s OK in the office? One of the best – and most basic analysis – we saw on is this: If you’d wear it to a gym or to participate in a sport, it’s not OK for work.
How we do business has changed, and wardrobes can reflect that. The best bet is to work with HR to establish the new guide for workplace attire.
You might hear employees or colleagues say, “He’s so annoying!” or “I can’t stand it when she …” And it almost always has to do with workplace manners involving space.
Today, more than before COVID-19, people have different standards for proximity to others. For instance, handshakes used to be expected. Now they might be taboo. And while “working together” meant at a table in a conference room was the standard then, video screens are a norm now.
So when one person moves inside another’s personal space, it might feel like an etiquette violation.
What can people do now?
“Do not take the lead. You’d rather take the cue,” says Thomas Farley, an etiquette expert and author of “Ask Mister Manners” when he talked to National Public Radio.
For instance, shake hands when one is extended to you. Stand back when it’s not.
But note: This doesn’t give anyone the right to be rude or avoid interaction when business calls for it. Remind employees of your professional and collegiality expectations.
Courtesy and kindness
As is often said, people follow their leaders. Courtesy – using the “please,” “thank you,” “pardon me” – comes natural to others when they’re treated with it.
Kindness, too. The best way to increase it in the workplace is to reward it. Encourage employees to give shout-outs to colleagues who go out of their way to help and be kind. Celebrate those acts and give rewards – gift cards to local businesses, time off, public recognition, etc.