Buying into business etiquette

Bad business etiquette can significantly impact your career. Follow these tips and advice to avoid future workplace faux pas.

We’ve all had one of those “Oh, $&!#” moments when you’ve realized just a moment too late that you’ve breached some basic business etiquette rule. Or perhaps you’ve never had one of those moments, which is probably worse because you’ve likely been a bad business etiquette culprit and you never even knew it.

Professionals may be moving at a faster pace at work than ever before, but that doesn’t mean common courtesy should fall to the wayside. Of course, pinning down the most common workplace etiquette breaches largely depends on whom you ask.

For 34% of senior managers, running late to meetings or missing them entirely is the most common breach of workplace etiquette committed by workers, according to a recent survey by Accountemps. That offense is followed by:

  • Not responding to calls or emails in a timely way (26%)
  • Gossiping about others in the office (23%)
  • Being distracted during meetings such as checking a smartphone or writing emails (7%)
  • Not crediting others when appropriate (6%)
  • Criticizing others publicly (2%)

Only 2% of senior managers said staff and coworkers do not commit etiquette breaches.

Workers surveyed paint a slightly different picture. For 24% of workers, gossiping about others in the office topped the charts as the most egregious etiquette offense, followed by:

  • Being distracted during meetings such as checking a smartphone or writing emails (18%)
  • Not responding to calls or emails in a timely way (17%)
  • Running late to or missing meetings (12%)
  • Criticizing others publicly (7%)
  • Not crediting others when appropriate (5%)
  • Other (3%)

Surprisingly, 14% of workers said coworkers do not commit etiquette breaches.

It’s important for all professionals to remember that how you interact with others in the workplace — in both big and small ways — can have far-reaching consequences.

“Courtesy impacts your career significantly,” notes Jim Jeffers, metro market manager for staffing firm Robert Half and Accountemps in Madison. “No one wants to work with someone who is rude, disrespectful, or unapproachable. The findings from our research support that — 65% of managers and 46% of workers say that being courteous can accelerate advancement.”

However, managers and workers did not see eye to eye when it comes to courtesy and moving up the corporate ladder, according to Jeffers. Among business leaders, 61% said professionals become more courteous as they advance, but nearly half of employees (48%) disagreed and said politeness declines as an individual progresses in his/her career.

So, what might explain some of the differences in the way managers and workers view etiquette offenses?

According to the survey results, punctuality is very important to managers — bosses said that being late to meetings was the biggest etiquette breach. “On the other hand,” says Jeffers, “workers said office gossip was the worst poor etiquette offense. Bosses might not witness their staff gossiping, since their behavior isn’t typically done when executives are within earshot. They are, however, typically present for many meetings and can tell when employees show up late for them.

“Workers also believe that courtesy declines for those climbing the company ladder,” continues Jeffers. “Professionals just starting out might be more courteous because they’re trying to advance their careers. They might not worry as much about their professional image once they grow into more senior roles.”



Be that as it may, common courtesy shouldn’t be thrown out the window.

Some of the benefits of proper workplace etiquette include:

  • Respect. Having common courtesy shows you have respect for your colleagues and business contacts. They are more likely to return the favor.
  • Professional reputation. When using proper etiquette, you strengthen your reputation as someone who is professional and courteous. People want to work with others when they are treated with respect.
  • Career growth. While skills play an important role, being professional and courteous can help people advance in their careers.

“While there are varying levels of etiquette offenses and tolerance by companies, repeated etiquette breaches show a lack of attention to detail or common courtesy,” says Jeffers. “This can cause others to perceive you as unprofessional and potentially affect your prospects for career advancement. Managers might perceive your poor etiquette as a sign that you don’t care for your job or are ‘checked out.’ This could hinder your changes of advancement with the company.”

Not to mention the poor reputation you develop as a discourteous worker or manager can follow you to future positions.

The best way to avoid these breaches and display proper etiquette is by following a few simple tips:

  • Be present. No matter how many deadlines you may be facing, give your full attention during group discussions. You’ll be surprised how much more effective you are in meetings and conversations when focusing only on the topic at hand.
  • Avoid the rumor mill. Don’t participate in office gossip; it’s just another distraction that can reflect badly on your character and damage others’ careers.
  • Be responsive. Don’t let your inbox fill up with emails or voicemails. Set aside dedicated time each day to respond to messages so you can stay on top of things while still having uninterrupted time to work.
  • Give credit where credit is due. No one likes a credit thief or glory hog. Acknowledge those who help you along the way, and they’ll likely do the same for you.  

Want more etiquette ideas? Try following these 17 business-specific etiquette rules from The Essentials Of Business Etiquette by Barbara Pachter:

  • Always stand when you’re being introduced to someone.
  • Always say your full name.
  • Always initiate the handshake if you’re the higher-ranking person or host.
  • Dress appropriately for the venue and occasion.
  • Only say “thank you” once or twice during a conversation.
  • Send separate thank-you notes to everyone involved.
  • Never pull out someone’s chair for him or her.
  • Don’t cross your legs.
  • Keep your fingers together when you point.
  • Always break bread with your hands.
  • Don’t order anything too expensive.
  • Do not push away or stack your dishes.
  • Keep the food options balanced with your guest.
  • Never ask for a to-go box.
  • Know where to properly place plates and silverware.
  • The host should always pay.
  • Prepare a polite exit.

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