Yes, all the technological tools we use in the workplace have made breaches of office etiquette more common. And yes, many of us are moving at a faster pace at work than ever before, and the rules of etiquette may not be so clearly defined these days.
But as accounting and finance managers, you can set good examples for your teams, to minimize bad manners and bloopers, to demonstrate soft skills and work-life balance on the job, and to never forget the basic manners you learned in preschool: Pay attention when someone’s speaking to you, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Follow the Robert Half Newsletter for the latest hiring and compensation trends, and management advice.
Other than that, follow these five tips for office etiquette — and use them to lead your workers and your company to success.
1. Be punctual, and pay attention
Try to arrive a few minutes early to start your workday or join a meeting. Whether you’re leading or attending the meeting, make sure you aren’t distracted by calls, emails, texts or side conversations. Unless you’re making a presentation, don’t monopolize the discussion, and don’t allow anyone else to, either.
2. Discourage gossip and public criticism
Gossip says more about the person sharing it than the person it’s about. So give a clear message to your team that not only won’t you share in gossip — defined as casual or unrestrained reports typically involving personal details that are not confirmed as being true — but you disapprove of it.
As a manager, it’s important to keep any discussion of sensitive issues to one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with employees.
3. Be mindful and courteous
How can you do that? Acknowledge your colleagues when they help you and give them credit when appropriate. Build healthy mentoring relationships, get to know your employees as people, and pay attention to them. (Don't yawn in front of them.)
Also be mindful that scents travel (did you see the cartoon?), so if you’re eating food in the office that has strong odors, you might be making others cringe. If you share a refrigerator, cover your food so it’s airtight and toss out your old food and beverages at the end of each week.
Sounds can be distracting too, whether it’s loud voices, speaker phones or music. And working at a messy desk and cluttered workspace delivers a message to others that they can do the same.
4. Communicate with class
Keep your language clean, no matter how comfortable you are with your team or how casual your office is. Make sure you know how to properly pronounce employee or customer names. Consider your audience when you use humor, sarcasm, irony, puns and wordplay. Set workplace standards for email and phone communication. Encourage two-way communication and listening. Be open to input from your staff; in fact, ask for it. Express gratitude in person when possible.
5. Show respect for down time
Here’s a message for those you supervise: Going to work sick does more harm than good. It will only make you feel worse, your productivity will be lowered, and you could spread your germs to the rest of the office. Use your sick days, and stay home when you’re sick.
You can be a better boss by demonstrating work-life balance. Unless it’s an emergency, avoid late-night phone calls and emails, especially if you expect the recipient to respond after hours. Keep reasonable business hours and expect others to do the same.
How much do manners really matter?
A lot. People may not be as formal at their jobs as they used to be, but they still expect their colleagues to be respectful and courteous. What’s more, good manners project an image of professionalism, strengthening your reputation and improving your chances for career success.
How you handle sensitive workplace situations can make or break your professional image. Whether you work for a major accounting firm or lead a small business, there’s likely some degree of office politics within your company. Most organizations are not immune to political issues, especially small businesses with few employees, where office politics can have a big impact.
Find out How to Navigate Office Politics with this guide you can download now.
What if you make a mistake?
Everyone makes mistakes every now and then, so don’t beat yourself up if you have a minor etiquette slipup at work. Simply acknowledge your faux pas and apologize to anyone you might have offended as quickly as possible. Then, think about what might have led to the mistake: Were you stressed or consumed with handling a problem outside of work? Try to deal with the root of the issue, and consider how you might deal with the situation in the future so that you don’t repeat the slipup.
If you haven’t demonstrated the kind of office etiquette you’d like your employees to emulate, know this: You can recover. The first step is to see your error.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated recently to reflect current information.