Yes, we're all moving at a faster pace than ever before, and the rules of office etiquette may not be so clearly defined as they use to be. And yes, all the technological tools we use in the workplace have made breaches of polite behavior more common.
As a manager, you can set good examples of office etiquette for your team by remembering 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.
If your staff isn't following your lead, you're not alone. Senior managers in a new Accountemps survey said they notice a lack of common courtesy when workers run late or miss meetings (34 percent), don't respond to calls or emails in a timely manner (26 percent) and gossip about others (23 percent).
See a slideshow with more survey details, below.
Here are five tips you can follow to improve office etiquette — and lead your staff 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 business 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
As that cartoon above implies, you should be mindful that scents travel. If you share a refrigerator, cover your food to make it airtight, and toss out your old food and beverages at the end of each week.
Other potential distractions? Speakerphones, loud voices, ringing phones that aren't picked up, conversations or loitering next to desks, messy desks and cluttered workspaces.
You can also be courteous by acknowledging your colleagues when they help you and give them credit when appropriate. Build healthy mentoring relationships, get to know your employees and pay attention to them.
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.
Read about how workplace communication has changed through the generations.
And yawning while someone is talking to you? Well, sometimes that can't be helped, but you can see how it looks.
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 does office etiquette 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 slip-up 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 feeling 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 it.
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.
For more on Business Etiquette 101, take a look at the slideshow.