Business Insight: Etiquette still plays a role in advancement
Published: August 24, 2012 06:22PM
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:33PM
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Rick Westbrook. Courtesy image

Rick Westbrook, Salt Lake City branch manager for the staffing and consulting firm Robert Half International, advises that economic pressures make office manners increasingly more important.

Why is etiquette important in today’s workplaces?

It’s not uncommon for employees to spend more time in the office than they do at home. That being the case, it’s become increasingly important for employees to respect communal spaces. Many professionals may think workplace etiquette is dead given today’s more casual work environments, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Business etiquette is a primary force in workplace and professional development, and sets the tone for your working relationships, how well you interact and how you are perceived by your peers.

How has etiquette changed?

During the recession, many office environments became increasingly conservative, with workers often confined to tighter work spaces because of budget limitations. This challenge has led to an increase in etiquette breaches and instances of incivility, leading people to offend their coworkers without even realizing it. To help counter this trend, a growing number of employers are relying on business etiquette training to reinforce the importance of office decorum.

What are common etiquette mistakes?

Gossip • This is a common faux pas that exists in every office, and can be devastating to organizations, as well as your career. To avoid engaging, steer clear of places where gossip abounds or people who are likely to partake in it. If others start gossiping, you can immediately change the subject or let them know you’re not comfortable engaging in that type of conversation.

Noise • This is a common culprit. Ringing cellphones, excessive use of speakerphones and chatter outside the cubicle can prove to be distracting to those individuals trying to concentrate on the task at hand. When engaging in conversation, whether in person or on the phone, it’s important that you be aware of the workers around you and monitor your noise level accordingly.

Pungent food • As a result of the recession, a growing number of workers are bringing their lunches to the office. According to a survey by CareerBuilder, 47 percent have been packing a lunch more often. The lunchroom is a high-traffic area. Although you may love the smell of your mom’s “seafood surprise,” your neighbor may not share your enthusiasm. It’s best to avoid bringing food that can offend your coworker’s olfactory senses.

Messy workspace • With more workers spending an increasing amount of time at the office, it’s easy for workspaces to get out of hand. Whether you have your own cubicle or office, it’s important to be mindful of the appearance of your desk. According to a survey conducted by OfficeTeam, 83 percent of HR managers said the appearance of an employee’s workspace can affect their perception of that person’s professionalism.

Technology • Technology has helped simplify communication for most organizations, but it’s not without its limitations. The increased use of video conferencing and conference calls has created a new set of etiquette rules. Few things are more disruptive to the flow of business than answering a call or responding to an email in the middle of a conversation. Unless you need to be reached urgently, turn off your mobile device, or set it on silent mode before every meeting.

Other tips?

Lay down some ground rules. Establish guidelines and protocols for appropriate and inappropriate office behavior by involving employees in the creation and development of these rules. Define the guidelines based on the feedback and needs of the team. Communication is key. Your coworkers are not mind readers. Developing strong and consistent communication with them will help you avoid conflict and awkward run-ins. Also, encourage camaraderie among staff. Employees who like each other and work in a positive corporate culture are less likely to cross swords, so activities such as company picnics or offsite outings are helpful in ensuring courtesy in the office.

Dawn House

Rick Westbrook, executive