Top 6 Workplace Etiquette Blunders

Last Updated Jun 13, 2011 8:35 PM EDT

Business still requires etiquette
Q: Could you please tell people that they need to shore up on their work manners? I recently walked into an office where the receptionist -- in ripped jeans no less -- called me "dude" and told me to "hang tight, man" while I waited for my appointment. This sort of thing seems epidemic.
Bill
A: Boy, if there is one complaint that I hear from business people more than almost any other, it is that there is a definite and unwelcome lack of manners in the workplace these days. But reinforcing etiquette at your office or store is not just about doing the right thing, it is smart business.

Bad manners can cost you business.

If it is true that business etiquette is simply the use of commonly accepted social norms, then by not using them you are sending a signal that casualness is a main priority in your business, and that is probably not the message you want to be sending, especially in this economic environment. You have no shortage of competition, as you well know, and your customers can very easily go to a business where they are appreciated and thanked, instead of one where they have to say the thank yous.

The most common, and easily correctable, etiquette mistakes that I see out there are these:

Too casual dress: Look, no one misses their tie less than me, but the fine line between "business casual" and "too casual" (or worse, "sloppy") seems to be disappearing. Work is still work, and to paraphrase an old commercial, people will judge you by the clothes you wear.

The smart business will set some parameters about what is and is not acceptable. A few years ago for instance, noticing that its players took this casual look thing a little too far, the NBA instituted a dress code. Though some players complained, these days they are very stylish, and I would suggest, taken a little more seriously because of their dress.

Lack of basic manners: As Barney tells the kids, "please and thank you are the magic words." Except, it seems, at work. For me, this is the biggest culprit out there today. It just amazes me that employees don't seem to use please and thank you as part of their standard operating procedure anymore.

What a mistake.

Using words like please, thank you, and you're welcome, is not only civilized, it tells everyone -- co-workers and customers alike -- that they are appreciated. People like to feel appreciated.

Kitchen slobs: You know who you are. You are the guy who blew up his soup in the microwave and didn't clean up the mess. You are the gal who never washes her own dirty dishes. Other offenders: Leave-the-moldy-lunch-in-the-refrigerator guy, drink-the-last-cup-of-coffee-and-don't-make-a-new-pot gal, and secret food stealer.

Guilty all!

Privacy invaders: In this time where people very often work in cubicles, or, increasingly, in altogether open workspaces, it is ever more important that what privacy we do have be respected:

  • Knock before entering someone's cubicle, and don't spy
  • Don't speak loudly on the speakerphone if it will invade someone's space
  • Don't eavesdrop on your neighbor
Decline of the written word: How is most business communication conducted these days? That's right -- email. But while the days of the formal written business letter are happily disappearing, the ascent of the informal email is not always a good thing.

Using "i" instead of "I" is the main culprit of course, but the fact is, email too often is too casual. Proper salutations, especially with people you don't know, are still needed.

Tardiness: All of this casualness seems to make some people think that schedules are for losers. But meetings still need to start and end on time. I know one business that locks the door of the conference room 3 minutes after the meeting starts. Harsh, but effective.

Hopefully, your business will not need an etiquette jail.

Fickr photo courtesy of wolfsavard, cc 2.0

  • Steve Strauss

    Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading entrepreneurship and small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USATODAY, he is also a recovering lawyer and author of the "Small Business Bible." His latest book is "Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need." And whether it's giving a keynote, moderating a panel, or hosting a breakout or webinar, Steve speaks around the globe (including a recent visit to the United Nation) and sits on the board of the World Entrepreneurship Forum. A popular media guest, Steve regularly appears on network and cable television and radio, and is often asked to be the small business spokesman for Fortune 500 companies. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content. To learn more, or to sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" please visit www.MrAllBiz.com.