Etiquette is a learned behavior
When I was in high school, I had a fleeting career goal to be the secretary for the President of the United States. Mind you, I had no political affiliation at the time, and I didn’t understand that the President did not have a “secretary” in the sense that I was familiar with.
I aced every office high school course I took. Straight As in Typing I, II, III and IV, Short-hand I and II, and Office Practice I and II. I envisioned wearing a sleek and professional skirt with a matching blazer and a sharp white blouse with high heels to the office every day. I’d have a briefcase in hand, and my hair would be styled in a bob.
I imagined that my desk would be right outside a president of a big company in Milwaukee. Preferably an important lawyer or banker. My job would include typing memos, faxing documents, keeping logs and journals of financial transactions and getting the president coffee.
Whatever task I had to do, I knew that I would do it with honor and in a professional manner. At age 17, my career goals were simple. Mostly because I lived a complicated and messed up life when I was a teenager (you can read how in my book). Even so, I knew proper etiquette in the workplace meant something. Thankfully I learned this in my high school office coursework.
I never let go of the idea of being a professional in some office setting. It took me years to land in a profession that I enjoy; healthcare management. I dabbled in the insurance industry, a dental practice, and a desktop publishing firm. I’ve worn many hats over the years, and one thing that has followed me for each job is workplace etiquette.
Does Workplace Etiquette still exist?
I want to believe that professional etiquette still exists. At least I know it does for the majority of folks in my age group; Generation X. And it indeed lives in the Baby Boomer generation. The jury is still out for generations after that; Generations Y and Z.
Case in point. Back in the early 2000s, I had an open file clerk position I was interviewing for. On that day, I used a conference room because I had multiple candidates to interview. An HR assistant was handling escorting candidates to and from the conference room for me. So when there was time in-between one interview to the next, I went to the restroom.
Upon my return, there was a young lady in her early 20s leaning up against a phone table, talking on the phone (a company phone). When I entered the conference room, she motioned for me “hold-on.” I guess her phone call was more important than the interview and the job she hoped to get. She was also wearing jeans and flip-flops.
This experience was the first time I witnessed a sheer lack of workplace etiquette and was quite alarmed. I couldn’t understand how someone wanting a job could be so unprofessional. I turned around and didn’t return – the HR associate escorted her out of the building. Sadly, I’ve seen much of the same over the years.
Why does this bother me?
Lack of workplace etiquette bothers me because I firmly believe a person should respect their work environment (or prospective workplace). An employee shouldn’t treat going to a tavern the same way they do when they enter the building where their paycheck is earned. There must be a sense of pride. And with pride, respect.
I have a hard time accepting that “Nancy” is just that way when she constantly interrupts people. Or that “Tim” has a chip on his shoulder, and this is why he blames everyone else for mistakes made in the work he produces. Please don’t get me started with “Emily” who thinks wearing leggings and a long shirt is acceptable clothing, even on casual Fridays.
If people have not been taught proper etiquette in the workplace, it’s up to management to explain it and hold their employees responsible for adhering to this type of behavior. It’s not rocket science; it’s just common sense.
My short-list of workplace etiquette rules
- Be courteous, be the last off the elevator instead of rushing off before everyone else
- Say hello and smile when you walk by someone in the hallway. Do this even if you do not know the person.
- When the paper is gone in the printer, copier or fax machine – put a new ream (or two) in the drawer.
- Don’t take other people’s food or beverages from the community refrigerator. You know darn well what is or isn’t yours.
- Wear appropriate clothing. This doesn’t include leggings, flip-flops, and blouses that reveal your undergarments (as if you weren’t wearing a blouse). This also does not include low-cut tops that embarrass others when they have to look at you and can’t help but notice your boobs, instead of what you are saying.
- Cover your mouth when you cough. And not with your hand, but with a sleeve.
- Don’t air your dirty laundry at work. “TMI” (too much information) is a real thing.
- Knock before entering an office.
- Keep your promises. If you tell a co-worker or your boss that you will have a report done by such and such a date, get it done by that time.
- Don’t gossip about other people. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
All of the above rules primarily come down to common sense and the Golden Rule. The rules do not prohibit you from enjoying your job. Rather, they give you a respectable platform and a good reputation. If you want to be taken seriously in the business world, you need to exhibit professional etiquette.
It doesn’t matter where you earn your paycheck; proper etiquette is always welcome wherever you serve and are served. Don’t follow others who lack proper etiquette. Follow those that do. Your success will thank you.