Do manners still matter?

Rude behaviour can make co-workers uncomfortable, impact team cohesion or even lead to a lawsuit.

Why minding etiquette makes good business sense.

Some of us spend more time at work than we do at home, but that doesn’t mean we should treat the office like our living room. Rude behaviour can make co-workers uncomfortable, impact team cohesion or even lead to a lawsuit. In a survey on jobseeker site monster.com last year, 47 per cent of people rated their co-workers’ manners rude or with room for improvement while a mere 7 per cent rated their co-workers very polite.

Dr Barbara Griffin, a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Macquarie University, has undertaken significant research in interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace. Griffin had similar findings with about 15 per cent of people she surveyed stating they had not encountered rude, inappropriate or undermining behaviour in the workplace.

While this may not come as a surprise to many, what it means to organisations and to individuals can have major impacts. According to Griffin, organisations rated low performing by their CEO often had a greater reported amount of rudeness among their employees. For individuals, being exposed to poor behaviour often yielded lower job satisfaction, poor health and generally lower wellbeing.

“People don’t understand the impact of bad manners,” Griffin says. “One of the issues we have looked at [in our research] is what’s called an escalating spiral. So, though civility and manners might sound mild, bad behaviour can engender a payback response slightly above that behaviour, and then the original person pays back another notch, which spirals into ever-increasing aggression and more serious behaviour.”

CPA Australia’s policy adviser on professional standards & governance, Dr Eva Tsahuridu, also notes the impact bad manners can have, stating that “an organisation where incivility is the norm will suffer in terms of performance, employee satisfaction and turnover.

“These behaviours are likely to spill out to interactions with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Innovation may suffer, new ideas may not be forthcoming as people may feel attacked and therefore not contribute or participate.”

“If you personally experience bad manners it can be enough to make you want to leave an organisation,” Griffin says. “But if the culture on top of that is bad, that need to leave can increase. You don’t need to have a personal experience – it can be the group environment that makes it bad.”

Tsahuridu notes that there is a difference between being friendly and being polite and considerate in the workplace. “While we do not have to befriend everyone at work, we have to respect everyone at work,” she says. “Incivility, which includes rudeness and lack of consideration, not only affects the person who suffers but the whole workplace.”

So, what rude behaviour irks Griffin? “The dirty kitchen … and it’s always an anonymous person who does it.”

For Tsahuridu, the key to good manners is being tolerant, sensitive and considerate towards others.

Below are some of our favourite office personas.

The morning ambusher – when your colleague’s coat is still on and their computer is yet to be started, avoid hitting them with a series of work-related questions. Wait until they’ve had a chance to get their head in a "work space".

12 office personas to banish

The forager – taking someone else’s food from the communal fridge is theft. End of story.

The multiple multi-tasker – texting, emailing, talking on the phone all while talking to a person is rude. Stop. Listen. Focus.

The kitchen piggy – the office is not your home, it’s a shared space. Clean up after yourself and show respect to your colleagues.

The lunchroom ambusher – much like the morning ambusher, there’s nothing worse than being hit with work questions while you’re digging into your noodles over a session of Angry Birds. Pick your time wisely.

The odour-iser – personal hygiene is essential. Sure, some days may not be as fresh as others, but make an effort. Leaving those funky gym shoes within smelling distance is not a good start. Showering daily is a must.

The travelling meeting delegate – ever stopped for a half-hour chat with your boss right next to your colleague’s desk? As much as your colleague wants to know all about your issues, maybe take the meeting to a location that will not interrupt their equilibrium. Also good advice for the loud-mouthed phoner.

The hungry fisherman – while you may be happy to fill your home with the smell of fish cooking, your colleagues may not appreciate the aroma of re-heated fish infiltrating the whole office. Perhaps leave the re-heated fish leftovers for home.

The sniffler – you may sound like an out-of-tune heralder when you blow your nose, but it’s better than spending every two seconds sniffing. On that note, if you are sick, leave it at home. You don’t want to become the office germinator.

The music critic – while you may enjoy belting Michael Bolton out of your computer speakers for all and sundry, your colleagues might have different tastes in music. Keep the volume low or, if you can, use headphones.

The hovercraft – having someone staring over your shoulder is disconcerting. It can also make a person feel they can’t be trusted. Be a collaborator, not a voyeur.

The pusher – we’ve all seen them: those people that race to the lift; hog the photocopier for hours; or push past you to get the final banana from the fruit box. Exercise some restraint and be patient. The result will more often than not be the same, but your colleagues will like you more.

What office personas irk you? Comment below to have your say.