Taken individually these infractions seem minor: You forget to put your cellphone on vibrate, and suddenly “Disco Inferno” is blaring through the conference room. You order a pastrami sandwich for lunch, unaware that a cubicle wall away your co-workers are gagging from the smell. You let your eyes swerve to your computer screen while a junior associate tells you about her relationship problems.
While these might seem like small slips, they can create deep resentments between co-workers. “It’s like a marriage. It’s the little things that get under your skin and mount up after awhile,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of EtiquetteExpert. com and author of Business Class.
Christine Pearson, professor of management at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz. and coauthor of The Cost of Bad Behavior, says 96% of Americans report experiencing rudeness at work, and 48% say they are treated uncivilly at least once a week.
This kind of manners meltdown can have a direct affect on the bottom line. According to surveys conducted by Pearson and her colleagues, 48% of poorly treated employees have intentionally decreased their productivity and 12% say the boorish behavior compelled them to quit. Workplace rudeness costs employers an average of $50,000 per worker. “There are very high costs associated with even seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and actions,” adds Pearson.
The good news, however, is that most of us don’t intend to offend, says Peter Post, a director at the Emily Post Institute and author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business. “The vast majority of employees don’t want to be rude to their co-workers. They want to be liked,” says Post.
The problem, he says, comes when people fail to examine their behavior from other people’s perspectives. The account executive who can easily tune out her co-workers’ conversations might
not realize that her own voice carries across three departments. Meanwhile, she’s infuriated each time she goes into the kitchen and sees the IT director’s dirty dishes – does he think she’s his mother? He does not, says Post. “He’s just thinking, ‘I’ll get to them in a little while, because that’s how my brain works.’ You have two competing ideas of what is proper behavior,” says Post.
Overwhelmed and Under-Mannered
Misunderstandings like this are compounded by the fact that an increasing number of offices are set up with open floor plans or cubicles. “We’re working in tighter spaces, hearing each other’s conversations, smelling each other’s lunch,” says author Whitmore.
We’re also more distracted than ever by technology. Sara, a public relations manager from Overland Park, Kan., describes her frustration with a co-worker who stays glued to his BlackBerry during team meetings. “The implication is that he is so important that staying in touch with the world is more important than our weekly team meeting and even our VP’s time,” she complains.
Of course the smartphone-addicted employee probably doesn’t think he’s being rude. On the contrary, he thinks he’s doing a good job by responding to customer needs in real time. Beverly Langford, president of LMA Communication and author of The Etiquette Edge, says that the expectation that employees be immediately accessible 24/7 – and the increasing number of ways in which they can be reached – has caused employees to feel more overwhelmed and less mindful of their P’s and Q’s.
“We are asked to do more with less,” says Langford.