Eti­quette makes our day

Noth­ing jars the at­mos­phere at work so much as in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, writes Ju­lia Stir­ling

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

GEN­ER­A­TIONAL con­flict is a hot topic in the work­place. Sto­ries abound in baby boomer cir­cles about Gen Y’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, but Tracey Hodgkins, CEO of The Aus­tralian Ex­pe­ri­en­tial Learn­ing Cen­tre in Perth, and Tel­stra WA 2005 Busi­ness Wo­man of The Year, says it’s sim­ply a train­ing is­sue.

Hodgkins runs a pro­gram that gives univer­sity stu­dents work ex­pe­ri­ence via in­tern­ships, com­mu­nity projects and en­tre­pre­neur­ial ven­ture start-ups. She de­vised a busi­ness eti­quette pro­gram for them be­cause she found very few had ba­sic knowl­edge about work en­vi­ron­ments.

Hodgkins also works with man­agers on in­ter­gen­er­a­tional is­sues and says man­agers see Gen Y as a to­tally dif­fer­ent species. The fact that many baby boomers have Gen Y chil­dren makes no dif­fer­ence — they don’t see the cor­re­la­tion.

‘‘ Baby boomers ex­pect a lot from univer­sity grad­u­ates,’’ says Hodgkins. ‘‘ They ex­pect them to come in, be work ready on the spot and just know stuff. My re­search shows it takes two years to get fully trained.’’

Hodgkins says what baby boomers and Gen Xers think of as ‘‘ re­spect’’ can seem very stuffy and out of date to Gen Ys. The aware­ness of each other’s traits and how to be re­spect­ful is very im­por­tant.

Hodgkins says the sorts of com­plaints com­pa­nies have about Gen Ys in­clude emails with bad gram­mar and SMS short­cuts, ar­ro­gance ex­hib­ited through Gen Ys ask­ing for what they want be­fore they have done their time, lack of re­spect for man­age­ment ex­hib­ited through over­fa­mil­iar be­hav­iour, lack of re­port-writ­ing skills, so­cial net­work­ing on com­pany time and in­ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing.

Hodgkins tells the anec­dote of a young grad­u­ate who started in a po­si­tion with a large en­gi­neer­ing firm and was re­quired to go to a sec­tion meet­ing. The grad­u­ate rocked up to the meet­ing and sat in a chair at the head of the ta­ble, pro­ceed­ing to swing on the chair.

‘‘ The boss walked in and just stared at this young man, who had no idea that he was sit­ting in the wrong seat, and car­ry­ing out what was per­ceived as a dis­re­spect­ful ac­tion by swing­ing the chair. You can imag­ine the re­ac­tion from the baby boomer boss, who au­to­mat­i­cally thought he had an ar­ro­gant up­start on his hands.’’

An­other in­ci­dent was when a young wo­man greeted her boss (on the phone) with ‘‘ hey dude’’, just as she did with all her friends. Her boss was not amused.

Hodgkins de­fines man­ners as be­ing sen­si­tive to and re­spect­ful of oth­ers, and says peo­ple don’t know the rules of en­gage­ment un­less they are taught. ‘‘ Most of us just aren’t that sen­si­tive. At work pol­icy is one thing, but it is the pol­i­tics that de­ter­mine the cul­ture. You have to know the un­writ­ten rules. What one per­son sees as friendly an­other sees as dis­re­spect­ful. Ev­ery­one needs a com­mon plat­form.’’

In the work­place, bad man­ners are com­mon across all gen­er­a­tions, and re­search in­di­cates peo­ple skills are just as im­por­tant as job skills. Abu­sive emails, swear­ing at the com­puter, talk­ing loudly, bring­ing in food with an over­pour­ing odour and wear­ing too much per­fume are just some com­mon mis­takes.

Good man­ners, and there­fore good com­mu­ni­ca­tion, can make a real dif­fer­ence to peo­ple’s pro­duc­tiv­ity and ul­ti­mately their de­ci­sion to stay with an or­gan­i­sa­tion. Put sim­ply, man­ners af­fect an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s bot­tom line. When peo­ple are vic­tims of bad man­ners they are less en­gaged at work and more likely to leave an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

While some or­gan­i­sa­tions are aware of the ef­fects sur­round­ing bad man­ners, gen­er­ally, many re­gard bad man­ners as a mi­nor is­sue. The more a per­son ex­pe­ri­ences rude­ness and un­der­min­ing be­hav­iour, the less emo­tion­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally com­mit­ted they are to their or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The latest anal­y­sis of He­witt’s Best Em­ployer data, which sur­veyed more than 54,000 em­ploy­ees work­ing in 179 or­gan­i­sa­tions across Aus­tralia and New Zealand, has pro­vided some of the first ev­i­dence that a high in­ci­dence of in­ci­vil­ity across an or­gan­i­sa­tion is as­so­ci­ated with poor out­comes.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions with high lev­els of in­ci­vil­ity were more likely to have re­duced in work­force size over the pre­vi­ous 12 months, and, em­ploy­ees thought that the or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fered poorer cus­tomer ser­vice.

The sur­vey shows 90.2 per cent of em­ploy­ees re­ported ex­pe­ri­enc­ing at least one episode of mis­treat­ment from a col­league over the last year, and 37 per cent of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced mod­er­ate to high lev­els of in­ci­vil­ity (mod­er­ate to high means once a month or more). Only 45 per cent of those peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced mod­er­ate in­ci­vil­ity were likely to be en­gaged at work, whereas 65 per cent of peo­ple who hadn’t been the sub­ject of in­ci­vil­ity were likely to be en­gaged.

There are se­ri­ous con­se­quences for in­di­vid­ual tar­gets of mis­treat­ment in­clud­ing low job sat­is­fac­tion, psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress and poor phys­i­cal health.

Bar­bara Grif­fin is an or­gan­i­sa­tional psy­chol­o­gist and se­nior re­search fel­low at the Univer­sity of West­ern Syd­ney. She col­lab­o­rated with He­witt in its Best Em­ployer sur­vey, and has just re­ceived a gov­ern­ment grant to re­search the fac­tors that ef­fect our per­cep­tions of what is rude and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, and how in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions can act to re­duce such be­hav­iour.

The term be­ing used for bad man­ners in aca­demic cir­cles is in­ci­vil­ity, and Grif­fin de­fines in­ci­vil­ity as low-in­ten­sity dis­cour­te­ous be­hav­iour that is am­bigu­ous in its in­tent to harm the vic­tim.

Grif­fin says, ‘‘ Peo­ple dont nec­es­sar­ily know whether the ac­tion was a de­lib­er­ate in­tent to make them feel bad, or whether the per­son just did it and didn’t re­alise they were be­ing rude and dis­re­spect­ful’’.

Grif­fin ex­plains there will be in­ter­pre­ta­tions of what rude­ness is.

For in­stance she men­tions the anec­dote about a per­son who liked to have a very or­derly desk. As a prac­ti­cal joke, when he left to go home, col­leagues would move things around on his

in­di­vid­ual desk. While some might find this amus­ing, oth­ers would be highly of­fended.

An­other ex­am­ple is when peo­ple leave the kitchen in a mess. Was it in­ten­tional or just sloppy? Ei­ther way, it is likely to be equally an­noy­ing to the per­son who next uses the kitchen. Grif­fin says other forms of bad man­ners in­clude gos­sip­ing, ques­tion­ing some­one’s judg­ment in pub­lic, us­ing an an­gry tone of voice and check­ing emails on your Black­Berry in the midst of a meet­ing.

Dis­re­spect­ful be­hav­iour, can set up a neg­a­tive cy­cle of in­ter­ac­tions in a tit-for-tat men­tal­ity.

Amer­i­can re­search sug­gests sim­ple bad man­ners can lead to other neg­a­tive be­hav­iours, es­ca­lat­ing in in­ten­sity and se­ri­ous­ness — ul­ti­mately lead­ing to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence.

Mar­garet Thors­borne is the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mar­garet Thors­borne and As­so­ciates and Trans­for­ma­tive Jus­tice Aus­tralia (Queens­land) and con­tribut­ing au­thor to TheSevenHeav­enly Virtues Of Lead­er­ship . She helps pub­lic and private or­gan­i­sa­tions man­age and over­come prob­lems, in­clud­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour.

Thors­borne ex­plains there will al­ways be an event which cre­ates mis­un­der­stand­ings and hurt, but when she is called into help re­solve the is­sues that event is usu­ally the tip of an ice­berg.

‘‘ There are some peo­ple who have very poor so­cial skills and in that mix are poor man­ners. They haven’t been trained prop­erly in their fam­i­lies of ori­gin, or the school they went to, or the sport­ing club they at­tended.’’

Thors­borne says one of the worst mis­takes peo­ple make is try­ing to re­solve con­flict via email. ‘‘ It just makes it in­fin­itely worse — they shout at each other in cap­i­tal let­ters. And some peo­ple send the email to ev­ery­one in the of­fice, when es­sen­tially the prob­lem is be­tween two peo­ple. Its an in­ten­tional act of re­tal­i­a­tion.’’

Thors­borne says it’s es­sen­tial peo­ple sort things out face-to-face, but peo­ple find it in­cred­i­bly hard.

Thors­borne stresses the im­por­tance of man­agers and se­nior team lead­ers in role modelling good be­hav­iour. ‘‘ The whole busi­ness about lead­ing is about walk­ing the talk. If that per­son up the top is bad man­nered, ev­ery­one else will let their man­ners slip’’, says Thors­borne.

While the He­witt re­search shows sup­port­ive man­age­ment can act as a buf­fer to the ef­fects of bad man­ners, rude be­hav­iour from a man­ager was shown to have a more detri­men­tal ef­fect on em­ploy­ees than rude­ness from a col­league.

Man­ners are ex­pressed dif­fer­ently in our cul­tur­ally di­verse work­place, and Thors­borne says its im­por­tant to have reg­u­lar health checks on the emo­tional well­be­ing of peo­ple. Or­gan­i­sa­tions need to ed­u­cate em­ploy­ees on how they do busi­ness, but also, they need to find out if there are any mis­un­der­stand­ings.

‘‘ If you need to re­solve an is­sue,’’ Thors­borne says, ‘‘ there should be some­one you trust (man­ager or col­league), whom you could use as a sound­ing board about how to broach the sub­ject with the of­fender.

‘‘ This con­ver­sa­tion is not for the faint-hearted though. It would be nice if we all had the courage.’’

Pic­ture: Bo­hdan War­chomij

Knowl­edge gap: Tracey Hodgkins says man­ners, or lack of them, is sim­ply a train­ing is­sue

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