MacKay: Your colleagues will thank you for courtesy at work

Most of us work with relatively sane people who try to behave during the eight hours or so that they're in the office. We attempt to do the right things and avoid offending our co-workers.

But some people just don't get it. As part of a survey on workplace etiquette, the Robert Half organization asked employees to share some of the most outrageous workplace scenes they'd seen or heard about. Here are some:

"A co-worker fell asleep at her desk and another team member took a picture of her snoozing and sent it to the boss."

"Someone was stealing other people's lunches from the lounge area."

"A colleague purposely sneezed in the boss's coffee cup."

"After asking me a question, a co-worker talked excessively for 30 minutes without letting me get in one word."

"I once heard an employee screaming at a customer."

"Someone thought he put a customer on hold and then used inappropriate language within earshot."

"A person took a cellphone into the restroom while still talking."

Don't join this club. Studies have shown that rude behavior at work hurts productivity, job commitment, employee retention, morale and working relationships. Even worse, it threatens the health and well-being of employees.

The word "courtesy" means "the way of the court." Displaying the same actions and attitudes appropriate in the presence of royalty is a good guide for all of our everyday dealings with others. When you treat others better than they are accustomed to being treated, their responses are almost always positive.

Here are 10 simple tips for proper -- and more productive -- workplace behavior:

•Watch your language. Crude language, naughty jokes and insensitive comments don't belong in the workplace. If you question whether something is safe to say, it probably isn't.

•Don't criticize or complain in public. Trashing a colleague, customer or boss where others can hear makes you look petty and unprofessional. If you have a problem, deal with it in private.

•Stay cool. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and control emotions before responding to a difficult co-worker or an annoying situation. If you gain a reputation for losing your temper, few people will want to work with you.

•Use technology appropriately. While e-mail helps avoid face-to-face confrontations, it's still important to maintain a civil tone in your communications. Think twice before you hit the send button, and use the "reply all" feature sparingly.

•Respond as promptly as possible to requests and questions. If someone is relying on you for information, be cooperative.

•Minimize interruptions to others. Ask "May I interrupt you?" or "Is this a convenient time for a question?" If someone barges into your office when you are especially busy, politely ask when you can get back to him or her.

•Leave a signed note when leaving something on a co-worker's desk or when borrowing items. Be sure to return those items when you finish with them.

•Be aware of the workloads of other staff. Remember, just because it's a priority for you doesn't mean it's a priority for others.

•Remember to say "please" and "thank you."

•Respect one another. Leave paper in the copy machine. Clean up after yourself in the break room. Don't pry into personal information. Beware of office gossip.

Common courtesy is becoming all too uncommon. Help reverse the trend.

Mackay's Moral: Good manners are never out of place in the workplace.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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