The image of a public sector bank or, for that matter, any government department is one of laid back staff, rude, crass and uncooperative. Although things are changing, the reputation is in many ways well deserved. Indian babus are basically following in the footsteps of the pre-Independence British overseers, whose reputation for good manners disappeared while dealing with the wogs and natives.
But in todays world, rude behaviour can be costly. This is particularly true in consumer-facing industries. The growing retail arena, business process outsourcing (though with a technology interface between the employee and the customer), and the hospitality industry all need smiling faces and good manners. It is not just a question of image; it affects the bottomline too.
Several studies have proved this rather obvious correlation. The latest comes from research conducted by two dons Christine Porath of the University of Southern California and Christine Pearson of the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Their July 2009 book The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It says that the cost of rudeness could be as much as $300 billion annually in US businesses. This is partly an internal loss; productivity drops and stress increases because of rude behaviour like sending SMSes or emails during meetings, spreading rumours, and not saying please and thank you. But there is an external component too. The authors estimate customers who witness such bad behaviour would be 50 per cent prone to avoiding the establishment in the future, though no rudeness has been targeted at them.
We have found that incivility causes its targets, witnesses and additional stakeholders to act in ways that erode organisational values and deplete organisational resources, say the authors. Because of their experiences of workplace incivility, employees decrease work effort, time on the job, productivity and performance.
Another indication of the extent of the problem comes from Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at the Stanford Engineering School. The author of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isnt says that 50 per cent of working America has an abusive boss. There has to be zero tolerance level for such people. The No Asshole Rule doesnt allow anyone to get away with demeaning, nasty or disrespectful behaviour toward others in the workplace, says Sutton.
Rudeness in the workplace may have different definitions depending on the country and culture. Australia-based international office space provider Servcorp has come out with an international business etiquette index. While conducting the survey earlier this year over several countries (India was not included), it found that the top five most offensive workplace behaviours are: not saying hello or good morning, not offering office guests a beverage, speaking loudly across the room, using swear words, and taking calls on mobile phones. Some peculiarities:
* Almost 25 per cent of Australians thought it was perfectly acceptable to swear. This was considered very offensive in West Asia.
* Close to half the Japanese respondents found informal email signatures (such as smiley faces or kisses) to be rude and inappropriate.
* Around 67 per cent of Chinese respondents was offended by people borrowing their stationery items without permission.
Are you rude? To discover that you could visit the website of Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. The authors of The Power of Nice have designed a niceQ test, which you can take online. Niceness can be seen as a broad concept incorporating components such as empathy, charity, social skills, manners, positive and optimistic attitude, and generosity, among others, says the site.
Niceness just does not come and stay, say the authors. Rudeness is a much more natural state in a dog-eat-dog world. But if you have your colleagues for breakfast it costs money. Your company pays initially. But, eventually, you will end up footing the bill.
THE A LIST
How to deal with jerks in the workplace
Start with polite confrontation. Some people really dont mean to be assholes. Let them know it politely.
If a bully keeps spewing venom at you, limit your contact with the creep.
Find ways to enjoy small wins over assholes. If you cant reform or expel the bully, fight back. It will make you feel powerful and just might convince the bully to leave you and others alone.
Practise indifference and emotional detachment; learn how not to let an asshole touch your soul.
Keep an asshole diary: carefully document what the jerk does and when it happens.
Recruit fellow victims and witnesses.
Take legal action if you must, but do so as a last resort.
Escape if you possibly can.
Source: Professor Bob Sutton, author of
The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isnt.