There was a time when only bosses were allowed to be rude in the workplace. The digital explosion — think smartphone – appears to have given everybody the licence to ignore etiquette. It is not just etiquette that suffers; productivity is taking a hit too.
Think of a meeting — 10 people around a conference table and three of them jabbering on their phones. It is not just distracting. If Mr Rude Manners is important enough, either all relevant conversation comes to a standstill or it has to be repeated. And it is only too likely that he is important or he wouldnt have been taking away other peoples time so cavalierly.
There could be other problems. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have found that rudeness induces people to make mistakes. In a rather quirky experiment, professors were rude to some students just as they were going in for an exam. Their performance suffered considerably.
A recent study among workers in the UK has found that rudeness is everywhere. According to Harmon.ie — a company providing social email software — the overabundance of electronic devices for collaboration, social networking and communication tools designed to make it easy to complete work-related tasks is leading to rudeness at the office and at home. Oddly enough, people know they are being rude but carry on regardless.
Smartphones and social networking (it should really be called anti-social networking) are taking over personal life too. According to the survey, 85 per cent keep connected during weekends; 79 per cent stay tuned in during evenings; 74 per cent keep in touch with the office while on holiday; 48 per cent stay online while in bed; and 35 per cent report they never disconnect from the office.
The overall impact of digital distraction means that employees have trouble completing work (36 per cent), suffer from information overload (22 per cent), and as a result fail to think creatively (22 per cent), says the survey. People also return to work from the weekend or holiday with less energy and inspiration than they otherwise would.
According to The Cost of Bad Behaviour: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, a book by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, 80 per cent of the people in the US believe that incivility is a problem and 96 per cent have experienced it in the workplace. A whopping 12 per cent left their jobs because of such incivility. Says the book: Incivility is sometimes deliberately deployed by cowardly leaders to unleash power in its most subtle form.
Think once again of the smartphones and the meetings. The incivility normally starts with the top man. If he switches off his mobile, everyone else will have to. If he doesnt, his next in command follows suit. Such a meeting is an easy way of discovering organisational hierarchy; those with their mobiles switched off are clearly below the salt.
Books on incivility have practically become a cottage industry. P.M. Forni has written an instructive tome titled Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct. What are some of these rules? Its common sense really — pay attention; think the best; listen; dont speak ill; mind your body… What does the last mean? Explains the author: Dont make any noises with your mouth. Keep in mind, however, that there are parts of the world where eating noises are expected.
Another member of the stable is Return to Civility. This concerns itself with more mundane matters — park wisely and courteously; wear clothing that respects and honours the situation… Prescriptive books like this are many. There are other commentators who feel that it is time to lay down the law. Longwoods, a publisher of academic and scientific research related to healthcare, is terse:
Be blunt about being late for a meeting.
Be blunt about meeting unnecessarily.
Be blunt about the use of smart-phones while meeting with someone.
Give incentives for good communication manners.
Say Thank You more often.
What does the Harmon.ie survey find? Among other things: 36 per cent (companies) have blocked access to certain websites deemed inappropriate or irrelevant to complete work tasks, and 35 per cent have blocked access to Facebook and other social media sites; 5 per cent have blocked this access on Fridays only.
The boors are not saying Thank God its Friday.
THE RUDE BROOD
During face-to-face meetings, 41% of UK workers remain glued to their communication devices, sending instant messages; responding to texts; listening to voicemails; or checking email. This figure rises to a staggering 70% during virtual meetings and webcasts.
31% admit to disrupting face-to-face meetings to answer their phones. Paradoxically, four out of 10 such people agree it is rude to do so.
Age plays a major part in workplace etiquette. One in three workers aged 20-39 will take a mobile phone call while in a meeting, compared to 20% of people aged 40-60 and 10% of people over 60.
19% of respondents willingly defy their superiors and stay connected when theyve been told to explicitly disconnect.