In all my years of teaching workplace etiquette, I've never once heard a manager say, "I probably need some etiquette training myself." Yet most managers do.
The goal of workplace etiquette isn't to help us all sip tea properly—the goal is simply to produce better work with more satisfaction at work.
It starts with an environment where people respect themselves and one another. Employees who feel respected and appreciated will always produce better results.
In that spirit, here are 11 tips to help you go beyond workplace etiquette and demonstrate workplace professionalism. Model and share these tips with your team, set them as the new standard, and watch what it does for office morale and productivity.
1. Call people by their preferred name.
When in doubt, ask. For example, while you may think "Susan" sounds more professional and dignified, your colleague may prefer you call her Sue. Honor that.
Along those lines, be sure to call other people by their correct name (e.g., Alec vs. Alex, or Gina vs. Jeanie).
Pronunciation is also key. Example: I once had a student named Noel. He pronounced it No-el. A lot of folks called him Noel, as though it rhymed with "Joel."
Names are sacred. They deserve to be treated that way. And no one will fault you for asking; most will appreciate your caring.
2. Mind your manners.
I know. This should not need to be said. But it does. I have seen bosses do all sorts of things that go against good manners, from chewing with their mouths open to licking their fingers.
The point is, conduct yourself with class. Let this come through not only in your eating habits, but in how you speak, dress and carry yourself.
Your staff is watching your every move. Give them an example worth admiring. You will increase your credibility and your own self-confidence.
3. Check your spelling (and grammar).
As a manager, you are held to a higher standard. Which is to say, if spelling is not your strong suit, that's fine. Simply get it covered. Why? Because it pulls the focus away from your message.
Though there's no correlation between spelling ability and intelligence, proper spelling shows you care.
Likewise, keep your grammar and word usage in check. It's one thing to tell your team, "Failure is not an option." But I have also heard bosses say, "Failure is not optional." You mean it's required?
4. Get organized and stay organized.
Nobody gets a perfect score here, and if they do, they may not have much of a life. But again, nothing says caring and competent like being organized. Some everyday examples of this habit in action:
- Showing up on time; not having to call last-minute for directions
- Arriving to meetings with an agenda and something to write with
- Having an uncluttered office when meeting with a member of your team
- Having an uncluttered background when meeting on Zoom
What else would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment below.
5. Be the boss, not the buddy.
Yes, you can be friendly. The problem starts when you let your team get away with nonproductive nonsense because you don't want to ruffle feathers or make anyone mad.
But here's the irony: When every day or every week you let employees spend hours indulging in non-work (social media, for example), you are ruffling feathers. You are frustrating your high performers.
A polite yet firm, "Okay, everyone. Back to work!" may be all it takes. But it's up to you as the manager to set the tone and the standard.
6. Give credit where credit is due.
Don't be that manager who steals the credit. Instead, have the courage and humility to uphold your team and their accomplishments. This is one of the highest forms of workplace etiquette—and leadership. When you give staff members credit where credit is due, they are motivated to given even more.
7. Take criticism behind closed doors.
Have you ever been upbraided in front of other people? How did it feel? Though it's no doubt happened to every one of us, I have never met anyone who described it as a pleasant, uplifting or helpful experience.
Simple workplace etiquette would dictate that you let the other person save face. That means handling criticism, or constructive feedback, privately—and not making it personal.
8. Maintain professional boundaries.
I know that may sound obvious (and it is). But the headlines are filled with stories of leaders who trampled over boundaries, doing great harm in the process.
Headlines aside, here are some everyday ways to maintain professional boundaries:
- Practicing within your scope; recognizing when someone is better off with a referral
- Not turning staff, co-workers or clients into therapists
- Respecting other people's space and property
- Cleaning up after yourself in the lunchroom (for those of you who are back in the office)
- Sending emails during normal business hours; giving others the opportunity to unplug from work
What are some ways you maintain professional boundaries?
9. Hire people you trust, then trust them.
That may seem like an oversimplification, especially when managing remotely. Yet the data indicates that remote micromanagement only makes things worse—especially for those dealing with work-family conflict. Hint: There are millions of workers in that category.
For more about managing remotely during COVID-19, see Harvard Business Review's article, Remote Managers are Having Trust Issues.
10. Be noble enough to offer a sincere apology.
Again, this is where leaders can get into trouble—not because they're flawed human beings but because they're unable or unwilling to apologize in a way that restores trust.
Yet if you have ever been on the receiving end of a good apology, you know how powerful it can be when it does restore trust. Chances are the apology you received had most or all of these elements:
- It was made proactively, not simply after the person was "caught" or called out
- The person showed they cared about you and how you were affected
- You were given some indication that what happened would not happen again
- The person apologizing took ownership
I've said it before and I'll say it again: When you mess up, fess up. Tough? Of course. Yet necessary and worthwhile.
11. Leave everyone better than you found them.
As we said in the beginning, the overarching goal of workplace etiquette has nothing to do with sipping tea or which fork to use. Though all of those details have their place, workplace etiquette has much more to do with how other people feel in our presence.
So how do you leave everyone better than you found them?
Smile. Make eye contact, if only virtually. See yourself and those you work with as valuable, respectable, and worth your time and attention.
Everyone is fighting some sort of battle, including you. Make allowances for this, especially if you're the boss. For anyone who values workplace professionalism, kindness and respect are not optional.