Training Managers into Role Models

I was guilty of a workplace etiquette infraction this morning. I had earphones connected to my phone in my ears when a colleague came by to introduce a new hire. Instead of promptly removing the earphones, like I usually would have done, I kept one earphone in my ear while I smiled, said hello, and told the new hire it was nice to meet him. I had an excuse: I was on hold on a customer service line waiting for an operator to pick up so I could figure out why I wasn’t able to e-mail my sister a birthday gift card. I felt bad, so the next time I spoke to the colleague who had brought the new hire over, I apologized. We’ve become so inured to bad manners in the workplace, he seemed confused at first about why I was sorry.

A newly released survey report from Kessler International notes that workplace etiquette and ethics are lacking in the workplace. Among the items most mentioned by mangers were:

  • Untimely and inappropriate use of cell phones
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing to work
  • Complete lack of courtesy
  • Use of street talk and signs in professional meetings
  • The inability of younger staff to write a letter/e-mail
  • The lack of personal responsibility
  • Failure to say please and thank you
  • Lying to a phone caller
  • Hanging up on phone calls when they are confronted and were uncomfortable
  • Cheating on time billed to clients and stealing time by arriving late and leaving early
  • Cutting corners on work product rather than staying after hours to correct the mistakes they made
  • Visiting sex and dating Websites on company time
  • Sexting on company phones
  • The inability to interact professionally with clients during a business function
  • The lack of manners
  • The lack of integrity

This list brings back a lot of memories of workplace spectacles and experiences. At one of my old offices, I was shocked to see a woman in the middle of the workday in what looked like a cocktail dress. It was winter and it was nowhere near the end of the day, so it wasn’t like she was about to head out for a hot date or gala. I joked with one of my old co-workers that she must not have had the chance to do her laundry that week. Once again, however, I also have to point to my own possible infraction. During the 2012 election season, I at least twice wore a fashionable top from designer Patricia Fields that, if you looked closely, bore the name of the candidate I supported. I knew it was against etiquette to wear attire featuring political statements, but I did it anyway, figuring nobody would care—and nobody seemed to.

Managers often aren’t equipped to monitor and correct etiquette issues because they’re guilty of the same infractions—or worse. Or they are uncomfortable correcting an otherwise high-performing employee. It’s probably not the best idea to harp on small deviations from etiquette, but training managers to serve as role models in etiquette and ethics—rather than trying to police it—is worth trying. The question is how to do that. Any ideas?

My own manager doesn’t have the world’s best manners. For instance, while he presumably lets his boss know when he won’t be in the office or has a new scheduling routine, he doesn’t bother to even drop me a note about it—and I’m his only employee! I guess he feels I’ll figure it out on my own, and that he doesn’t owe me any explanations anyway. Is that improper etiquette for a manager? It seems like it is, to me.

For ongoing manager training, maybe you could develop a short list of key manager etiquette points to discuss to make managers aware of their manners. For instance, I think many managers and executives need to be reminded that even though their subordinates work under them, that doesn’t mean they aren’t owed timely communication about changes to their boss’ schedule. The attitude that those who work under you aren’t owed the same level of communication as your boss is arrogant and pompous. Have you noticed this attitude at your company?

In the improper attire area, even casual workplaces can have standards. For example, at one of my old companies (and like my current company), employees were permitted to wear blue jeans whenever they wanted. I thought that was great! However, imagine my surprise when at my job interview the woman who would become my manager showed up in jeans. I liked that it was such a loose office that it was OK to do that, but on another level, I found it a little inappropriate and odd. Similar to the idea that you should treat those who work below you with as much respect as you treat those above you, a manager should at least don business casual attire to interview a job candidate who probably will be in a suit.

The lack of personal responsibility infraction is another one I don’t have to think hard to note. For instance, my boss is extremely disorganized and frequently misses or forgets about assignments he needs to work on with me. I’m then left to do it on my own or do a workaround. He’s lucky that I know enough not to model his behavior, but what if I wasn’t as set in my work style, and decided to emulate him? I bet unreliable, irresponsible managers often negatively impact the work styles of those under them. In this case, astute executives, or managers to the managers, are needed to spot these kinds of bosses—the types who actually are a mess, and survive by having their underlings clean up after them.

Is there a way to train managers to model appropriate, considerate behavior to those working under them? What do you do to encourage mannerly managers?

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