Changing Etiquette for workplaces in a smart world

"While etiquette may conjure an image of an era gone by, the rules have relaxed but they have not been abandoned" Shital Kakkar Mehra, Leadership Executive Presence Coach, Business Etiquette Speaker & Best-selling Author


As workplaces become increasingly casual, staying professional has become a big challenge. However new-age your business may be, there exists a fine yet invisible line between professional and unprofessional behavior. While etiquette may conjure an image of an era gone by, the rules have relaxed but they have not been abandoned. Casual clothing, swearing, speaking with a sharp tone and using harsh words are still considered inappropriate in all workplaces and reason enough to lose your job. Research shows that a majority of employees in today’s workplaces report increased rudeness, leading to enhanced levels of stress and decreased productivity.

 A few changes which have taken place at today’s workplaces:

Multicultural environments: As we interact with clients and bosses from different parts of the world, an understanding of cultures has become an essential career skill. Using titles (e.g. Dr.), pronunciation of different names and discussing personal matters at work confuse professionals. As you are not expected to know all the nuances, the best policy is watch out for non-verbal cues, listen attentively to your global counterparts and when in doubt show humility by asking for help.

Addressing person: Should you call the boss by his first name (i.e. Amit) or use an honorific ( Mr. Gupta)? Look around you-you don’t have to call a boss by his first name if your colleagues address him as Mr. Gupta.

Gender sensitivity: As more women enter the workplace and take senior positions, an understanding of gender sensitivity is critical. How to address women who uses her maiden and married name? Use both the names, preferably with a hyphen. Also, how to react when a lady colleague announces her pregnancy or suffers a miscarriage? Offer congratulations in the first case and show genuine concern in the second.

Diversity: As HR policies focus more on diversity, when working with a transgender person, what is an appropriate pronoun to use? Ask the person which gender they identify with and use accordingly. Handling disability means allowing the person to feel “normal” and yet being sensitive to their limitations.

Responding: As email emerges as the number one form of business communication, they lead to maximum blunders too. To use “Dear or “Hi”? Check for the level of formality with the concerned person and choose accordingly. What are the acceptable emoticons? Only smiley – reserve all others for your friends and family. What is the accepted time to return an email? As we work 247, a 12 -24 hour response is considered appropriate – any longer, do activate the out-of-office auto response.

Whatsapp: As data has become becomes very cheap, WhatsApp has morphed from a personal to a business communication tool. The commonly asked questions are around display picture and status – maintain professional photographs and keep status statements as neutral as possible.

Listening skills: Taking a phone call while chatting with a colleague, ‘phubbing” (snubbing a person by pretending to be busy on your phone) or being distracted in a meeting are all considered rude. The best compliment you can pay your colleagues or clients is to listen attentively when they are speaking.

Civility at the workplace: As we work in air-conditioned environments, its incumbent upon us to manage all odours. Also, noise pollution in the form of ringing mobiles, chattering colleagues, activated speaker phones and noisy teleconferencing needs to be minimised. Increase the hygiene and health standards by taking sick leave when down with a communicable virus or show up with a mask if suffering from common cold.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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