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LYDIA RAMSEY: Etiquette and ethics: a growing problem in the workplace

Do you think manners and etiquette are lacking in today’s workplace? Are you observing a decline in ethics as well? Trust me when I say you are not alone.

Organizations in both the forprofit and the nonprofit sectors are contacting me in greater numbers than ever before, citing just such issues and seeking help in dealing with them. This column cannot solve all your problems, but it can help identify what some of them are and offer a few suggestions.

A recent national survey conducted by Kessler International came up with disturbing information about the state of manners, etiquette and ethics in the workplace. Of the respondents 84 percent observed rudeness and lack of courtesy in their staff; 65 percent felt a majority lacked a “moral compass.”

The reasons they gave for allowing such behavior was just as surprising. For one, they cited political correctness in their companies as an excuse for not dealing with the issues. Does that mean supervisors are afraid of offending someone by correcting their behavior, their dress, their appearance or their language?

A second excuse offered by those who were surveyed was their personal inability to handle confrontation. Hearing that leads me to believe what they lack is the courage of their convictions.

A third reason cited was obstacles and constraints placed on them by their human resource departments — the very people who should be supporting company policy regarding employee behavior or instituting one if none exists.

Not surprising were the etiquette and ethics issues cited by those responding. These issues have been observed by most of you reading this column and have been the subject of many of my columns in the past.

The challenges noted in the study and my observations over the past 30 years are listed below.

1. Inappropriate use of cellphones

2. Wearing unacceptable clothing to work

3. Complete lack of courtesy and respect for others

4. Failure to say please, thank you and you’re welcome

5. Using street talk and gestures in professional meetings

6. Being untruthful to a caller over the phone

7. Hanging up on customers when the call becomes difficult

8. Inability to write a proper letter or email

9. Stealing time by arriving late and leaving early

10. Visiting sex and dating websites on the company time

11. Acting unprofessionally with clients during business functions

12. Lack of proper table manners when dining with clients

All this boils down to a general lack of courtesy, respect and integrity. This information is overwhelming, but it’s not news. We have been observing such behavior and companies have been suffering from it for years. Isn’t it time to do something about it before customers, co-workers and profits suffer any more?

What can be done? Here are some straightforward, but not necessarily simple, solutions:

1. Management needs to take charge, to recognize and to deal with the problems.

2. Human resources departments need to act to ensure that policies are not only in place, but also implemented.

3. Supervisors need to be trained to handle confrontation and corrective action.

4. Employees need to be held accountable.

5. Behaviors need to change before etiquette and ethics are but a faint memory.

People do business with people they like and trust. Ask yourself the tough questions: Are my employees likeable and trustworthy? And if the answer is “no,” what am I willing to do about it?

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, speaker, trainer and author. For more information about her products, services and how she can help your organization, go to www.lydiaramsey.com or call her at 912-598-9812.

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Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, speaker, trainer and author.

For more information about her products, services and how she can help your organization, go to www.lydiaramsey.com or call her at 912-598-9812.

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