Monday Mornings with Madison


It seems any time the word “common” is included in a phrase or expression, one often finds it is really not so “common” after all.  Take, for instance, common sense.  Common sense means to have sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.  Yet, there is a lot of evidence that common sense is not that common.  For example, even though casinos make millions, people go to casinos to gamble hoping to win though just by looking around at the lavish setting it is fairly obvious that the odds are overwhelmingly against them.   

The same can be said about common courtesy.  Perhaps once upon a time, common courtesy was common.  Today, courtesy is becoming something of a rarity in many places including the workplace.  In business, that lack of courtesy — even when it is just between employees — has a very direct impact on productivity, efficiency and employee turnover.  A recent study showed that 53% of employees surveyed who encountered rudeness in the office lost time at work worrying about the problem, 46% thought about leaving the company to avoid the rude co-worker, and 94% described the incident to someone else or engaged in workplace gossip about the issue.  Impoliteness results in time wasted.  It zaps employee enthusiasm.  Managers who ignore bad manners (or may even support or contribute to workplace insolence) are literally draining company profitability and morale.  Obviously, employee disrespect toward customers has a huge impact on loss of repeat business.

What can be done to ensure courtesy is common in the workplace?  First, it is important to understand that courtesy is directly tied to respect.  Consider this.  Think of a person you hold in very high esteem.  It might be your Rabbi or Minister.  It might be the President of the United States or the Governor of your state.  It might be your boss.  Now think about how you behave when you are around that person.  Are you friendlier and more polite?  Are you more attentive?  Do you bring your A Game?  What would happen if you treated every person the same way?  If each employee treated the people with whom they interact the same way that they treat a person they deeply admire or respect, courtesy would abound (and so would productivity, for that matter).

Here are some best practices to encourage workplace ‘common courtesy.’

  • Courtesy starts at the top.  The gold standard of behavior begins with the leadership and trickles down.  Employees are more likely to copy what they see than do what they are told.  It is important for managers to walk the walk; not just talk the talk.
  • Develop a corporate culture built on mutual respect for internal and external customers alike.  Alienating an internal customer is just as bad as insulting a paying one.  Reward courtesy. 
  • Embrace the uniqueness of every employee by encouraging discussions of differences and alternative points of view.
  • Define appropriate conduct and incorporate company values such as respect, open communication, honesty, kindness, tolerance, and service into the work environment. 
  • Teach, demonstrate and encourage tolerance.
  • Eliminate office politics by not prejudging individuals or assuming unsubstantiated facts.
  • Be aware of unspoken messages, mixed signals and body language.  When a person has been slighted, it usually shows in the way they behave.
  • Evaluate people on the quality of their work as well as their personal character.  A good worker with a bad attitude is actually not a good employee.
  • While smiles and humor can have a positive effect in the workplace, they can also be used to mask rudeness.  Sarcasm, for example, can be used as a weapon to hurt coworkers.  In workplace communication, what is said is as important as how it is said. 
  • Hold all employees accountable for their own actions and behavior and for meeting the standards of success established by the organization.
  • Confront issues when they happen by politely addressing any grievances or concerns directly with the person involved.  It is easy for managers to forget or sweep little incidents between employees under the rug and hope they just go away.  Sometimes they do.  But, more often what happens is that the insulted employee will eventually go away instead, and the offending employee will continue to alienate and drive away good staff. 
  • Develop formal communication processes (i.e. employee handbook, online newsletter, regular meetings) and squelch informal communication systems (i.e. rumors, grapevine).
  • Train managers (who have never been managers) to be managers before they become managers.  Re-train experienced managers who do not place great value on civility.
  • Create a buddy system to acclimate new employees to the environment.  (If you missed it, click here to read more about “The Value of Proper Onboarding.”)
  • Improve group dynamics by practicing team building.  Team building activities may need to be done out of the office. 

When a company values common courtesy as much as hard work, it not only helps eliminate rude, time-wasting, morale-draining behaviors.  It also communicates to employees that people matter.   That helps attract and keep the best talent… which is every company’s most important asset.

Quote of the Week
“All doors open to courtesy”. Thomas Fuller 

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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