Like a Boss

Etiquette resolutions for head honchos in 2016
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In 2013, The Harvard Business Review reported that in a span of 14 years, 98 percent of workers polled reported experiencing uncivil behavior. Why should employers care about uncivil behavior? Research shows incivility affects the bottom line, whether experienced by a customer or client from an employee; between coworkers; or from the boss.

The same 2013 piece states when it comes to incivility, customer relationships suffer, and on the employee side, work quality and retention take a hit. In last year’s January Biz Etiquette column, I offered up a list of workplace etiquette resolutions. Those suggestions were employee based, so this year since workplace civility can have such a high cost to business owners, I’m focusing on a list of resolutions for employers and managers.

Set the stage. From the first email and initial job interview, discuss the company’s culture of civility and its importance to the success of your business. For example, I’ve heard from countless individuals at Brennan’s that the company’s motto is “Be nice.” It doesn’t get simpler than that, and if you’ve ever been to Brennan’s, you see it in action from the moment you walk in the door.

Walk the walk. The best managers know how effective it is to set a good example. By behaving civilly, managers positively affect the office or company environment. This relates not only to behavior, but also attire, which serves as an indication that the company is either more casual or more formal. In the case of more formal dress, it can promote an atmosphere of graciousness.

Draw the line. Well-defined boundaries make it easier to discern when someone has crossed a line, and empowering supervisors to take action will keep it from escalating.

For example, a friend recently mentioned that a newly hired and subordinate associate was emailing daily to-do lists to her boss. The boss not only found these dispatches unnecessary, but also insulting.

Rather than address the emails directly, he responded by saying “I’m good” or “Got it.” In this case, the new hire might have been taking the oft-issued advice to “manage up,” which, when done properly, is a great way to make your boss’s life easier. Unfortunately, her efforts were coming off as condescending rather than helpful. The boundary has to be set by the manager gently, and with kindness, but also in a way that leaves no ambiguity.

A good solution would be for the boss to have a brief chat with her, preferably in person. Simply state something similar to this: “Susan, I really appreciate your initiative. It’s thoughtful of you to send checklists of daily tasks, but I prefer keeping and organizing my own to-do list. Going forward, please omit those from your regular email check-ins.” Bookend the request with a compliment about a recent project, then ask if the other party has any questions.

Keep score. Rewards aren’t just for breaking sales records. When managers see good behavior, adherence to best practices and employees who go above and beyond for customers and coworkers, it’s important to acknowledge it. Company-wide recognition via memos and emails, a simple thank you in passing, monetary rewards and incentivized contests are all great ways to encourage and cultivate civility.

Don’t just preach, teach. Since civility has such a direct effect on the bottom line, it’s a worthwhile expense to invest in training on the subject. Hold workshops or invest in a workshop or an online training program. Either way, your company will reap the rewards by having less turnover, more productivity and happier customers.

This year, resolve to implement that age-old advice to avoid discussing politics and religion; avoid gossip; and bring kindness to all of your interactions. Here’s to a more civil 2016 at work, home and on social media. In all three arenas, my resolution for the year is another oldie but goodie: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. 

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to



Categories: Biz Etiquette, Education, The Magazine