The Biggest Offenses

Did your pet peeve make the list?

It may surprise you to learn that I really only have one major business etiquette pet peeve.

That’s not to say I don’t notice or get slightly aggravated by certain behaviors, but most breaches of etiquette at the office, thankfully, don’t bother me.
The exception is when I send someone an email with more than one point that requires their attention, but their response addresses only one or, in some cases, none of the points. This means my work gets held up until I get the requested feedback or answers.

Thinking about this got me wondering about what would top the list of worst offenses.  

In, “Rude, Crude with Attitude: The Biggest Workplace Etiquette Offenses,” — a 2015 survey by Accountemps, a Robert Half Company — chief financial officers and workers identified their biggest business etiquette pet peeves. Somehow, my No. 1 wasn’t even included, much less in the top three, so perhaps I should get over it

Instead, being distracted during meetings, gossiping about others in the office and not responding to calls or emails in a timely way topped the list. The next three are running late to or missing meetings; not crediting others when appropriate; and criticizing others publicly. That last one sounds pretty terrible, and much worse than my pet peeve, so I might adopt it as my new No. 1.

An unscientific survey of my Facebook friends proved this is a hot topic. Within an hour, the thread accumulated more than 20 comments on everything from tardiness and emails without subject lines to the scourge of every office, the dreaded “reply all.”

The most intriguing one to me was about handshakes that are way too firm. Two friends that both have joint pain got into a back-and-forth about how painful it is when someone is a bit overzealous with their shake. The traditional rule is to practice a handshake that is neither too firm nor too loose. An appropriate handshake shouldn’t hurt, whether or not the other party has a medical issue, but their conversation has me being ever mindful of the pressure I’m issuing when I do shake someone’s hand.

Germs also entered into this exchange, but as long as everyone practices good hand-washing hygiene this shouldn’t be a concern for most of us. It’s still considered standard practice in American business to shake hands. The exception is if you have a cold or flu. In that situation, simply say, “I think I might be coming down with something, so we probably shouldn’t shake hands.” Most people will be grateful. So if you are not sick, but you are still overly concerned about germs, proceed with the handshake and if you must, excuse yourself as soon as possible to wash your hands.

One of my friends suggested the Asian custom of bowing or perhaps a simple head nod as possible replacements to the American handshake. It’s a great idea on her part, but I’m not sure I see it gaining popularity in our lifetime given how long it takes for so many other rules and customs to change. (I’m looking at you, “don’t wear white after Labor Day”.)

Of course, it’s important to take into consideration that some breaches are truly matters of perception. While one person might believe it’s rude for a colleague to walk into their office to verbally respond to an email, it might not bother another person at all. The best we can do is educate ourselves on the main points of business (or social) etiquette, act accordingly and apologize those times when we don’t quite get it right.

That last part is important, because not matter what, even the most well-mannered among us will get distracted during a meeting, shake another person’s hand a little too hard or miss a question in an email. In those moments, patience and forgiveness are the best weapons in our etiquette arsenal. Office doughnut days help too. 

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, Technology