Balancing act: Survey: Office etiquette has impact on advancement
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When I left work as a full-time journalist almost three years ago, I was determined to move into my new career without looking back.
I knew there would be parts of the old job I would miss, but I also knew it was important to fully commit to my new gig. I think I've done a pretty good job of moving forward.
But there is still one part of my old job that I miss almost every day: my office.
I loved the office I had during my last year or so at the Deseret News. It had enough room for my files, notebooks, computer and various work toys, which is important. But even better, it was a real office with a real door. When you're a manager who needs a private space for in-person or telephone conversations with employees or other colleagues, that's important.
Now my work residence is a cubicle. In one respect, I like this because it means I get to sit with my team and can easily communicate with them in person. On the other hand, it means I need to find a conference room for private conversations, and that can sometimes be difficult.
It also means that I can't close a door to avoid the other occasional annoyances that are part of office life. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, and a new survey does a great job of outlining some common pet peeves of the workplace.
The survey from Accountemps, a specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, asked more than 450 U.S. office workers what they considered to be the biggest breach of etiquette when working in an open office space.
Topping the list, chosen by 36 percent of respondents, was "using a speakerphone or talking loudly on the phone." That was followed by "loitering or talking around a colleague's desk" at 23 percent; "eating foods that have strong odors" at 15 percent; and "keeping a messy or cluttered workspace" at 14 percent.
I've dealt with all of these things at one time or another during my career. I'm pretty good at tuning out phone conversations, due to years spent in noisy newsrooms, but there are times when I've been annoyed by lingering conversations around a neighbor's desk. I'm sure people have likewise been bothered by my conversations of that kind.
During part of my time as business editor at the Deseret News, I sat in a cubicle that was stationed almost perfectly between the company lunchroom and the bathrooms, so I can definitely relate to the problem of strong aromas at work.
Some of the smells coming from the lunchroom were downright nasty and didn't smell like food at all. Again, I'm sure I've been guilty of assaulting co-workers' olfactory senses with my meals a time or two, but I try to avoid those poor manners.
Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps, said in a press release that everyone needs to work on their office etiquette: "Open office spaces foster better collaboration, but employees should make sure their actions aren't keeping others from doing their jobs."
That's the most important thing to me. While some of these things are just annoying, they can tip over into the realm of productivity killers. I've worked with some people who had to use noise-canceling headphones to concentrate at work, and that shouldn't happen.
According to the survey, observing the unwritten rules of office etiquette should be a goal for everyone, and not just to help our co-workers get their jobs done.
When survey respondents were asked whether being courteous to co-workers positively impacts a person's career prospects, 44 percent said it had a large impact and could accelerate advancement. Another 41 percent said it could have some impact, but skill plays a bigger role. Only 14 percent said it had no impact at all.
The workers were also asked whether people became more or less courteous as they climbed the corporate ladder, and only 21 percent said more courteous. A full 70 percent said less courteous.
"Workplace etiquette is about being aware of how your actions affect those around you," Messmer said in the press release. "Time constraints and external pressures aren't excuses for bad behavior. While it takes more than just good manners to rise through the ranks, displaying professional courtesy will only help your career."
I hope that's true. I'd like to think that people who treat their co-workers well and show great skill will be rewarded with promotions. Those people skills are important to managers.
At any rate, I'm using this survey as a personal reminder to be more courteous at work, and I hope you will, too.
I'd also be interested in your opinions on this topic. What's the biggest etiquette problem in your workplace? How have you dealt with it? Do you think people who are more courteous are more likely to advance in their careers?
Send me your input, and I'll use some of your responses when I revisit this topic in a future column.