It’s a Jungle Out There—So Follow These Rules of Professional Etiquette

July 22, 2015


If you had to describe yourself as an animal, what would it be and why? This sounds like a question for a kindergarten class, but it used to be one of my favourites to throw at job candidates.


My reason was simple: Most candidates are expecting the standard interrogation. By catching him or her slightly off-guard, I might get a real glimpse into who they are and how they work.


I’ve had everything from an ant (a diminutive executive housekeeper who felt she lifted more than her weight) to a mountain goat (a Director of Sales who said he wasn’t promising speedy results but would stick to a plan and reach the goal). There was also a dolphin (a young sales executive who thought it helpful to point out that dolphins are the only mammal other than humans who mate for fun) and a cat (because the sales applicant liked the fact that cats were looked after and could do what they want).


As you might have guessed, job offers were not extended to the dolphin or the cat. Their answers left me with a clear impression that ants and mountain goats were a safer bet. Was my animal question itself inappropriate? Arguably so—perhaps that’s why I don’t use it anymore.


Either way, it brings to mind a number of things that employees and employers should not do when it comes to interacting. And by following this, it follows that


Employers should not:


Ask inappropriate questions at interview


There are a number of questions that are prohibited by law, yet some managers ask different questions to get around it. Don’t do it! The only relevant questions involve job tasks and the ability to work as part of your team. 


Create unnecessary tension at work


I once knew a GM who would inflame a situation every now and then, just so he could yell at his team and let them know he wasn’t happy. He thought this was a good way of keeping them on their toes. What can you say? It’s the wrong mindset entirely, and no 21st century manager will find success that way.


Undermine their line managers


Nothing saps confidence faster than having a senior manager go direct to a line manager’s subordinates. Bosses should of course feel free to talk to anyone in the organization, but when the manager feels there is deliberate bypassing, trust and productivity are lost.


Tell everyone everything


Sometimes managers have to make difficult decisions and being open about them is not always appropriate or ethical. Consider an organisation that has to be downsized or sold in order to stay viable. This information cannot always be shared freely or immediately. Public companies have strict continuous disclosure rules on what should be shared and when. Sometimes people are fired for reasons that cannot be disclosed, in order to protect the others involved.


Announce that they’re leaving as soon as they have resigned


Most resignations are not announced right away—and for good reason. Younger managers are prone to tell their staff immediately. This tends to 1) create uncertainty over the future or integrity of the company, and b) make you into a lame-duck manager whose team members are dismissive.  Waiting until a replacement is found can mitigate the uncertainty issue, but either way, it’s best to choose the moment carefully.


Allow unlimited drinks at work functions


There’s a lot of talk about the value of a hip corporate culture, but work functions should still be work functions. Give the function a clearly established slot of time, serve alcohol responsibly. Time and again we see and hear about staff who drink too much at work functions, and either say or do things they regret later.  If staff want to kick on afterwards, terrific—but there should always be a clear differentiation between corporate and personal responsibility,


Employees should not:


Ask inappropriate questions at interviews


Curious about the salary? Of course you are—but don’t ask at the first interview. It sets the wrong tone entirely. Your focus during interviews should be what you can offer the company, not vice versa. Remember that if you don’t focus on this, other candidates will. If it’s important to know the salary beforehand, speak to the agent or the HR person handling the interviews.


Create unnecessary tension at work


I hate staff that only bring problems. Some people thrive on drama and when something arises that stops them completing a task it becomes a massive issue. Most problems have a solution (or several), and the valuable employees aren’t those who just announce the problem, they are the ones who bring options to solve them and just get on with it.


Undermine their managers


If you’re unhappy at work, and haven’t been able to resolve the issue by speaking with the manager, then you’re basically left with two options: Pull your head in or leave. If you carry on trash-talking about them, whether in or out of work, you are really only demeaning yourself. The situation may be bad, but you can always exercise your right to leave.


Tell everyone everything


We all know the type. They come to work and share every minute of their weekend, evening or holiday. They tell us all about their relationship, car or internet service issues. There are many appropriate situations for lengthy personal diatribes, but the workplace is simply not one of them, no matter how old-fashioned it may sound.


Announce that they are leaving as soon as they have resigned


I’ve always said that how we leave a job is just as important as how we start. If you waste no time in telling everyone that you’ve resigned, you might imply that you no longer value the company or your coworkers. This implication might even be accurate. But it’s always good to consider the feelings of those around you. The odour of leaving badly usually follows an employee around for a long time.


When it comes to business, every professional is a different animal.


But whether you’re an ant, mountain goat, dolphin or cat, following good etiquette will ensure positive, productive relationships between employees and employers!



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