GENTLE READERS: Brittany is making Tyler crazy by sending him emails in ALL CAPS. Ryan’s lunches are smelly and he leaves them sitting in the microwave while he gossips with Amanda from accounting. And everyone in the cubicle farm is tired of overhearing Dylan on the telephone bragging about her extracurricular activities.
It is hard to believe this is a place of work and not Mrs. Beacham’s third-grade class.
As no one relishes the thought of actually speaking to Brittany or Ryan or Dylan (Amanda is, surprisingly, trying to get some work done), it is quickly agreed that a memo -- or possibly a new page in the employee handbook -- is the right approach.
After that, consensus disappears.
Miss Manners to the rescue.
A great deal of time can be saved by dispensing with common, but unnecessary, debates about whether or not our subject is etiquette. It is, and there is no need to apologize for that.
It may also be passed off as ”good business practice,” “best-in-class customer service” or “fostering a safe environment in which everyone can do their best.” It may even be about creating a harassment-free work space. The handbook does not justify the jury duty policy, and it need not justify etiquette rules that should, perhaps, have been self-evident anyway.
Admitting that our topic is etiquette also helps avoid common traps.
The first is that high-sounding generalities are of no practical use. Admonitions to “dress appropriately” are too infirm of purpose. No one who wishes to keep a job intentionally chooses something inappropriate for the sales meeting.
“Professional business attire will be worn at all times” would be better, if there were any consensus on what such attire included. “Men are expected to wear dress shirts and jackets, although ties are optional” would not be Miss Manners’ choice, but it is at least clear. What that means for women is left as an exercise to the enterprising entrepreneur.
Specific kitchen rules (such as “only non-odorous foods permitted”) should be posted. If they are not followed, a rotating schedule of K.P. duty could be instituted (or threatened). And “There should be no expectation of privacy for personal conversations held in the office” ought to have a dampening effect.
Another trap is the flexibility that modern businessmen and businesswomen applaud indiscriminately -- until they find themselves in an uncomfortable position. Miss Manners is not against choices, but when choices proliferate, she has to ask whether a rule was actually necessary.
It should be obvious (but apparently is not) that the employee manual is also not the place to invent faux etiquette or to work out the pet peeves of the managing director. Or the managing director’s significant other.
If all of this seems too practical and businesslike for the office, she begs bosses at least to give some thought to who is delivering the message. No good results when the entire office agrees that the greatest offender against the new policy is the policy’s author.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)