Why Manners Still Matter in the Modern Workplace

You can tell a lot about your co-workers not only by how they treat the people above them but how they treat the people below them on the organizational chart

Recently, on an episode of my SiriusXM radio show, In The WorkplaceI caught up with Jodi R.R. Smith, founder and president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting and author of the The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners. We spoke about the role of manners and etiquette for men and women in today’s modern workplace.

As you move from job to job over the course of your career, you will experience different workplace cultures and norms dictating what is considered appropriate behavior, from how you communicate with your supervisor to the clothes you wear. For instance, a formal financial institution might require you to wear a suit, while at a more casual software company, jeans and t-shirts are the norm.

“Etiquette is constantly evolving and changing,” Jodi said. “The way you behave with outside clients may be different from how you behave in a staff meeting. Understanding the nuances is really where modern manners is at.”

The biggest “manner mistake” people make when it comes to the workplace is sharing something on social media about a boss or a client that shouldn’t be publicly shared, Jodi said.

“You need to be very conscious today of how you connect with co-workers, clients and friends on your personal time via social media,” she said. “When you post something on your Facebook page, it’s out there for everyone to see and people can get fired for saying certain things, such as complaining about a client.”

A more common etiquette mistake people make is forgetting to say “please” or “thank you” to everyone in the office. Believe it or not, this can make a big difference in how you work with people, Jodi said.

“You can tell a lot about your co-workers not only by how they treat the people above them but how they treat the people below them on the organizational chart,” she said.

It’s also important to be aware of how your co-workers like to communicate with others. Some prefer casual face-to-face interactions, while others prefer e-mail or making an appointment.

“Especially when you’re new to a company, you should think like a mini-sociologist or anthropologist and know that when the boss has the door shut, unless it’s an emergency, you shouldn’t knock on the door,” Jodi said. “Socially savvy people know how to match the message to the mode of conversation and they can ascertain when e-mail is appropriate or phone or face to face conversation.”

As we near the end of summer, I asked Jodi for some etiquette do’s and don’ts when it comes to company beach or pool parties. Here are a few things to be aware of:


Watch your alcohol consumption. “In any professional environment, I’ve yet to meet someone whose professional persona improves with alcohol,” Jodi said. “You can have a drink or two but be very cognizant of the amount you imbibe, especially in the summer, when you dehydrate faster. If you need to get rip roaring drunk, do it away from your colleagues and the people you work with.”


What’s appropriate attire for an office pool party? You want to think about the industry you work in, Jodi said.

“If you are in a conservative industry, be careful about being seen by your co-workers in a bathing suit. Once they have seen you, they can’t ‘unsee’ you.”


What types of games are acceptable at an office party? Anything that is not a contact sport is fair game, such as badminton or a “corn toss” — fun games that involve a minor amount of athleticism but a majority of social interaction, Jodi said.

Should you let the boss win? There are no hard and fast rules – it really depends on your boss’ personality, she said. “Some bosses want their employees to be really competitive while others may have a more fragile ego and really want to win. To be a successful employee, you need to have your finger on the pulse of who your boss is and act accordingly.”

Jodi said the most frequently-asked question she receives over the summer is about appropriate clothing for the workplace.

“People want to wear shorts or flip-flops to the office because it’s 90 degrees out, but you have to be very careful of dressing like you’re going to the beach unless you’re a lifeguard,” she said. “Wear real shoes. If you work in a warm place, buy linen, cotton or breathable fashions to wear. You need to be careful about the amount of skin you show in the office.”