Learn to Play Nice: Your Career Advancement Might Depend on It

November 29, 2011 — 1,485 views  
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It still pays to play nice at work, a new Robert Half survey confirms. Nearly half (48 percent) of workers interviewed said being courteous to others can help an employee rise through the ranks. Another 41 percent said etiquette plays at least some role in career advancement.

Robert Half also has introduced new videos illustrating some of the most egregious examples of office etiquette faux pas as part of the firm’s ongoing video series, “Don’t Let This Happen to You.” The lighthearted videos, including “The Cupcake Caper,” along with advice on avoiding common blunders, can be found at www.roberthalf.com/dont-let-this-happen-to-you.

The survey was developed by staffing firm Robert Half International. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on interviews with more than 430 workers 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments.

Workers were asked, “In your opinion, to what extent does being courteous to coworkers positively impact a person’s career prospects?” Their responses:

Greatly, it can accelerate advancement                   48%

Somewhat, but skills play a bigger role                    41%

No impact at all, it’s who or what you know             10%

Don’t know                                                                          1%


Robert Half also asked workers to recount the worst or wackiest etiquette blunders they’ve witnessed or heard about in the workplace. Here are some of the more memorable anecdotes:



  • “While collaborating on a project, I saw an employee yell, ‘Forget this!’ and throw all the papers she was holding into the air as she walked out.”



  • “A coworker fell asleep at her desk and another team member took a picture of her snoozing and sent it to the boss.”



  • “A colleague of mine would actually clip his nails at his desk while working.”



  • “Someone was stealing other people’s lunches from the lounge area.”



  • “A colleague purposely sneezed in the boss’s coffee cup.”



  • “A coworker had a drink at lunch and returned to work tipsy. It was awkward.”



  • “After asking me a question, a coworker talked excessively for 30 minutes without letting me get in one word.”



  • “Someone didn’t get what he wanted and loudly hung up on a conference call.”



  • “I once heard an employee screaming at a customer.”



  • “A colleague was making fun of other people’s work in public.”



  • “Someone thought he put a customer on hold and then used inappropriate language within earshot.”



  • “Employees were walking around the office barefoot.”



  • “A person took a cell phone into the restroom while still talking.”



“In most cases, a minor etiquette slipup won’t be career-limiting if you quickly acknowledge it and learn from your mistake,” said Brett Good, a senior district president for Robert Half International. “But continual missteps have a cumulative effect that can chip away at your professional reputation and get in the way of advancement.”

Robert Half offers four tips on steering clear of some of the more common etiquette offenses:

Keep it ‘PG-rated.’ Salty language, off-color comments and politically incorrect jokes can get you into hot water. When you wonder if you should say something or not, that’s your internal voice telling you to zip it. Play it safe and watch your words.

Don’t air grievances publicly. Harshly criticizing colleagues in front of others or gossiping behind their backs typically only makes you look bad. Address problems with coworkers head-on, but do it respectfully and in private.

Take a breather. Although coworkers may do things that irritate you, take a minute to collect your thoughts before raising your voice or firing off a rude email. Losing your cool will exacerbate your problems.

Put the tweezers away. It’s called personal care for a reason. Confine your grooming activities to your home, or at least the restroom. The goal is to win over — not offend — your fellow employees.

For additional etiquette insights, download Robert Half’s comprehensive guide, Business Etiquette: The New Rules in a Digital Age, at www.roberthalf.us/businessetiquette.