Throughout her 20s and into her early 30s, Sarah was a devotee of social media, sharing all of the big moments of her life, from travels and jobs to her wedding and the arrival of her children. But she begins to wonder, now that she is in management, whether there is anything in her past posts that might not fit her image today.
When Walter retires after a five-decade career at one of the country’s largest wealth-management companies, he hands all his coveted clients to 35-year-old Patrick. Walter knows that most of his clients, who are in their 60s, 70s and older, expect to see their financial advisors in the kind of formal business attire — shined shoes, pressed suits and “neckties” — that Patrick never fails to wear.
Although he sees his boss focusing intently on his computer — probably trying to finish the quarterly reports due later that day — Liam, a 33-year-old biotech engineer, interrupts her with clarification questions about a new project. When she hears Liam’s question, his boss asks impatiently, “You interrupted me for that?”
Business etiquette might sound like a quaint term, but as Rosanne Thomas proves in her short yet ambitiously exhaustive book,
Excuse Me: The Survival Guide to Modern Business Etiquette, business etiquette is even more complicated than ever before. Through multitudes of true stories, Thomas evocatively illustrates the dangers and pitfalls that can cause embarrassing situations, or worse, trip up careers.
With chapters ranging from respect and business behavior to business communication, electronic communication and even business dining, Thomas covers the full spectrum of business etiquette. Sarah’s story, for example, appears in an important chapter on social media; Walter’s choice of Patrick is one example in the chapter on “professional presence”; the bumbling Liam is featured in the business communication chapter in a section entitled “non-verbal cues.”
The Multigenerational Workplace
As Thomas notes, today’s multigenerational and diverse workplace presents unique challenges. In some cases, the millennial “digital natives” are more adept in such areas as social media; on the other hand, the older boomers may have a better understanding of appropriate behaviors and decisions — as in never to disturb a boss under pressure unless absolutely necessary.
For example, it is possible that older generations of workers can benefit from her guidelines for dealing with gay or lesbian co-workers. “Refer to married colleagues appropriately,” she writes. “In the past, married same-sex couples were often referred to as partners or spouses. Husband and wife are now the legal and appropriate terms and are used unless a couple indicates that they prefer otherwise.”
On the other hand, the following advice from Thomas on one’s first day of work is probably geared more for the younger generations:
- Arrive early. Shake hands and introduce yourself to colleagues.
- Thank everyone. Thank anyone who helps in any way, from the person who sets up your technology to the person who directs you to the restroom. “Your gratitude will be remembered,” Thomas writes.
- Look and listen. When do people arrive? How do they interact? What is the noise level? It’s important, Thomas notes, to “respect the culture and follow suit.”
- Take notes. Record important information, codes, names or emails on your phone or notepad.
Lists such as the one above fill the book, offering specific and valuable how-tos for the subjects she covers. An extensive table of contents allows readers to go directly to situations or problems that might concern them, further cementing Excuse Me as a well-written and organized reference guide for the actions and behaviors that can only enhance success in the workplace. Competence, skills and experience are most important, but they can be undermined by something as foolish as wearing scuffed shoes.