Culture is constantly changing around us. Fads come in and out like the tide, celebrities rise and fall, and breaking scientific discoveries shift consumer preferences almost on a weekly basis. Etiquette, though based heavily in tradition, is not immune to this process. The most apparent places of the changing etiquette world is found in the “casualization” of the American corporate sphere.
Stiff collars and tight ties are replaced with brightly-colored polos and khaki shorts. Formal letterheads and personalized stationery are fading out as texts and emails – and even emoticons! – dominate communication. While some may yearn for the “old days” of business, this relaxation of the rules is not necessarily a bad thing. Studies have shown that looser dress codes and a friendlier office environment result in a happier and more productive workforce. But an increase in comfort should not mean a decrease in etiquette!
The biggest source of office faux pas is small enough to fit inside a pocket. Most smartphone addicts don’t give a second thought to glancing at a glowing screen or surreptitiously sending off an email. Some culprits defend this rude behavior as being attentive and responsive to their customers’ needs. What these business people fail to notice is that there is a delicate balance between digital and personal interactions. Immediate responses to calls, texts, and emails should never be prioritized over a face-to-face meeting or a lunch out.
It is difficult for some professionals to control the impulse to check beeping gadgets, but they are not completely to blame. This sense of indebtedness to clients is the consequence of the increasing selfishness of average American consumers. Young professionals have been scarred by unpleasant encounters with clients who feel entitled to their attention at every waking hour. These needy clients are deluded by the “Me Culture” – a nationwide rise of narcissism – into thinking that they are the only people with claims on their attention. They need to be reminded that there are others beyond their narrow focus on “me, me, me!”
Modern technology has fostered the development of a sense of constant connectivity. While this can lead to entitled clientele, it can also result in flaky “professionals” who are anything but! If you tell a colleague that you’ll meet them for lunch, don’t call them thirty minutes before to cancel. Having a cellphone always around enables us to make last-minute changes, but that doesn’t mean that we should.
There is nothing wrong with relaxing office protocol – too many Americans cite work-related stress as a serious health concern. Just remember that a little extra effort – writing a handwritten thank-you note, arriving to your appointments ten minutes early, or dressing up when you know you’ll see a client – can go a long way in the business world.