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Readers' reactions: Etiquette rules not always relevant

The majority of readers who commented on the recent FedStyle column on workplace etiquette seemed to agree that etiquette expert and international business coach Gloria Starr was offering common-sense rules. Not everyone did, however.

“I would rather have one person in an un-ironed shirt that knew what he/she was doing over 20 people wearing a suit that do not have a clue,” reader Chris from Ohio wrote. “The reality is MOST people place too much emphasis on what a person looks like vs. what his/her abilities really are.”

Another reader who had similar view of workplace etiquette suggested “some need to loosen up a bit.”

“Demanding strict observance of work-place etiquette, while many of us work at our desks, EAT at our desks (without a regular lunch breaks) and work through breaks (not talking about slackers), if strict observance of rules needs to be observed, it needs to be enforced across the board,” that reader wrote.

One reader who suggested etiquette training be part of young employees’ orientation shared her own experiences with employees violating workplace etiquette.

“With new interns arriving in the past year, all of the disregarded manners listed in the article have really reared their ugly head,” Cheryl wrote. “Some of the young women dress like they are going out to the clubs in their tights and 6-inch high heels or skirts short enough to leave nothing to the imagination.”

Although inappropriate attire in the workplace was a major lament, Cheryl said her biggest complaint was young workers’ sense of entitlement.“They all want to be GS-11s and higher with limited to no experience,” she said. “A manners class should be part of their orientation up being hired. It's tough to deal with every day!!”

But that self-entitlement gripe could really have its roots in jealousy, suggested reader Lilly, who said she had heard the same complaint from older co-workers. “Most younger employees are starting their careers with a B.A. or M.A., something which most of my older co-workers don't have, hit the ground running at work, and aren't as willing to play by the ‘good ol' boy rules,’ an unfair game, which everyone knows doesn't reward those who work hard but rather those who are willing to kiss up,” she said.

Workplace rules and etiquette also depend on the location of your workplace. What doesn’t work in Washington may not always be a deal breaker elsewhere in the country, a reader pointed out.

“Here in Alaska in winter, I haven't seen too many professional women wearing a suit, hose and heels to the airport,” the reader said. “And my department has detailed rules concerning use of government equipment during an employee's off-duty time, which are different” than what Starr proposed.

But what had readers going was Starr’s expectations of her own employees to work 14-hour work days, whenever needed.

“14-hour days?? Are you kidding me??? Obviously, that supervisor has no life outside of work!” one reader said.

“I can see this being true on some counts, but 14 hour days???” commented another reader. “Does this employee have a union? Or did they know that's what they were in for? There is something to be said for the expectations of American employees being set too HIGH.”

Additionally, Working Dad also pointed out that outside-of-work obligations may also hinder an employees’ ability to work late hours. “Your work ethic and performance may be as strong as the co-worker with fewer outside commitments, but carpool, train, family responsibilities, etc. can limit the extra hours one can spend in the office.”

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Reader comments

Tue, Mar 27, 2012

I agree with the statement about the younger ladies wearing the short skirts and heels 6in. tall. There is no place for that in the workplace.

Thu, Jan 26, 2012 Shelly Schwartlander San Diego

SSA's hearing offices are largely supervised by GS-13 & up HR specialists who often have no experience with work of hearing ofc staff and judges making them unable to support and measure an employee's working knowledge and contribution. Instead these supervisors only have their HR experience and manage by giving most attention to etiquette, appearance and as was the case for me, "pleasant or unpleasant tone of voice", undefined behavior standards (of theirs) and other vague descriptions though I'd successfully worked for 4 other fed agencies and had no complaints by public or contractors there or otherwise, but only reflected their own likes and dislikes. Absence of lower grade working & skilled leads exists and high grade HR type supervisors instead only serve managements' goal for staff that presents a professional appearance to top admin & HQ rather than staff that provides real service to both judges and public. When ettiquette arbitrarily defnined supercedes successful work, efficiency & all else it only creates uncertainty and fear. More resources are wasted defending management who has abused and bullied good staff it chose to "run-off". This waste is compounded when SSA staff attorneys, labor attorneys, and more admin must defend these ULP'S or unwarranted supervisory abuses when complaints by good workers thus maligned are pursued to EEO, EEOC, MPSB or district court. Such defense of HR type, self-serving management requires additional waste by SSA's EEO staff who ultimately must destroy complaints, conduct costly contractor investigations, edit them to create reports biased to again protect mgment and finally provide court defense because this top-heavy mgmt can overly evaluate personal traits, tone of voice, diversity or anything else that doesn't strike them as "pretty" or "professional looking" or "the same as themselves". This bad practice with too much emphasis on personality or fondness just between mgmnt and staff will eventually bring down the whole function or cost the organization so much it will be impossible to fund without total reorganization or replacement by CONTRACTOR OR PRIVATE sources and workers.

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 Old Sarge TX

The mixing of the young and the old is always a challenge. I am a recent Fed retiree as well as military retiree. I was given a Kudo from an Tech Republic for my comments on this issue when it hit their forum. If each would look at their strengths as well as the strength of the other side and then seek to learn from those strengths, both of them and the organization would be stronger and happier. I have seen all the bad stuff mentioned. I have seen people with degrees and certifications that cannot do the job. I have seen sloppy folks get the job done and suits that look nice but are incompetent. I have seen good "ole boy" and good "ole girl" shops. I have seen the incompetent promoted. I have even been sexually harassed. Such things are basically a fact of life everywhere. I suspect human nature will not change. As the youngin's get older they will become at least somewhat like what they say they hate now. Degree or form may change but they possess that same propensities as the old guys and gals. As they "mature", they will see the same trends. It is somewhat like you hear yourself say things to your kids that you hated your parents for saying. Work hard, be the best at what you do, put on your big boy briefs or big girl panties and deal with it. It will work out for you if you have the patience and determination.

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 Leadership

What I gleen from almost all of these posts that in nearly every one of these organizations there is an absence of leadership. When you have good leadership, these trivialities rarely exist. People are in tune with what is required of them and how to go about accomplishing it. There are very few petty squabbles, and the few that are, get addressed by THE BOSS who is in tune with what is going on, and it does not become a burnden for the rest.....enough said!

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 Kevin

This article is classic reductionism. Well, it would be if you had actually based your results on something objective and then misapplied them to individuals. However, you didn't base your article on anything objective. I, for one, as an anecdote, am a 26 year old federal employee, with experience in the private sector and with state and local government. Oh, I also hold a Master's Degree from a top university. I come into work everyday wearing a suit -- with ironed shirts -- and bust my ass off as a GS-09. All the while, GS-13s in cubes next to me watch Maury Popvich on YouTube and run side businesses using government equipment and time. Some agencies have over 60% of their workforce eligible to retire. Given stats like that, it's all the more important that Federal managers learn how to manage and retain millennials because, unlike our counterparts, if we're not challenged and given a clear career path, we move on. ps I am re-posting this since it was just taken down?

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