Required Training: An Etiquette Class?

In the latest sign that RTO is experiencing some bumps, a remarkable 45% of firms are offering classes geared at proper business behavior.

There are many great and innovative exchanges and training occurring inside the hallways of corporations across the globe. And then there’s another crucial issue that’s getting a lot of corporate notice lately too: how workers should dress, talk and act in office settings.

In the latest sign that leaders aren’t happy with what they are seeing—or hearing—from people returning to the office, firms are implementing so-called etiquette classes. Indeed, according to a July survey, fully 45% of firms already offer etiquette classes, and another 20% plan to offer them in the future. The classes cover topics like making polite eye contact, writing business emails, and conversing appropriately. “It comes down to asking, ‘What are the critical skills that employees need to master and develop?’” says Tamara Rodman, senior client partner in the culture, change and communications practice at Korn Ferry.

To some degree, etiquette training has long been common at professional services firms, where client-facing employees are the product. Now, however, the training has expanded to other fields, driven by the fact that many hybrid or remote workers no longer witness day-to-day in-person business interactions. While the etiquette classes of yore covered topics like what to wear for a business presentation versus casual office Fridays, today’s classes delve into trickier topics, like whether it’s okay to introduce oneself to far-flung or remote coworkers in front of clients (it’s not), and what to do when a client or coworker wants to be Facebook friends. “A lot of the questions are about sticky interpersonal interactions, and navigating in-person versus online versus on messaging,” says Alma Derricks, senior client partner in the culture, change and communications practice at Korn Ferry, who taught an etiquette class at a prior consultant.

Employees often follow the lead of their managers, imitating everything from their email tones to dress code, says David Vied, global sector leader for medical devices and diagnostics, and managers’ etiquette skills can vary widely. For this reason, having supervisors handle matters of etiquette doesn’t always work, he says. “People often say that we don’t need an etiquette class because supervisors can handle it. But if it’s not working, you need to offer something a little more systematic and institutionalized.”

Not all employees, of course, are thrilled at this kind of rudimentary training. But Rodman notes that savvy employers are embedding it not as a formal etiquette class, but in more casual sessions with seasoned employees talking about their career mistakes and successes. For example, a periodic session in which executives tell the behind-the-scenes experience of a project can cover a number of etiquette scenarios and will generate more employee enthusiasm than a two-hour seminar on business etiquette.

Experts suggest that any trainings be offered to all employees, and integrated into other efforts. Otherwise, the trainings’ impact can be overall ineffective, says Maria Amato, senior client partner in the organizational strategy practice at Korn Ferry. “The people who most need it are often the ones who lack the self-awareness that they need it.”


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