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More than employees need to bring manners to work

Sure, we should expect employees to have good manners. What about the rest of us?
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Bad for business

Travelers know to prepare for numerous construction signs when they hit the road in warm weather months, but this summer "Now Hiring" signs vastly outnumbered any other type of sign in places my husband and I travelled.

Everybody was hiring. Retail. Fast food. Manufacturing. Hotels. Construction companies. Insurance agencies. Health care facilities. We saw all kinds of banners, billboards, and notices taped to doors detailing starting salary, perks and opportunities for promotion.

A survey of Canadian businesses found that one in four employers felt they had to hire someone they normally wouldn't, simply due to the shortage of workers. Another study found that of the 64% of places trying to hire, 91% were unable to do so.

Some places are raising wages, providing signing bonuses, or encouraging employees to come out of retirement. But the seismic shift coming out of the pandemic has changed the employment picture drastically. Turnover is high in some sectors as people use this opportunity to search for greener pastures. Huge numbers have taken early retirement; foreseen in some industries, surprising in others. Some have not returned to full time work for one reason or another. The employee pool simply isn’t as big as needed and the crunch is being felt.

The first Friday of September is called Bring Your Manners to Work Day, a day encouraging positive interactions with bosses, colleagues and clients so the workplace can be a good environment for all. To be sure, employees need to bring a good set of manners to their work to create a healthy workplace, but perhaps we also need a day (or 365 of them) reminding clients, customers and the general public that they need to bring manners, too. Because how are we going to fill employment vacancies in industries where individuals are increasingly subjected to poor treatment by the very people they are trying to serve?

We were at a restaurant that had a now-familiar “Hiring” sign on the front door as well as a notice inside apologizing for wait times. That should have been indication enough, shouldn’t it? A woman peered into the dining room and exclaimed there were empty tables, and demanded she and her party be seated. The host told her that, yes, there were empty tables but they didn’t have the staff needed to take care of them all. This was unacceptable so she turned on her heel and walked out, party in tow, announcing she would find somewhere else to go. I guess she hadn’t yet realized it was the same everywhere else in the region.

Several times we saw customers speaking harshly to staff. My heart went out to them. How many customers had spoken to them the same way that day? That week? This summer?

A recent medical situation required a trip to the emergency department for someone in my family. We’ve all heard the stories. Long wait times in the ER. Tensions building. Frustrations taken out on the medical staff – the very people we need to take care of us. I saw it all. I also saw the staff respond gently and professionally. I couldn’t help but wonder how someone shows up for work each day knowing what likely awaits them.

Is it okay to advocate for what you are paying for? To expect a good level of service? Of course. But the way insults are being hurled, profane language tossed about and the personal attacks levelled at someone simply trying to do their job is further damaging an already stretched staff everywhere.

As employees are reminded to bring their best manners to work, perhaps the rest of us could follow suit. It can make a difference. In every store, restaurant and attraction we were in, we encountered hardworking, earnest people and tremendous service. It’s pretty cool what happens when you treat someone with respect and politeness. It usually comes right back to you. Amazing how that works.

As we grapple with trying to get enough people on the job to meet the needs of the population, it is good to take a moment and remind all in the workplace that poor behavior is just bad for business. But what also needs to be remembered is that bad manners are a bad look on all of us. If we want to attract the best, let’s treat them with respect. That’s my outlook.