HR · 23 November 2015

The British blight of politeness is so extreme that a quarter sign off sub-standard work for fear of upsetting colleagues

Over two-thirds of workers take feedback personally

British workers are so concerned about being nice to colleagues that more than a quarter admitted they have signed off poor quality work to avoid upsetting a co-worker.

They also have set views on what constitutes as acceptable methods of communication – while most are happy to use email to contact their boss, they feel a lot less comfortable with instant messenger tools, social media and texts.

A study of 2,052 people by Ricoh, YouGov and UCL, found that there may be a politeness problem when it comes to UK employees. Some 21 per cent of workers would feel uncomfortable texting or instant messaging a senior colleague if they needed urgent help at work, with nearly a third saying it would be impolite and 47 per cent believing it inappropriate.

While 85 per cent of respondents feel comfortable using email to communicate with colleagues, only half (51 per cent) would be happy to use instant messenger tools and 60 per cent SMS. Of those who use social media to communicate with their colleagues, 29 per cent felt uncomfortable doing so.

Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at UCL, said: “Regular communication is one of the single most important elements in the process of maintaining trusting working relationships. It is therefore clear that British business workers need to break away from social norms and to start embracing new ways of communicating with colleagues in our digital economy.”

While texting and instant messaging are predominantly associated with personal use, Tsivrikos said employers should help change perceptions and champion the fact that “such direct communication is appropriate in the workplace”.

When it comes to negotiating “appropriate” forms of contact and the difficulty in being polite but honest with co-workers, the poll revealed that over two-thirds (68 per cent) of workers have admitted they can take negative feedback at work personally.

Of those who approve quality standards in their role, over a quarter said they sometimes approve sub-standard work because they don’t want to upset their colleagues, with six per cent admitting they actually sign off poor quality work on a regular basis for that very reason.

Phil Keoghan, Ricoh UK & Ireland’s CEO, said: “The stereotypical British culture of etiquette and politeness is a fantastic feature of this country, but it shouldn’t prevent workers from using technology to interact with colleagues or be fearful of giving honest feedback.”

The respondents also said they’d most like to be perceived as “friendly” (69 per cent), supportive (66 per cent) and polite (57 per cent) in the workplace, while qualities like assertiveness, directness and being a “go-getter” were less popular choices with 25, 22 and ten per cent picking these respectively.

Keoghan said: “Employees should be encouraged to feel confident about using technology in the workplace to engage with colleagues. We shouldn’t worry that instant messaging our bosses or giving negative feedback to our teams makes us look brash, impatient or even impolite. Rather, we should champion the initiative shown and the diligence of employees to ensure first-class products and services for customers, building stronger relationships all round.”

Image: Shutterstock

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.



Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

On the up