Behaving decently – the workplace edition

I was talking to a friend yesterday about our recent experiences leaving jobs, where there was someone who went out of their way to kick us in the back as we walked out the door. Maybe it has something to do with believing you can force people to respect you? As another friend said, it always surprises her when people don’t behave decently.

I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m still amazed that some people haven’t yet realised that being an adult involves treating other adults like adults, regardless of their job title.

In a lovely moment of synchronicity, Acting like a grown-up by Robert Butler arrived in my inbox. Butler writes that being green is about “behaving with a degree of courtesy” towards everyone else who is living on this planet:

For this reason, going green isn’t left-wing or right-wing. It isn’t a threat. It isn’t a conspiracy by scientists or a means of introducing socialism by the back door. It isn’t even anti anything much, except boorishness. (Though boorishness has many manifestations.) Its real enemy is not-thinking. If you poison the well, people can’t drink from it. If you overfish the ocean, you end up with no fish. If you burn coal, you warm the planet.

If you take more than your share and behave as if other people didn’t exist, you piss them off. One day they will strike back.

I think this is a beautiful way of thinking about the world. Linking it back to my office example, from my non-representative sample of colleagues at various jobs over the years, the ones who are least respectful of others are the ones with the overflowing bins. My theory is that if your development as an adult has been stunted, then your bin will be filled with paper and other recyclables and you will never ever unload the office dishwasher. It’s probably drawing a long bow, but that’s been my experience. What social theories have you developed from being in the workplace?

28 responses to “Behaving decently – the workplace edition

  1. I think you’re onto something with your theory. I never realised that middle-aged middle managers have such trouble with filling and unpacking dishwashers, turning off taps properly and flushing the toilet after dropping a #2.

    If leaving your turd behind for others isn’t a mark of disrepect, I don’t know what it.

  2. The key reason I avoid any job with the title “manager” is that I learned early on that far too many employees think work is kind of like extended daycare for teenagers who won’t take responsibility for their own foibles. All the stupid, petty things managers are expected to resolve, when a little personal insight, responsibility and maturity would fix so many of people’s workplace complaints.

    • Ah, but if people had that personal insight and responsibility in the first place, all those petty little problems wouldn’t exist. Perhaps.

      Charles, welcome to the News with Nipples. (It’s nice to be able to talk in more than 140 characters.)

  3. We spoke about this last week at a Social Media Law presentation. It’s not enough to comply with the law in your dealings with people. It’s about extending civility towards others – treating them with respect and integrity.

    Even if we dislike people (and let’s face it we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t) we still should show empathy for them.

  4. I learnt from the workplace that some people never, ever mentally leave high-school, and some other people have energy and motivation to burn – until managers treat them with contempt.

    My sister Elanor was at a hotel manager’s conference and many of the other managers were bitching and moaning about their staff being on Fb and so on – Elanor said, ‘So are my staff – and I think it’s GREAT! They are all learning computer literacy and new skills, and I am encouraging them to take it further by doing courses.”

    Or you have the kind of boss that likes to buy a jar of instant coffee and WRITE A DATE ON IT for a month hence and says ‘This has to last you that long, you understand…!”

  5. When it comes to social theories developed from the workplace, I have an entire system for determining the prevailing political views of a group based on how they handle the coffee cups. Observe:
    Anarchism – Everybody washes up their own cup.
    Socialism – Everyone takes turns to wash up all the cups.
    Communism – Everyone is supposed to take turns, but in reality the managers keep buying new cups while everyone else drinks out of the dirty ones.
    Capitalism – You pay the most economically vulnerable person a pittance to wash up all the cups (otherwise known as having a tealady or an intern).
    Feudalism – Only the King has a coffee cup. The serf washes it up. (The Pope has a percolator, but has lost the operating instructions.)
    Patriarchy – Man buys mugs. In return he expects one to be presented to him, clean and full of coffee, every day for the rest of his life.

    • Ha! I do like that. But what about people who bring their own cups to work?

      • I would suggest that those who bring their own cups are anarchists going on the list, then they are happy to wash or not wash them every time they are used. Plus they can demonstrate their uniqueness with the style and decoration of the cup.

        • I love the idea that someone who brings their own cup to work is an anarchist. It reminds me of those posters up in Sydney’s inner west for anarchist summer school – learn how to be an anarchist in organised classes.

          • That was actually how the list started. Someone asked for material proof that I was an anarchist and I pointed out that I wash up my own coffee cup.

            • Orlando, what are other anarchist behaviours?

              • I was really just riffing on Ursula le Guin in “The Dispossessed”, in which a character described the cat as the perfect anarchist because it cleans us its own mess. But I have thought of two more:
                Consumerism – disposable paper cups
                Liberterianism – yes, that does look like absinthe in my coffee cup, why do you ask?

    • Rhiannon Saxon

      For some reason this reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend once (Who is a currently a proud and successful dumpster-diver)
      Me (being nosy) – ‘How on earth have you managed to afford to live in Annandale for all these years?”
      Him – ‘Oh – my Landlord is a Communist.”

      That still makes me laugh.

  6. Radical separatists? Or are they the ones who only drink organic peppermint tea?

    • I think there are two types. One of my friends takes her own mug to work because the office ones are filthy. I take my keepcup because I’m a middle-class lefty wanker. But neither of us drinks organic peppermint tea.

  7. Rhiannon Saxon

    Here is something else I learned – no matter what you are studying at uni, once you put on a visor and a name-badge, people in suits will treat you like an idiot. No matter that there are a number of skills associated with working in the food industry, simply because you get (ok, *I* got) paid more to STUFF ENVELOPES than to work in a food outlet with all the systems, rules, customer service, common-sense, prioritising, efficient use of time, cleaning skills, stuffing envelopes in a nice clean quiet office is seen to be more ‘intellectual’.

    • Yep. That’s absolutely right. I worked at Kmart when I was doing my psychology degree and customers treated me like shit. I then worked as a waitress and male middle-aged customers just talked to my boobs (B cups too, so it’s not like they dominated conversation). The second time I went back to study, I got a job doing data entry and got paid more than either of the other jobs but the work was more menial. I don’t think I’m allowed to say anything about the job I’ve been doing while researching my doctorate, but it paid the best while requiring the least from me. (Ha, that makes me sound like a hooker.)

  8. I watch how my workmates (of all levels) treat service staff (restaurant) when we eat out. If they treat a waiter like shit, I vow never to work directly under them if I can help it.

    • Hell yes. It’s up there with people who talk on their mobiles while someone is serving them. So rude.

      Shannon, welcome to the News with Nipples.

    • Rhiannon Saxon

      I agree. Politeness costs nothing. And how people treat people who are in a technically subordinate position to them really says a lot about someone’s character.

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