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Spreading the netiquette gospel at work

This may come as a shock, but if you're on Facebook at work, you are not working.
This may come as a shock, but if you're on Facebook at work, you are not working.
  • A corporate e-mail address marks you as a representative for your company
  • Using your smartphone during a meeting distracts everyone
  • Try to be an example of proper netiquette, others will follow
  • Companies should consider putting e-behavior policies in writing
  • Internet
  • Websites
  • Facebook Inc.

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as news editor at, and Bartz holds the same position at Psychology Today.

(CNN) -- You, of course, are a paragon of good internet behavior at work. You send crisp, polite e-mails, you tuck away your smartphone upon entering your cube, and you wouldn't dream of fooling around on Facebook or Quora during the day.

Your co-workers, of course, are another story. And their lack of netiquette skills isn't just an annoying but innocuous reflection of their poor upbringing; it can actually hurt the entire company.


Rude e-mails sink morale and reflect poorly on a company.

Internal e-mails that skip the salutation, bypass the pleases and thank yous and/or take a patronizing, demanding or disparaging tone leave the recipients with a sick feeling in their stomachs -- that much we all know.

But consider that whoever has no problem speaking to you that way likely sends inappropriate missives to the outside world: clients, partners, prospective customers and so on. Anyone with a corporate e-mail address is a company ambassador with every note he or she sends.

Rude smartphone use is distracting to everyone.

You know how when you're pitching an idea in a meeting and a higher-up's BlackBerry buzzes on the table and he leans in to read it and you're mortified and start stuttering and everyone becomes engrossed in watching him leisurely reach for the silence button?

About two-thirds of employees say PDAs are a distraction in meetings, according to a Lexis-Nexis survey. What's more, research from Washington University in St. Louis found that a ring tone blaring midclass hampered students' recall of the material covered by about 25 percent.

In a conference room, that might mean your brilliant idea for raising morale by introducing a Friday afternoon traveling bar might be completely overlooked.

Co-workers who are social networking are not working.

We've all heard the claim that frequent breaks give your brain a boost. But while a quick walk might be just the pick-me-up you need five hours into a mind-melting project, posting cat videos all over the internet is less defensible, particularly if your lazy team member is doing the linking.

In fact, a 2009 survey estimates that companies lose 1.5 percent of total office productivity to the Book of Face.

Basically, knowing -- and sharing -- professional e-conduct is everyone's duty. Here are a few tips for spreading the netiquette gospel without being a know-it-all jerk or a whistle-blowing outcast.

1. Be a titan of perfect e-behavior.

Yeah, I know, sounds obvious, but when someone's sending you relentlessly insolent and demanding e-mails, it can be easy to pick up that tone and snap right back. A better approach is to make the cretin realize how idiotic and childish she sounds by responding with polite and reasonable language.

It's kinda like your mom's "Kill 'em with kindness" approach for dealing with bullies, only this time it'll actually work (assuming your workplace hasn't hired anyone whose preferred method for conflict resolution is cramming you into a locker and stealing your lunch money).

2. Put it in writing.

Certain things that are obvious to you (the sun is larger than the Earth, two plus two equals four, farting around on Facebook all day is not a surefire ticket to a promotion) are less apparent to other employees.

Laying out guidelines for what constitutes acceptable e-civility, popping them into the employee handbook and at least asking people to read 'em means that, if you have to take disciplinary action later, no one can wave the "Hey I had no idea!" flag.

If you're in a position to do so, you could even ask junior staffers to research and draft the guidelines, so that they feel some ownership over them. Believe it or not, this stuff isn't all instinctual, and college professors don't run even 10-minute seminars on composing professional e-mails.

3. Act quickly.

Let a colleague's bad behavior fester, and you'll simultaneously send your own blood pressure through the roof and make it increasingly hard to broach the breach. Course-correct a new hire's behavior ASAP (if you're his boss, of course), or send a supernice "Hi all, quick reminder of office protocol" e-mail to a BCC'ed list. (Even if there's only one recipient, he'll get the hint without the ego hit.)

Whining and simpering about said worker's lazy bones for months on end is not a good option; it won't solve the problem, and your gossipees will attribute those negative qualities to you (thanks to a well-established boomerang effect).

4. Talk about yourself.

Finally, an instruction that plays to your strengths, right, Narcissus? What I mean is this: Couch advice in personal examples to take away the "You suck" sting. "Hey, I've found that this approach really works when I'm talking with PR people," or "I used to keep my phone out on my desk but finally my boss mentioned El Jefe isn't a big fan of that."

Easy fixes and camaraderie all rolled up in a bundle of pleasant courtesy. Aren't you just the best co-worker known to man?

5. Send this column to everyone you know.



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