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Working with your mouth open.

My kids have a lot of bad habits like chewing with their mouth open, leaving messes, procrastinating and interrupting one another.   I also see many of these in the workplace.   In a leadership role, I am often the sounding board to employee complaints about their co-worker’s behavior.   Many of these annoying little traits are not done consciously, but rather an old behavior that carries over to the workplace without consideration of the effect on others.   As the saying goes, these little behaviors result in death by a thousand cuts…and a loss of a co-worker-friend or even a job.

All the parents I know coach their kids on good manners and behavior.   What if that coaching went one step further and relayed the results of these bad habits as adults in the workplace?

Here is a list of many common bad habits and what to do about them:

Sink:   After a long day at work, nothing bothers me more than coming home to kids (that have been home for 2 hours) that have left dishes in the sink.   How hard is it to put them in the dishwasher?   This same behavior happens at work.   For the 20+ years I have been in the workplace, dishes in the sink at work has been an issue.  Solution:  Set a policy and stick to it.   At home, dishes in the sink equals laps on the stairs.   At work, dishes in the sink means they get thrown away.   Each week kitchen duty is assigned to a person (or two) and they have ultimate authority to make dish- decisions.   When someone’s favorite coffee mug is trashed, it doesn’t seem to get left behind any longer.

Listening:   It is pointless for me to talk to the kids when they are on the computer.   We call it video-game-brain.   They are terrible listeners.   Sadly, the workplace has them too.   The non-verbal’s scream out loud when someone you are talking to is not listening. The first step to resolve this problem is to start internally and practice your own listening skills.   Pay attention.   Also, keep your messages brief.   Is not listening a result of tuning out messages that go on and on and repeat? Lastly, silence can be a great tool.   Stop talking and look at the person until eye contact is made.   Usually the message is clear with no further dialogue.

Junior high:   With two of my three kids through junior high, I have direct experience with whining, complaining, gossiping and eye rolling.   Little doses are tolerable, but continuous actions are impossible to ignore and have to be addressed.   Talk about it one on one with the person and make them aware of your observation.   Then move to a team based, or family based, discussion that such behaviors are not part of the culture and find more positive alternatives.   There are a lot of resources on this topic, such as this.

Social media games:   Employees will “friend” and “defriend” coworkers and use it as a tool of revenge. “Yes, I will offer you a “friend” request so when you make me upset I can have leverage to “defriend” you.”   This is one example of how social media is woven into work.   If you haven’t done so already, get a social media policy in place.   This is one aspect that must be included; the company’s expectations around social media platforms.   Also, make sure your kids at home understand the ramifications of the vast social network.   I have a previous blog article on that here.

Lying:   I had a child psychologist tell me that kids aren’t lying because they are morally corrupt, instead they are trying to take the easy way out and don’t have a tool chest to draw from to communicate.  Like saying they brushed their teeth when they didn’t, for example.  The workplace is full of little lies.   “Yes, I emailed him” – then quickly sends the email.   Lying runs the spectrum and the slope is difficult to discern in terms of acceptability.   This one ranks at the top for termination too.   Hold liars accountable across the board.

Manners:   This can be one of the more uncomfortable conversations to have at work.   Obsessive coughing, poor hygiene, bad table manners and showing up sick are all examples of behaviors that can truly alienate a person.   Kids can get away with many of these throughout their school career, but it is different in the workplace.   Leadership needs to drive a culture that quickly and consistently addresses these issues.

Empty:   Empty toilet paper rolls, empty paper trays, empty coffee pots and empty milk jugs.   When there’s no toilet paper at home, the kids yell.   What are employees supposed to do?   The tragedy of the commons:   When it is everyone’s job, it is no one’s job.   I would love to hear ideas on solving this one?

People at work, just like a family, have to find ways to co-exist together in defined spaces.   The best results come from awareness and open communication.   Good luck!


About Celeste Johnson, MBA, PHR

Using human resource expertise to develop the next-generation workforce at home.

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