Bad office etiquette is bad for business

A prospective investor visited Sierra Leone intent on building a partnership with a company with whom he had liaised online and on the phone. His plan was to seal the deal and this was his experience: his potential partners were an hour late for their first meeting, during which they interrupted him constantly by taking phone calls. It was clear they were lacking in business etiquette.

They did not improve on further acquaintance. They were late for subsequent meetings where they also displayed unprofessional behaviour. The investor was so put off that he decided not to work with them. He is now in the final stages of making a deal with another company, one where his new partners respond to his e-mails within 48 hours and have been consistently professional in their interactions with him.

When principled, professional global companies decide which countries and companies to associate themselves with, of ce or business etiquette and ethics play a much greater role than we may imagine. International companies know that a partnership with an unprofessional or unethical partner can have a major impact on their own image and operations. It is a risk most do not want to take. In 2001, the scandal which led to the bankruptcy of the Enron Corporation, also led to the dissolution of their accountancy rm Arthur Andersen and prison sentences for a number of employees. One of the consequences of this scandal was the enactment of new regulations and legislations which affect parent companies and their subsidiaries.

In today’s Sierra Leone, the absence of professional etiquette and ethics is evident in the lack of customer service, the way products are marketed and haphazard procurement processes across all sectors. This can in part be blamed on the interruptions to growth caused by natural and man-made disasters that the country has suffered over the years. It is also partly the result of an insular business environment in which the majority of employees have no exposure to internationally accepted business practice. Customers and employees complain but are generally helpless as there are no consumer-watch bodies and the manner in which business is done is not only widespread, but generally accepted.

Research shows that organisations which promote cultures with a focus on integrity, respect, working with the community and professionalism build stronger brands and last longer because their customers and employees remain loyal. Being credible gives them a competitive advantage. According to a study by 23red – an international communications company - 91% of consumers say brand behaviour is an influential factor in making purchases and requesting services. When business etiquette and ethics are set aside and the focus is only on pro t, everyone suffers – the company, its employees and the consumer.

Savvy employers provide their employees with the tools needed to create a professional and ethical business environment. They also ensure they lead by example. At JobSearch, we have designed the Employee of Choice training course to assist employers do this. It uses real life scenarios to teach students, job seekers and workers how to conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner. Business Etiquette covers making a good fist impression, personal hygiene and grooming, communication, professional conduct in a meeting, on the telephone, in an e-mail, at an office function, at a dining table and while dealing with customers.

Business Ethics looks at the point at which gifts and hospitality become bribery and corruption, equality and diversity, responsible marketing, taxes, environmental and social responsibility and an employee’s responsibilities to his or her employer. It is an interactive course which uses case studies, exercises and relevant examples from the instructor and the attendants. The course doesn’t dictate, but gives participants options and allows them to think about the right and wrong ways of conducting business.

As Sierra Leone’s economy develops, some companies will decide to set themselves apart from the herd. When consumers and investors start voting with their feet, the advantages of an ethical company with professional staff will become evident.

Edleen B Elba is a managing partner with JobSearch +232 44669199 or

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