Is there such a thing as proper business etiquette?

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The definition of business etiquette is a set of rules that governs how those in a business are expected to behave when interacting with people in the business and outside of it. So, what exactly are these rules and is there such a thing as proper business etiquette? Business Leader investigates.

What is proper business etiquette?

Business etiquette covers everything from body language to the way people dress, use equipment at work and speak to clients. Whilst these behaviours will differ from business to business, here are some examples of what many consider proper business etiquette:

  • Being polite by always saying please and thank you and not interrupting others
  • Offering a handshake when meeting new people
  • Knocking on the door before entering someone’s office
  • Arriving to work and meetings with clients on time
  • Not using your mobile phone at work or during meetings
  • Dressing appropriately for your position
  • Avoiding spreading negative gossip about co-workers
  • Keeping important client information confidential
  • Behaving in an honest manner
  • Proofreading emails for spelling and grammar mistakes

Is business etiquette universal?

In a word, no. Whilst many businesses believe that being polite and respectful are key elements of proper business etiquette, how respect is shown differs between different individuals, businesses and even cultures.

For instance, in Japanese business etiquette, people greet one another by bowing, but in Russia, you should give a firm handshake with everyone present whilst maintaining eye contact.

Some offices also insist on employees wearing suits and ties whilst others have a more casual dress code. Some workplaces might even permit the wearing of hats throughout the week, but it might only be permitted on ‘casual Fridays’ in others.

How companies tackle mobile phone usage amongst employees also differs, despite employers being able to outlaw their use in the company handbook.

How has Covid changed business etiquette?

Since the pandemic began, the workplace has undergone profound changes, with working from home becoming the norm for many of us and social distancing measures being implemented nationwide. As a result of these changes, it’s also safe to say that the way employees act with one another and those outside the business has changed.

Prior to the pandemic, meeting face-to-face with clients and extending a formal handshake would have been common practice for many businesses in the UK. But for many, this has changed to meeting via Zoom or Microsoft Teams and giving a polite wave from a computer screen.

With most social distancing measures now being removed in England, time will tell on whether business interactions will revert to how they were pre-Covid. But as we are still seeing grocery shoppers wearing masks despite face coverings no longer being a legal requirement, who can say with any certainty that things will ever truly go back to the way they were before?

Is proper business etiquette beneficial for businesses?

Many will argue that proper business etiquette is important because it helps to create a professional work atmosphere where employees are respectful to one another and those outside the business. This mutual respect can help employees to feel valued and create better customer relationships, which many will cite as key ingredients to a successful business.

However, as business etiquette is not universal, there is always the chance of a clash between companies with contrasting working cultures. Maybe a company with a smart dress code feels the prospective client whose employees dress more casually is an unsuitable business partner. You would like to think that the potential benefits of collaboration would prevail, but it’s not unknown for personal preferences to clout business decisions.

Is business etiquette always changing?

We’ve already discussed the impact of COVID on business etiquette, but the pandemic is not the only example of change.

In an interview with, Diane Gottsman, author of ‘Modern Etiquette for a Better Life’, highlighted some of the changes that the US workplace has seen over the years.

She points out that in the past, men always stood when being introduced to a woman, but women stayed seated. But now, it’s better for men and women to stand up when being introduced to someone.

Years ago, men were also supposed to wait for a woman to offer her hand before shaking hands. However, being the first to hold out your hand nowadays conveys confidence, regardless of gender.

Perhaps these particular changes are reflective of how attitudes towards women have changed over the years. So, as people’s attitudes are continually evolving, it seems inevitable that business etiquette will continue to change with them.