Snow White’s little buddies headed out for their jobs each day remembering to whistle while they worked. Great for the Seven Dwarfs. Maybe not so great for those around them. Beyond the world of animated kiddie flicks lies the harsh reality of the modern workplace where co-workers’ behavior can kill productivity and morale. If we had a whistling cube mate, we’d go nuts.
Unless you are self-employed or telecommute to work from home, you probably have to interact regularly with others as part of your job. Too often, poor performance, reprimands, resignations, and dismissals result not from someone’s inability to do a job, but from other factors involving personality clashes or intolerable work situations created by those who are clueless about how they come across to others.
Even if you love what you do, it’s hard to stay enthusiastic and focused when your teammates smell like goats or insist on listening to “Gangnam Style” while they crunch numbers. Little things can push us right over the edge.
If you work with others, take to heart this bit of wisdom from the nineteenth-century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill: “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.”
So what sort of workplace behaviors do you find annoying? More to the point, what are you doing—or not doing—that might make you loathsome to your co-workers?
Answers to these questions are closer than you think. Just turn on your radio or fire up your iPod for some inspiration. Song titles alone offer valuable insights on attitudes and actions that people need to change if they want to get ahead at work.
For your entertainment and edification, here is a list of song titles that suggest issues we frequently cover in our business etiquette courses. You may love the songs themselves, but the messages implied in the titles merit careful consideration. In the words of Santana, it’s never too late to change your “Evil Ways.”
“Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen) – Don’t revel in or make light of the misfortunes of others at work even if you despise them.
“Back on the Chain Gang” (The Pretenders) – If this is how you feel as you head for work each day, consider looking for another job.
“Daydream” (The Lovin’ Spoonful) – A good thing to have, but not while you’re on the clock.
“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” (The Police) – Respect others’ personal space, and don’t hover.
“Five O’clock World” (The Vogues) – Don’t act like a pony at the starting gate as quitting time nears.
“Games People Play” (Joe South) – Don’t play them!
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper) – So do guys, but it’s called work for a reason.
“Here You Come Again” (Dolly Parton) – Frequent drop-ins are distracting, so don’t be a pest.
“I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) – Choose your battles carefully, and when you’re wrong, admit it, and move on.
“I’ll Be Watching You” (The Police) – Constant surveillance and micromanagement are buzz kills, so trust others unless they give you reason not to.
“I’m a Believer” (The Monkees) – Support your passions, preferences, and pet causes, but don’t inflict them on others.
“In the Air Tonight” (Phil Collins) – Whether tonight or tomorrow, have pity on others who are sensitive to odors produced by food, fragrance, or poor hygiene. Take a bath; eat a breath mint; save the cologne for date nights.
“Is That the Way You Look?” (James Taylor) – Don’t have others asking this question when you dress for work since club garb and beach gear are totally distracting and unprofessional.
“Knock Three Times” (Tony Orlando and Dawn) – Office doors are usually closed for a reason, so don’t barge in without an invitation.
“Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” (Bonnie Raitt) – Let’s not, since there’s enough gossip flying around already.
“Little Lies” (Fleetwood Mac) – They’re rarely little, and you’ll usually get caught in them at some point.
“Manic Monday” (The Bangles) – More careful planning beforehand can preempt stress and get a work week off to a better start.
“Money for Nothing” (Dire Straits) – Don’t talk about salaries—yours or anyone else’s—ever.
“Nine to Five” (Dolly Parton) – Rarely is a work schedule that rigid, so be willing to stay flexible.
“Red, Red Wine” (UB40) – Might make you “feel so fine,” but it or other alcoholic quaffs might make you “act so stupid” that it would be better to pass than to pass out.
“Rumour Has It” (Adele) – Don’t spread one and don’t engage when others try to draw you in.
“She Drives Me Crazy” (Fine Young Cannibals) – Deal with the offender first and try to work out a solution before heading to higher authorities.
“She Works Hard for the Money” (Donna Summers) – Acknowledge the efforts of others and give credit when it is due.
“Simply Irresistible” (Robert Palmer) – Unless it’s offered, keep your hands off other people’s stuff.
“Somebody That I Used to Know” (Gotye) – Smile at or greet those you encounter instead of acting like they’re invisible, and try to learn people’s names.
“Somebody’s Watching Me” (Rockwell) – Unless you’ve given others a reason to keep an eye on you, stick to your job, and lose the paranoia.
“Sugar, Sugar” (The Archies) – Candy bowls on desks are inviting, but wait to be told to help yourself.
“Suspicious Minds” (Elvis) – If you’re the subject of rumors, go to the source to set the record straight. Plan for defensiveness, and try to leave out emotionalism.
“Take This Job and Shove It” (Johnny Paycheck) – Burning bridges is never a good idea because you may need a recommendation later on.
“Takin’ Care of Business” (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) – Do so efficiently, effectively, and ethically.
“That Don’t Impress Me Much” (Shania Twain) – Don’t be petty when others are in the spotlight.
“The Heat Is On” (Glenn Frey) – If you have no control over the temperature in your workplace, dress accordingly so you won’t be miserable all day, and just quit talking about it.
“The Sounds of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel) – Keep the noise coming from your electronic devices and your mouth to a minimum.
“U Can’t Touch This” (MC Hammer) – It won’t kill you to be a little generous with others if they need something from you. You might need a favor from them one day. Stinginess is never endearing.
“Under Pressure” (Queen) – We all are, but don’t take out your frustrations on those around you.
“When I Ruled the World” (Coldplay) – Past accomplishments are great, but focus on what you need to do now without reminding everyone of what you did years ago.
“Workin’ for the Weekend” (Lover Boy) – Weekends are wonderful, but don’t act as though work is interfering with yours.
“Working for a Living” (Huey Lewis and the News) – That’s a given, but you should also be working for a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in doing something you like.
“Working in the Coal Mine” (Lee Dorsey) – If heading into the office makes you feel as though you’re “going down, down, down,” consider other options as you may be contributing to poor morale.
“You’re So Vain” (Carly Simon) – Take pride in the work you do, but don’t toot your own horn too loudly or for too long.
And that’s the end of the top-40 countdown. And if one of these songs is stuck in your head for the rest of the day, we’re sorry. At some point, you will stop hearing it. However, we hope the lesson stays with your forever.