A political coup in New York’s statehouse can be traced back to an incident in which a top lawmaker so enraged a wealthy backer by peering at e-mails on his BlackBerry that his patron engineered his ouster.
One of the newer forms of poor office etiquette — paying more attention to a hand-held device than to a conversation or business meeting — happens so frequently that businesses are complaining it upsets workplaces, wastes time and costs money.
“It happens all the time, and it’s definitely getting worse,” said Jane Wesman, a public relations executive and author of Dive Right In — The Sharks Won’t Bite.
“It’s become an addiction,” she said.
A third of more than 5,000 respondents said they often check their e-mails during meetings, according to a March poll by Yahoo! HotJobs, an online jobs board.
Reprimanded for bad manners
In other Yahoo! HotJobs research, nearly a fifth of respondents said they had been reprimanded for showing bad manners with a wireless device. Yet even those who rail against such behaviour admit to their own weakness.
“I catch myself driving in the car with my husband. He’s talking to me and I’m downloading my e-mails,” said Wesman.
“You can’t help yourself. There’s this need to know what’s going on.”
But the constant pursuit of an e-mail fix may be costly.
Research shows such multi-tasking can take more time and result in more errors than does focusing on a single task at a time.
Counter-productive work behaviour
People who text message when they should be doing something else are engaging in what Nathan Bowling, an expert in workplace psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, called counter-productive work behaviour, which also includes harassment, showing up late or playing endlessly on the Internet.
“Technology allows us to do counter-productive things that we weren’t able to do 10, 20 or even five years ago,” he said.
Business etiquette coach Barbara Pachter said there is a “learning curve” to new technology such as BlackBerries.
“We’re still at that point where we’re being rude,” she said, adding that people’s behaviour is likely to improve in the next year or two. “We’re just not there yet.”