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No texts please, we’re British: New research from YouGov, Ricoh and UCL reveals workers are too polite to text their bosses

While most employees are comfortable using email, only half feel the same about instant messenger tools, just 60 per cent about SMS and of those that talk to colleagues using it a third are uncomfortable using social media.

Poll also exposes that senior employees have even approved sub-standard work to avoid upsetting their colleagues

New research has revealed that over one in five (21 per cent) British workers would feel uncomfortable texting or instant messaging a senior colleague if they needed urgent help at work. Of those who felt uncomfortable, nearly one in three (27 per cent) felt that it would be impolite, nearly half (47 per cent) didn’t feel it was appropriate and two per cent even reported they would feel too ‘scared’.

The research, commissioned by global technology company Ricoh and carried out by YouGov, examined over 1,000 workers in Britain and their attitudes towards politeness in business contexts.

The findings reveal an interesting relationship with technology, with the majority (85 per cent) of respondents with work colleagues comfortable using email to communicate with them but only half (51 per cent) with instant messenger tools and 60 per cent with SMS. Of those who use social media  to communicate with their co-workers, nearly a third (29 per cent) cited feeling uncomfortable using it.

So what is the relationship between being British and being over-polite, and are our feelings preventing us from producing first class work? Interestingly, the poll revealed that over two thirds (68 per cent) of workers with colleagues have admitted they can take negative feedback at work personally.

Additionally, of those workers who approve quality standards in their role, just over a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents admitted that they sometimes approve sub-standard work because they do not want to upset their colleagues. Six per cent of workers even admitted to signing off below-par work ‘often’, citing the same reason.

Phil Keoghan, CEO of Ricoh UK & Ireland, said: “The stereotypical British culture of etiquette and politeness is a fantastic feature of this country, but it shouldn’t prevent workers from using technology to interact with colleagues or be fearful of giving honest feedback.”

The study also found that, when asked how they would most like to be perceived in the workplace, ‘friendly’ (69 per cent), ‘supportive’ (66 per cent) and ‘polite’ (57 per cent) were among the most popular answers, with just a quarter of workers wanting to be perceived as ‘assertive’, 22 per cent as ‘direct’ and only one in ten as a ‘go-getter’.

Keoghan added: “Employees should be encouraged to feel confident about using technology in the workplace to engage with colleagues. We shouldn’t worry that instant messaging our bosses or giving negative feedback to our teams makes us look brash, impatient or even impolite. Rather, we should champion the initiative shown and the diligence of employees to ensure first-class products and services for customers, building stronger relationships all round.”

Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist, University College London (UCL), said:

“As many psychologists have confirmed- regular communication is one of the single most important elements in the process of maintaining trusting working relationships.

It is therefore clear that British business workers need to break away from social norms, and to start embracing new ways of communicating with colleagues in our digital economy. However, they do need support from business leaders to achieve this change in mind set. As texting and instant messaging are primarily associated with personal use, businesses need to help change perceptions and to champion the fact that such direct communication is appropriate in the workplace, and even at times, necessary.

When used in the right way, technology can empower British employees to break away from social norms and to achieve the best possible results to drive business growth.”