ALL-CAPS EMAILS and Other Workplace Annoyances

Most of us will admit that we’ve become unnecessarily agitated by a coworker’s quirks. For whatever reason, or maybe for no reason, your office mate’s habit of dragging his feet while he walks makes you recoil every time he strolls past your door. Or the receptionist who cracks her gum as what is surely an act of passive aggression.

Do you dare confront the annoying employee? Of course not! You’d sound irrational! You’d appear half daft! The annoying conduct is trivial to everyone else-even to you in any setting other than work. But, alas, in the workplace, this seemingly benign habit pushes you nearer and nearer to the line where sanity meets crazy cat lady.

As a rational adult, you keep your insanity in check. You recognize the disproportion of your reaction and you monitor your facial expressions and body language to guard your secret. Other, not-so-rational adults, on the other hand, may not have the same level of self control. They might take their dislikes and pet peeves a little too far. (See What Irks Your Employees? Do You Really Want to Know?)

But wacky and non-wacky employees alike can understand certain fundamental canons of workplace etiquette. And when those cannons are violated, the beast in us can come unleashed. What follows are a few examples of what I consider to be inexplicable acts of discourtesy in the workplace . . .

Leaving your cell phone ringer set to “high.”

Is it really just me or is this habit beyond excuse? This is not the employee who once in a great while or even occasionally forgets to turn off his phone or set the ringer to vibrate when he arrives at work. This is the employee who refuses to turn off the ringer on his personal cell phone, despite the fact that he gets numerous calls each day.

Usually when his phone rings, the employee has stepped away from his desk, leaving his coworkers to shudder through 8 long, painfully loud, and hardly musical rings before his voicemail picks up. Of course, he doesn’t seem to mind. When he returns, he promptly returns the (inevitably personal) call. 3d business man with pencil

So why does the annoyance continue? The answer is debatable. Either he believes that the rules should not apply to him or really is that oblivious that he doesn’t realize how painful this is to the rest of the office. (I am fairly certain it’s the former).

Stealing food from the shared refrigerator.

I’ve written about this unforgivable conduct many times. (See Office Workers Up In Arms Over the Stolen-Lunch Crisis; Just Put Down the Brown Bag and Slowly Step Away From the Lunch). But it bears repeating because of the powerful feelings it engenders for so many office workers around the world. I’m not sure why it conjures up such strong emotions-possibly because the victim is hungry when they learn they’ve been targeted. Regardless of the reason for the reaction, the reality remains the same-if you’re ever discovered, Office-Food Thief, you surely will be savagely attacked by an angry mob of coworkers.

Poor e-mail etiquette.

General unawareness of basic e-mail courtesies inundates our workplaces. And it comes in a variety of bad habits. One universally annoying habit is TYPING AN EMAIL WITH THE CAPS-LOCK FEATURE TURNED ON. Come on, people! What’s wrong with you? Is it not obvious that text typed IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS is the written equivalent of SCREAMING AND YELLING? It is ENTIRELY obvious to everyone except a tiny population of e-mail users.

Wouldn’t it be great to communicate to these individuals that this is not acceptable conduct? What if the users got fired for their all-caps bad habits? Actually, I think the idea’s got merit. Provided that it wasn’t the e-mail style choice but the uncooperative, bossy, and inflexible attitude that all-caps typing often indicates.

One employer in New Zealand actually put this theory to work. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a successful attempt. Vicki Walker was fired for sending e-mails to co-workers that, according to her employer, were too “shouty” and confrontational. The e-mails in question, as you may have guessed, were written in ALL CAPS, with select words in RED ALL CAPS for extra emphasis.

Ms. Walker sued.

Now, really, we shouldn’t be too surprised here. Based on her e-mail choices, she’s not the type who shows concern for something as frivolous as “fairness” and certainly doesn’t give a hoot about what her colleagues might think of her for being a big crybaby by filing suit.

And, in a miscarriage of justice, Ms. Walker won. The New Zealand Employment Relations Authority ruled that, although she’d been a disruption in the workplace, Ms. Walker had never been warned that her e-mail style could get her fired. I guess this means that offensiveness of ALL CAPS e-mails is not as universally obvious as I thought.

3 thoughts on “ALL-CAPS EMAILS and Other Workplace Annoyances

  1. I would suggest that after reading the actual email she sent … which was mostly a how to do something. The complaint of ALL CAPS being used was mostly a reason to toss her out of the job. After reading the comments on the case seems she was merely sending out a MEMO.


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