We often think about manners as either good or bad etiquette. You know – the Emily Post sort of stuff. But that is barely scratching the surface when it comes to evaluating employee performance.

A good place to start is with a definition of etiquette.

Etiquette is defined as a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to societal norms.  But manners when it comes to employee performance have a significantly greater impact on success and failure than etiquette alone. That’s because good and bad manners have a somewhat paradoxical relationship with good and bad employee performance.

Doing whatever it takesWhen it comes to a conversation about the role of manners at work, there’s a tug of war between personal gain and personal sacrifice.  Contrary to conventional thinking, bad manners may be just what the doctor ordered for success in a hyper-competitive world.  And good manners may interfere with an employee’s ability to enjoy life and work.  Good manners sometimes are the very behaviors that bury talented and good-intentioned employees under a weight of doom and gloom, stress and burnout.

It’s ironic that “bad” manners are often associated with high achievers and “good” manners are associated with under-performing and high-risk employees.  (Don’t give up yet. Keep reading to see specific examples.)

What’s good for an individual employee’s success and climb up the career leader may not win any accolades for “nice guy” awards but it does typically put lots of dollars in company coffers and fills the employee’s wallet.  Need I suggest any better place to look to prove my point than Wall Street? On the other hand, what’s best for the company may run counter to what’s required for personal satisfaction, job engagement, and an employee’s well-being.

A convenient way to think – no, let’s say re-think – about manners is to place them on a continuum from no manners to destructive manners.  The continuum allows us to quantitatively measure the quality of manners and how they impact individual behavior. By using the continuum,  manners can be measured on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 equals no manners and 100 equals self-destruction.

The ideal range for manners is around 20 – the behavior that allows people to be successful and yet play well with others without experiencing counter-productive stress and loss.  A normal range of manners helps employees achieve the highest quality of motivation, the highest level of productivity in the most efficient manner.

The closer you approach zero, the fewer manners you have. The fewer manners you have, the more effective you become.  Unfortunately when looking out for yourself, you also become a bit self-centered – at least that is how others see you. The higher your manners “score” goes above 20 (especially as you approach the 40 to 60 range), the more counter-productive your good manner behaviors become. You may be exceptionally well-liked, loyal, hard-working, and unselfish to a fault. But personal sacrifices beyond “normal,” also take it toll over time both mentally and physically. You can only postpone personal goals and deprive yourself of pleasure for so long until stress and pain begin to burn you out or force you to your knees. That’s exactly what happens to people whose manner scores exceed 60 – they self-destruct.

Let me be more specific. Here are a few examples of the good and bad “manner tapes” that shape our behaviors and habits.

0 to 10
No or Low Manners
10 to 39
“Normal” Manners
40 to 59
Counter-productive Manners
Destructive Manners
Always takes the last piece of pie without asking if anyone wanted it Offers to share the last piece of your favorite pie with a friend Gives the last piece of your favorite pie to a stranger Doesn’t speak up when someone asks if anyone wants the last piece
Takes the last cup of coffee and never makes it Offers to get co-workers a cup of coffee when you get one Gives the last cup of coffee to a co-worker Makes coffee for everyone even if you don’t drink it
Withholds key information to get a competitive advantage Shares important information to help a friend Shares important information with a stranger Gossips freely and shares confidential information
Cuts to the front of a line Selectively lets others jump in front  of you Doesn’t say anything when others jump in front of you Give your place in line to someone else
Takes all the credit and shares none of it Gives credit when credit is due Ducks the compliment Argues why you don’t deserve the compliment

The Roman statesman Cicero once said “Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.”  To do this, we need throttles on our “manners.”  Too little is uncivil, too much is self-destructive. Knowing when and how to maximize the quality of motivation in one’s life and career is what separates great leaders from bullies, humanitarians from despots, the fulfilled from the envious, success from failure.

Good and bad “manners” as it related to employee performance can be assessed using the Quality of Motivation Assessment. To read more about Quality of Motivation, click here.