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The Impact of Politeness in British Business

Is politeness costing you your business expenses?

The latest Webexpenses research has helped to kickstart a national debate on how British politeness may be affecting our businesses.

It follows the publication of survey results showing that 78% of UK office managers believe that over-politeness could be costing their company money.

The study, carried out by an independent research firm Censuswide, explored the way that British attitudes may be preventing bosses from challenging employees.

The questionnaire, given anonymously, revealed that one-in-five managers admitted to not challenging expense claims they suspected to be fraudulent.

The main reasons given were the fear of entering into ‘awkward’ conversations, not wanting to upset colleagues and a feeling that it would be rude.

The findings were reported throughout the national media, sparking a debate on what impact British attitudes within the business community could have on companies.

Among the newspapers to cover the story were The Telegraph, The Independent and City A.M; along with a host of business magazines and websites.

The research also inspired Telegraph columnist Edwina Currie’s weekly column, ‘I’ll be straight with you: over-politeness is just rude’.

In the column, she states:

“The Queen, whose manners are impeccable, knows how to say things bluntly. After Clare Short’s phone went off during a Privy Council meeting, HM smiled and said: “Oh dear, I hope it wasn't anyone important.

“Such straight-speaking sadly seems lacking in business. A recent survey revealed that nearly 80 per cent of bosses think being over-polite is costing them money.

“A quarter haven’t felt able to confront an employee returning late from lunch; a fifth have failed to challenge a dodgy expenses claim. They won’t make a fuss about late payments and daren’t challenge wrong-doing, for fear of seeming rude.”

Her call for British people to be a little blunter with one another helped to provoke more than 250 comments from readers.

It wasn’t just the news sites where the discussions were taking place. Webexpenses CEO Adam Reynolds was invited to talk about the findings on-air with Simon Rose of ShareRadio.

Adam said:

“The research was based on some of the conversations we have been having with clients and prospects.

“One issue we have found is that, in some instances, if an employee is doing well in other aspects of the job and it’s not directly affecting the line manager, that sometimes a blind eye is turned.

“What our system does it to highlight and flag if something is out of policy and that supports having that conversation, it makes it much more difficult to be avoided.”

And it wasn’t just the British media talking about the politeness survey. Among the international media groups to cover the story was US-based media giant CNBC.

You can take a look at the full research findings in our white paper report here.