News

British businesses are too polite

4 min read

26 June 2015

A new survey has found that over two-thirds of UK managers agreed that politeness was costing their companies money.

The renowned politeness of Brits is well-known across the globe – and causes all sorts of minefields for those not aware that sometimes expressions are simply said out of politeness.

A translator table was put together for those whose first language isn’t English to assess just what on earth Brits mean.

For example, when someone says “you must come for dinner” the British translation is “It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite”, whereas the understanding for those not used to British people’s strange quirks is “I will get an invitation soon”.

Similarly – “I only have a few minor comments” really means, “please rewrite completely” though you couldn’t blame someone for thinking “he has only found a few typos”.

It may be surprising to those who battle a daily commute and witness fellow passengers being anything but polite as they shove past or step over people in their hurry to reach a solitary seat on the rush hour train. Then again – queuing is a national past-time for UK dwellers, so perhaps politeness is something of a British characteristic.

Now, a new study by online expenses management provider webexpenses has found that our politeness may actually be costing us when it comes to business.

Surveying over 1,000 managers working at UK companies, it looked at what are the real-world interactions which can affect an expenses policy. It found that 78 per cent of managers believed that politeness and a reluctance to challenge employees was costing their company money.

It doesn’t seem particularly surprising for those managing expenses – it can be pretty tricky to challenge suspicious-looking claims, not to mention wholly awkward when it can appear as if you’re questioning a co-worker’s integrity.

Some 20 per cent of the respondents said they wouldn’t challenge an expenses claim they suspected of being fraudulent, which does though, reflect an impact on business. Webexpenses previously looked into exaggerated and falsified expenses claims, noting £100m annual losses arose from them.

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Adam Reynolds, CEO of webexpenses, said: “The reluctance of UK managers to challenge their employees over simple discrepancies and a failure to observe simple workplace protocol could be costing these organisations considerable amounts of money and time.”

This extends to employees taking liberties when it came to overly long lunch breaks and late arrivals to work – with a fifth of bosses admitting they failed to confront workers over these issues.

The problem may come down to a root cause of communication troubles, as 20 per cent said they chose not to confront employees for fear of upsetting people and feeling uncomfortable at the thought of having to hold difficult conversations.

Obviously, a pleasant workplace environment is crucial to staff morale as well as productivity, but this report may flag up whether senior management are effective enough at communicating with all members of their employees – and how this could be improved upon.

Unsurprisingly, this also extends to business clients – a quarter said they didn’t mention anything on overdue payments.