It struck me as odd that one reporter after another thanked me for always returning their messages. I had just announced my retirement as the longtime public relations chief for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). While pleased with the accolades, it surprised me that extending simple professional courtesy stood out as my singular achievement.
But in the weeks since I retired, I have become painfully aware that a new rude prevails in the workplace and in our digital society. People routinely don’t return calls, texts, e-mails, Facebook, Tweets and LinkedIn messages or even letters, although letters sometimes elicit a response simply because of the novelty.
Trawl the Internet and you’ll see it’s a universal phenomenon. Employers, lawyers, landlords, bankers, teachers, work colleagues, friends, family and even lovers routinely ignore messages.
Judith Kallos of Net Manners says being ignored is a common complaint she receives.
“We live in an ‘all about me’ culture. Common courtesies that make one have to consider how their actions (or lack thereof) may affect someone else have gone right out the door off-line. Why should online be any different?”
Alyssa Bailey, a millennial writing for Elle, says every time she sends a text to her friends and they ignore it, “a little part of my soul dies.” She laments “ignoring is becoming the new norm among my peers,” a point supported by research conducted by Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor who studies millennial generational trends and author of Generation Me.
But it’s not just millennials who don’t return messages. It’s pervasive in an increasingly connected, busy and stressed out world. According to the Email Statistics Report (2015-2019) by The Radicati Group, the average worker receives 122 e-mails daily and that will rise to 129 by 2019. Pile on all the other social media messaging and voicemail and it’s easy to defend ignoring others.
I, for one, won’t let you off the hook. For decades at Metro I worked 24/7 and received up to 400 e-mails, texts, media and other calls daily about activity on the vast Metro system and construction as well as inquiries from job seekers, students, writers and more. I endeavored to respond to everyone within an hour, if only to acknowledge the message and commit to a timely response.
So busy is not an excuse. Nor do I accept the pundits who claim technology empowers you to decide if and when you’ll respond as opposed to simply answering the phone.
A more credible explanation is offered by various management consultants who point out I’m a “no value proposition.” What little clout I had to help others evaporated when I retired.
Now I’m calling for assistance to help a nonprofit I work with that serves the developmentally disabled but even that noble calling drops to the bottom of the digital pile.
When did it become okay to keep others dangling or render them irrelevant by ignoring their messages, and why does it even matter?
It’s that missing kernel of courtesy that is so vexing. It’s great to be so connected but we’re more disconnected than ever. Courtesy is a bond that cements relationships and, ultimately, builds trust. And trust is the underpinning of any relationship, business or social.
Before I left Metro I pressed executives to adopt a customer first model like Nordstrom’s. I figured if we treated each other with respect – including returning messages – it would spread to our service on the street and help
attract and retain riders. I’m hoping someone else picks up the gauntlet and Metro sets an example for other companies, and together we’ll vanquish the new rude.
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