News and advice on business etiquette — April 2014

How to express your sympathy to a colleague who has been given the proverbial pink slip. Plus some reasons to save big decisions for the morning, and how hiring managers can deal with new websites selling phony work histories.

Business Etiquette

Q: What's the professional way to deal with a colleague who has been let go from the company?

A: It's typical for employees to be given the proverbial pink slip behind closed doors without an audience waiting in their cubicles, but this isn't always the case. Whether the person who's been dismissed is a friend or an acquaintance, it's hard to find the words to express your sympathy.

Louise Fox, a business etiquette expert in Toronto, says it's important to employ "social intelligence" in this situation. "You have to take into account not only the situation, but also who is involved, your relationship with this person and who else is present. Then decide what the most considerate and appropriate response is." It's probably best to stay mum if there are others around — especially if managers are nearby. If you want to offer a few words, a simple "I'm sorry" is professional. "If the situation warrants, you might say, 'Is there anything I can do to help?' When you err on the side of kindness you are hardly ever wrong."


Walt in the morning, Heisenberg by afternoon

As if you need another reason to be an early riser, new research shows that people are far more likely to "break bad" and engage in unethical behaviour later in the day than they are in the morning.

A study published in Psychological Science found that the "normal, unremarkable experiences associated with everyday living can deplete one's capacity to resist moral temptations." In other words, while it might be easy for us to avoid lying or cheating when we feel refreshed and rested, the fatigue of doing the right thing all day long can use up our ethical willpower. Subjects who participated in the researchers' experiments in the afternoon did indeed lie or cheat more than those who did so in the morning, suggesting that "the mere time of day can lead to a systematic failure of good people to act morally." The moral of the story? Plan to make your toughest decisions right after breakfast, and be wary of others after lunch.


Flouting fake references

Speaking of questionable ethics, a service that sells phoney work histories to job hunters has been in the spotlight lately, with coverage in Forbes and MSN Money. will reportedly provide subscribers with a live operator who will act as their former supervisor at a pretend company, another operator who will pose as the supervisor's secretary, and a virtual company website employers can look up online.

So what's a hiring manager to do?

Use an outside directory to crossreference company names and phone numbers provided on a resumé, and look for professional qualifications or designations (might we suggest CPA?) that can be verified through a respected regulatory body.