Anne Alexander

Since 2002, Anne Alexander has provided coaching and consulting services to small business owners with five to fifty employees to help them move forward with substantial, profitable business growth, personal satisfaction, and bottom-line control. She is their confidential, strategic partner in managing and growing their business.

A client of mine gave me permission to share this story with you from a recent coaching call that we had. Details are of course changed to protect confidentiality.

My client, let’s call him Mike, has had interns working for him for the past few years. It’s a great way to keep his payroll costs lower (he pays them, but not a lot) and gives a younger person great experience in their new field.

Mike’s most recent intern, “Josh,” has worked with him part time since the beginning of the year. Josh has a professional degree and working with Mike has given him some valuable real world experience in his chosen field, and hopefully a good reference, as well.

Josh had another part-time job to make ends meet. My client had work lined up for him this summer, but just this week, on a day when he was expecting Josh to come to work, he got an email from Josh instead with the subject line:


His message was that he had the opportunity to work full time in food services and so would be stopping his work as an intern with Mike. He thanked Mike and said eventually he would pursue an advanced degree in their field.

You have probably received a few emails like this, often from people in their 20’s (as Josh is), very informal, casual spelling and grammar – the kind you’d typically send to a friend. But, hey, at least he didn’t resign via a text message!

Mike, being the brilliant client of mine that he is, did NOT respond by email. He has Josh’s last check and intends to wait for Josh to come in to pick it up so they can have a little chat about how you resign in a professional manner. Mike is a great guy and a true mentor of young people. He wants to help Josh and will kindly let him know that sending an email is not a professional way to resign from a job and is not very likely to get him a glowing reference from Mike.

On the other end of the continuum is Mike’s secretary, Claire, a competent professional in her early 60’s. Mike was getting complaints from his other employees that Claire was unfriendly towards them, although she had impeccable manners and friendliness toward the firm’s clients.

When Mike sat down to discuss this with Claire, she talked about how she was trained not to speak personally with her boss or other employees. That was often the case 30+ years ago when she was starting out her career, but now the workplace has become less formal and a some friendly interaction with co-workers is the norm.

Mike had to let her know that it is in fact highly desirable that she engage in some informal chit chat with her co-workers. He assured her that he was not worried about any of them losing focus and not getting enough work done.

As is often the case in business (and life), somewhere between two poles lies the best course of action. Ask yourself where you fall on the informal/formal continuum and make some simple adjustments if needed. This can go a long way to improving your professional relationships.

Because, hey, let’s face it, it’s a balancing act.


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© 2018 Anne Alexander. All rights reserved.

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  1. Nancy Tilton Hand July 20, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Hi Anne,

    Thanks for the post!

    Lately I’ve been learning more and more about communicating/negotiating with “20 somethings” or “Gen Y” and it is very different from the traditional models of communication and negotiation.

    Communication gets even trickier when generations are blended in an office setting – think Gen Y and Baby Boomers working on a project together – and trickier still if Gen Y has more education and/or higher position than the Boomer…

    This is definitely an area we all need to pay attention to because great communication is so important for running a business smoothly! The great thing about this is that it’s not a hidden issue – it’s out there in the open and should be pretty easy to deal with once we put our minds to it.


  2. Kay Presto July 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Yes, Anne, This is a valuable lesson for all…In these days of texting, e-mail, etc., common courtesy is still the rule. I have found that over the years not only communications, but forms of dress for work, even if you are an intern, have slid badly. Casual Friday did not help business at all. When I walked into my bank and was approached by a teller wearing a %-shirt, ragged-edge shorts, and flip-flops, I was tempted to move my money elsewhere. Fortunately, a new bank took over, and now they were shirts, ties, and nice blouses and skirts again. Getting back to the lack of courtesy, why is this not being taught in the schools? I know the teachers are overwhelmed just getting their students to learn English, but can’t we have a special class, on the side, offered to the students? Or where are the parents? And for the woman who was older, yes, more formality was preferred when she began, but I too have found that it is nice to ask one’s name, and comment on their family, or another tidbit, to make them feel important and respected while dealing with them…So glad her boss approached it with her, as good workers like her are hard to find…

    Thanks for this important message. We can all profit from it…

    Warm regards,
    Kay Presto
    Presto Productions

  3. Kay Presto July 20, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    P.S. Pardon my typo in my earlier message. The word is T-shirts.

    Again, warm regards,
    Kay Presto
    Presto Productions

  4. Administrator July 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks, Nancy and Kay, for your comments. There sure are generational differences, as well as differences stemming from how we were raised and where, cultural, gender, racial, etc. Not easy for business owners – or anyone – to navigate!

  5. Mike July 20, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Hello, Anne!

    Thanks for posting Mike’s story. I appreciate the comments the others have posted. I’m going to contact the professor at the local university from which I find interns to see if their curriculum includes a course on proper business etiquette. I doubt it…

  6. Administrator July 21, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Hi Mike! I googled business etiquette classes and there were over 3 million results and some interesting looking offerings on the first page, so I think there is quite a bit of awareness and interest in the subject!
    Best of luck,

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