An increasing number of corporate executives are turning to etiquette courses to improve their professional standing.
Increased business with Asians, who are conscientious about protocol and hold it in high regard, has spurred the interest of some. But there is also an increasing realisation of the value of social and communication skills at work and beyond.
“If the boss slops around looking exhausted, what's the rest of the team going to be like?” says Lizzie Wagner, doyenne of one of Australia's leading corporate training schools, the Canberra-based Lizzie Wagner Group.
“Good behaviour is good business and pays off in the end. It can be reflected in the bottom line.”
Image consultant Nicola Barnard says men increasingly understand that image does matter. “Putting together a good work wardrobe, grooming, dealing with people in business - they're seeking advice on all of these things, particularly when there's been a change in circumstances, such as a promotion or change of jobs or sector," she says
Wagner says many executives are "busy being so busy that they forget about their professional appearance”.
"Corporate men may be super-smart and clever but there will always be a need to brush up on social skills on a regular basis.
"It encourages a positive level of interaction. You can't have great customer service if you don't have it with each other. Etiquette is fundamentally a consideration of others.”
Corporations and individuals are investing time and money on courses ranging from weekend workshops to weekly one-on-one sessions. Says Wagner: "I've just been flown all around Australia and been paid to take young men out to lunch."
Finance executive Daniel (not his real name) enrolled in a business and social etiquette course soon after securing his first position following graduation, at a major firm in Melbourne.
He now pays for a half-day of private tuition every three months to keep on top of his skills and develop others.
"I'm from the country and I'd never dealt with high-end types before. It was OK at the office but I needed to be able to hold my own at work functions, " says the 26-year-old. "They're all a lot older than me and their wives are successful career women too. I was out of my depth. "
Daniel makes trips to a school in Sydney to be coached on how to dress, body language, conversation skills and table manners. "I'm ambitious for me and my family. I want to be the best I can."
Men make excellent students, says Suzanne Dekyvere, a Melbourne-based personal stylist. "They like rules; they like to follow rules but they need to know why."
Wagner says many Gen Yers would benefit from coaching. "Nobody sits down to dinner anymore. Conflict resolution and negotiation skills are learnt in childhood," she says.
An important part of her work is teaching people to become self-aware and monitor and modify their image and behaviour to suit the situation.
"If more people spend more time developing social skills we'd all be better off. Workplaces wouldn't be in such disarray with their staff internally and outside the office networking and getting plastered," Wagner says.
"Deep down everybody wants to elevate their self-esteem and confidence and this needs to be attended to regularly. Appearance, social skills - everyone needs a refresher."