Spending three years living with people your own age teaches you a lot, but it really doesn’t teach you manners. In the dark, murky world of student living, manners become distant memories. “Please” and “Thank you”s are rationed, and only used in life and death situations like asking for McDonalds when hungover. Tea is offered only to those held in the very highest regard, and even then, they’ll probably have to bring their own milk and mug. Dishes will be washed only after several housemates have had nervous breakdowns, and toilet roll purchased only once a housemate has suffered a burst bladder. Such are the rules of student survival.
In a professional environment, however, manners are crucial. So argues Kate Reardon. The Tatler editor has recently come under fire, after telling privately educated school girls that it “doesn’t matter” how many A-levels you got or what kind of degree you have; no, the key to success is good manners. “If you have good manners people will like you. And, if they like you, they will help you,” she said. She also stressed the importance of organisation, claiming that being “chaotic isn’t cute”.
There is no denying that Reardon’s speech sounds slightly like an excerpt from an Austen novel. Obtaining ‘help’ and being ‘cute’ shouldn’t be at the top of any professional’s list. However, despite her poor wording she makes a strong point. Whilst some will hope to gain a career in academia, the majority of graduates will find themselves working in a professional environment where professional behaviour and manners will be required.
It is lack of manners and social skills that graduate employers seem most likely to complain about. In a Guardian poll of graduate employers, more than half said that none or “very few” of their graduates were “work ready”, with new recruits lacking basic attributes such as teamwork, communication, presentation, punctuality and the ability to cope under pressure. These little things matter because they affect how you are perceived overall. If you are late, ill-mannered and wearing a crumpled shirt then employers will associate you with unreliability and unprofessionalism, no matter how good you are at your job.
People have criticised Reardon’s claims mostly due to the fact she was born into a privileged family, attended Cheltenham Ladies college and could afford to snub University and seek work in New York instead. Poorer students do not have that luxury. However whilst this may be true, the excellent presentation and social skills she picked up at Cheltenham would still have undeniably been a factor in her success. State school students, no matter how intelligent, are more likely to be at a disadvantage here due to larger classes and less one on one time with the teacher.
Therefore, to give every student the best shot at success it is vital that Universities teach their students workplace manners. I do accept that University is a place of academia, not a finishing school, but the rise in fees accompanied by the fact nearly every job requires a degree means that the relationship between University and the workplace must be strengthened. What is the point of Britain churning out so many bright and talented graduates, if they’re ultimately brought down by a lack of manners and basic people skills?