Mr, Ms, Mrs – out-dated etiquette or courtesy?

by Stephanie Zillman23 Aug 2012

In the digital age where acquaintances from five years ago are ‘friends’, and formal written language has fallen by the wayside thx 2 txt, the lines of business formalities have been similarly blurred.

Apart from appearing in court and meeting ‘the parents’, many are now unsure of when to use honorifics, if at all. As the first port of call for new recruits junior and senior, it falls on HR’s shoulders to convey the tone of the organisation and ensure neither party is left red-faced.

The topic recently made its way into the Harvard Business Review, and Jodi Glickman, speaker and founder of communication training firm Great on the Job, said the use of first names straight off the bat is the new norm in corporate America.

Glickman argued that using first names in the business world makes good sense for both junior and senior executives alike because it levels the playing field and implies accessibility.

“Walking into a room confidently with a “Hello, John, nice to meet you. I’m Jodi Glickman. It’s a pleasure to be here” establishes you as both confident and mature. It minimises that status gap rather than amplifying it with a “Hello Mr Smith, I'm Jodi...,” Glickman said.

When starting out as a young banker on Wall Street, Glickman said she was even specifically instructed by senior management to refer to everyone by their first names because not doing so would diminish their own standing as fully qualified professionals.

Can the same be said in Australia?

June Dally-Watkins, who runs business finishing schools and conducts corporate training, said in business settings the use of formal titles should reflect seniority, and that not adhering to the conventions would be taking a liberty.

“No one should ever really use a first name unless invited to do so,” Dally-Watkins said.

For employers and HR, using first names for candidates during interviews is likely to be interpreted as friendly, though the interviewee shouldn’t assume it’s a two-way street, she added.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship muddies the waters further. New migrants are advised that in the workplace most Australians tend to be informal and call each other by their first names, but it also advises them to use titles and family names when meeting new acquaintances, and first names only when invited to do so.

A general rule of thumb? Miss Dally said first names should only be used for those in equal age groups or those of equal status and seniority.


  • by Peter Macdonald 23/08/2012 1:30:03 PM

    Disagree totally with Miss Daly's comments. Australians have always prided themselves on being personable and accessible. As a 54 year old i don't know one person who prefers to be called Mr or Mrs. Gen Y won't have it any other way!

  • by David 24/08/2012 9:18:57 AM

    Agreed in modern business, each person is seen as a professional in their field and of equal stature. The norm in team based environments. However, working in a team with professional titles, heraldic titles, across to the standard Mr, Miss, Ms, and Mrs, we often still use the title and the first name.

  • by Tracy Mellor 24/08/2012 12:30:53 PM

    I have only been in Australia for four years but in that time, not one person has called me Mrs Mellor - which is a good thing as Mrs Mellor is my ex mother in law - the thought of being called
    Ms is equally abhorrent!

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