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Does Your Accent Matter in the Workplace?

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 4 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Accent Workplace Office Colleague

It’s amazing how many people think they don’t have an accent. We all do, regardless of where we live or where we were brought up.

If you’ve got a strong Glaswegian or Liverpudlian accent you probably know about it, but most people are, understandably, so used to their own accent that they do not realise how they come across and, potentially, what assumptions others may make about the way they speak.

Of course, it is impossible to separate your accent from your performance and professionalism at work, so, for the purposes of this article, we will assume that everyone is performing equally well at work and the only difference is the accent. It is widely appreciated that different regional and national accents can help or hinder your career, depending on the nature of your work. Also, ‘trends’ in accents can give you a boost in the workplace, with what may have been considered a hindrance previously now a benefit.

First Impressions Count

How we sound and how we look are what gives people their first impression of us. Just as it is naive to think that appearances don’t matter, it is wrong to think that our accents do not have an impact on how we are perceived in the workplace. While it is an issue that is not nearly as important as it once was, it is certainly still there. Think about when you phone a helpline or business and speak to someone – you make assumptions about their accent because it is the only thing you have to go by, especially if they are not being very helpful!

Without wishing to get into a discussion on regional or national stereotyping, there are some accents that have characteristics that may or may not match your own actual personality. Be aware that people may attribute these characteristics to you – good or bad. That is not to say that such assumptions are acceptable or even fair, but it is realistic.

Make Your Accent Work for You

However, just as you will probably adhere to some sort of dress code in the workplace and hold off any bad language that may be perfectly fine outside of the office, so too may you choose to tone down your accent. Although you do not want to ‘hide’ yourself and there is certainly no reason why you should, if you feel it may help you get ahead, it is your choice.

That said, you many find that having a strong accent can help you stand out in the office – especially a workplace where there are plenty of people who came from similar backgrounds and had a similar education – and it can be used to your advantage. Studies have shown that people with regional accents are widely considered to be more ‘trustworthy’ than those with perhaps a more ‘upper crust’ accent, so this can work well if it suits your chosen career. It also means that you can gain the trust of clients or customers if your accent may seem a little incongruous with your career choice, especially if clients may be intimidated by some of your other colleagues.

Conclusion

It is difficult to conclude this article because while it is true that accents in the workplace shouldn’t matter – after all, not even the Queen speaks with the same cut-glass accent she had as a child – it is unrealistic to think that no one notices your accent or, hopefully less frequently, judges you on it. What is far more important than your accent though is what you say and how you say it – swearing, glottal stops and ‘text speak’ are far more damaging to your career that an accent can ever be.

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