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Respect in the Workplace

Respect is fundamentally important in our working relationships. If you ask anyone what treatment they expect in their workplace, they will most likely say respect from management and co-workers. An organization’s culture provides the delineation for acceptable workplace behaviour and the culture is shaped by management’s commitment to building a respectful workplace. If management embraces and tolerates a culture of inappropriate behaviour (humiliation, intimidation, disparagement, hostility, etc.), it sets an adverse tone across the organization.

Respected workers perform better

Every employee has the right to be treated fairly and to work in a safe and healthy environment free from harassment. A great deal of research has been conducted in this area. The research done by Harvard Business Review, Gallup, the Society for Human Resources Management, Columbia University and many other sources over the years and in recent times indicates that employees respond positively when they are feeling respected. They are more satisfied with their jobs, more loyal to the company and more aligned with the organization’s principles. Simply put, they perform better. On the other hand, a lack of respect can present issues for the organization. Employees who are not feeling respected or valued at work lack motivation, question their self-worth, and their confidence and productivity is affected. The stress from dealing with these issues can have a negative impact on an employee’s mental health. They may also take more sick days to cope with the mental stress from their work environment and they may start to build resentment towards the people and the organization.

To create and shape an environment where employees are civil and demonstrate respect for each other organizational leadership should:

  • Ensure managers and employees are well aware of the culture surrounding respect;
  • Ensure everyone across the organization is aware that a culture lacking respect is not optional and will not be tolerated;
  • Ensure everyone across the organization understands the organization’s culture and the consequences of disrespect in the workplace;
  • Ensure that inappropriate behaviour is addressed, and managers held accountable for their staff.

How to demonstrate respect

Respect can be demonstrated in numerous ways: tone of voice, words used to address others, nonverbal communication, acceptance of diverse points of view and so on. There are many ways to change workplace interactions and communication to better demonstrate respect in the workplace:

  • Ensure positive feedback is appropriately mixed in with critical feedback;
  • Encourage praise and recognition between employees;
  • Recognize kindness, politeness and courtesy;
  • Don’t “sweat the small stuff”;
  • Avoid demeaning or insulting behaviour;
  • Openly accept diversity of ideas;
  • Be aware of non-verbal interactions and their positive and negative consequences in the workplace;
  • Provide guidelines for employee-employee and employee-supervisor interactions.

A work environment should be a space where people feel creative, motivated and inspired to be the best they can be. It should never be a place that fosters dread out of fear of being criticized or humiliated. A respectful workplace is an organizational effectiveness imperative.

Lead by example

Any organization vying to be an employer of choice and purporting to be serious about cultivating a culture that respects workers, and maintaining an environment where employees can be comfortable and excel, should at least have the follow in place:

  • A formal Code of Conduct;
  • Anti-Harassment Policies and Procedures;
  • A process for investigating complaints by employees;
  • Documented education about all of the foregoing;

And finally, the leadership of such an organization must be a living example.


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