What is respect? Can you define it? We may not all agree on a definition, but we all sure know when it’s missing. Respect is a critical component in any successful relationship, and that’s true at work as well. Earlier, I wrote about trust here. Trust and respect go hand in hand, and it’s worthwhile to look at each individually. So, let’s talk about respect at work.
What does respect look like at work? Respect is hard to define, and even harder to build because it is not activity driven. Perks and fun events won’t create a respectful workplace. Generally speaking, in a high respect organization, employees feel appreciated. The organization is careful to avoid favoritism or any form of discrimination. Employees have the tools and training they need to be successful. Employees’ ideas are encouraged and considered carefully. Management understands the work/life balance concept, and helps employees achieve balance where feasible.
So, what can a company do to build respect? There are some things an organization can do to create and support a culture of respect:
- Find ways to make recognition and appreciation a habit. In a disrespectful environment, employees only get feedback when they do something wrong. In a respectful environment, managers look for opportunities to show appreciation and recognize employee contributions often. Looking for some simple ways to show appreciation? Check out my earlier article here. Your objective is to build a culture where formal and informal “Thank Yous” are common across departments and levels.
- Focus on diversity. Go beyond tolerance to appreciate differences & individual contributions. If you have a diverse workforce, doing diversity training is just a start. And generally, experts will tell you it doesn’t really work. So how can you bring acceptance and respect into your culture? How about a multi-cultural potluck, where people bring in foods from their heritage or nationality? Even if you have a lot of Caucasian employees, you’ll find a few that are Irish, or German, etc., that would love to bring in a dish their family has passed down for years. Or host a lunch and learn where employees volunteer to speak for a few minutes on a family tradition. Look for ways to encourage education and celebrate differences, in ways that are more fun and interesting than canned diversity training.
- Handle bullying/harassment quickly and effectively. When employees see bad behavior being tolerated, respect for management and the organization shrivels quickly. Sometimes a manager will tolerate bad behavior because they think this person is irreplaceable. No one is irreplaceable. And that person is likely causing more harm than good in reduced engagement and productivity in others, and higher turnover. Your high performers won’t tolerate management that doesn’t address bullying or harassment. They’ll find another job elsewhere.
- Monitor for favoritism. While it is appropriate to treat your high performers differently in terms of pay, management attention, promotions, etc, there is a line where you cross into favoritism. Review your practices to make sure pay, promotions, work assignments are not favoring any particular gender, age group, nationality, department, or even an individual. Favoritism, or the appearance of favoritism, happens in pretty much every organization. Do what you can to identify it and address it. And sometimes it’s just a perception. “The engineers get all the perks.” Ok, but do people realize the engineers work 20 hours a week more than anyone else? Sometimes favoritism is just a perception, but you still need to address it.
- Identify work/life balance needs and do what you can to offer flexibility. The concept of work/life balance has evolved into work/life integration. For many, work doesn’t end when they leave the office for the day. And their personal problems don’t cease to exist when they arrive at work. Managers should get to know their employees well enough to understand each individual’s needs, and demonstrate respect by working with each person to find the right balance, to the extent possible in that job and organization. Do you have an employee with small children? Do you have an employee caring for an elderly relative? A little flexibility can go a long way in showing employees that you respect them as individuals, and not just a body in a cubicle.
And finally, don’t forget to demonstrate respect on a daily basis. That means people are not yelling at each other. People are courteous, even kind, and that kindness is recognized. Managers should be the first to model respectful behavior every day and help employees to treat each other with respect, even when they disagree. It’s these daily interactions that provide the foundation for a culture of respect and when it comes to respect, what you give is what you get back.
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