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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, respect is, “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc. ; a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way; : a particular way of thinking about or looking at something.”

I particularly like the second definition where it refers to “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.” Far too often workplaces and their managers and leaders fail to provide a respectful workplace for their employees. Let’s be clear, respect isn’t about giving someone something that they want, or being “nice”, it is about professionalism and being a decent human being. You may disagree with something that is said, or a point that is made or even a decision that is made, but can do so while showing respect and being respectful of others.

Respect WordIn today’s work environments, managers tend to show a lack of respect towards their employees in a variety of ways. It could be that they yell at them, publicly criticize them, question their credibility in front of peers, use abusive language, bully/create a hostile work environment, etc. I have also found that managers that show a lack of respect for their employee(s) attack the person themselves instead of focusing on the (business) issue it hand. Everything is personal and often treated with emotion as opposed to looking at things with a common lens (i.e. how can we benefit the business) and treating each other some basic respect.

All of the above examples are ways that managers can and do show a complete lack of respect for their employees. When these behaviours exist and are not addressed this then permeates down to the employee level whereby you will see staff members treating other staff members this way. You will then have a systemic organizational issue that if left untreated, will ultimately lead to things like low engagement, turnover, human rights complaints and civil suits being filed in the most extreme cases – all of which are a result of a lack of basic respect for each other in the workplace.

The lack of respect in the workplace could exist for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the leadership team lets it go unchecked because the “offender(s)” deliver results? However, that is myopic thinking because the short term gain of their results is counter acted by the long term damage done (turnover, etc.). I have often found that managers that show this overt lack of respect towards others are insecure in their own abilities – both technically and as a manager. They treat others with a lack of respect in order to deflect from their own shortcomings. If they can make it seem like others are less valuable or inferior to them, then perhaps they think they are seen as that much more important to their employer?

Regardless of the reasons, these types of behaviours need to stop. It is incumbent on us as leaders and/or HR professionals to deal with these types of behaviours. If you are an organizational leader, it is your job to address this inappropriate behavior and set the right example. Recognize/reward the champions of the respectful workplace and send the problem children packing if they can’t behave like adults. HR pros, you need to work with and support you org. leaders on establishing this type of culture. Identify the risks to the people and the organization.

Provide training to your managers on how to coach and deal with conflict and make sure you are focusing on business issues and NOT the people when addressing any performance issues. Let’s make a respectful workplace mandatory. Those that don’t are going to be the ones whose organizations keep wondering why their turnover is so high, or why absenteeism is on the rise, or why the survey scores are low, or why our profit margins have been declining…….you get the picture. I know many of you that read this post are going to think, “My god, does this stuff really occur/exist in workplaces today? Don’t we all get ‘it’ by now? Didn’t this stuff going away in the ‘70’s.” The reality is that is does go and still exists in MANY workplaces today. It needs to stop. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of  Karen Keller/karen-keller.com


5 Responses

  1. Scott, Yet again you have hit the nail on the head. All to often the ‘office culture’ tends to flow downhill through the ranks. Whether it is negative or positive, it starts from the top, trickles down to the bottom and becomes a torrent.

  2. Ian thanks for the comments. You are right in that the culture of an organization is driven from the top down. Respect is such a basic thing that goes a long way. It is the foundation of a solid employment relationship.

  3. Great comments Scott! A cascade effect of disrespect begins with each individual no matter what their level in the organization. Before a respectful workplace can embed individuals must ask themselves, “What behaviours do I demonstrate that make people feel respected, what behaviours of mine are disrespectful, and what do I need to do to change in order to inspire a respectful workplace culture? This strategy speaks to personal professional accountability and responsibility. It also honours most organization’s espoused value, “We treat all individuals with dignity and respect.”

    • Thanks Barb – appreciate your views on this one. Respect needs to be found at all levels but I do look to leaders and managers to model the behaviour. It is that much easier to expect employees to follow suit and model the behaviour accordinginly – AND hold each other accountable!

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