Workplaces need respect like bodies need air. A frequently quoted line from the book Crucial Conversations captures the importance of respect in the workplace well, stating, “Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about.”
Minor infractions to respect in the workplace significantly impede employees’ ability to thrive at work, and more serious or ongoing offenses can make it almost impossible to do any work. In some cases, individuals consciously show disrespect, while at other times, some might not realize they’re being disrespectful at all — yet intent does not negate impact.
Respect in the workplace always has — and always will — be important. In light of this year’s economic, political, and social upheaval, leaders are being rightfully called to take a careful and critical look at respect in the workplace. From uprooting traditions of systemic oppression to navigating the sudden fusion of personal and professional life, 2020 has triggered an overdue audit of respect in the workplace. Emerging from this historic chapter, the strongest leaders will be those who not only hear the lesson, but heed it.
3 Ways to Show Respect in the Workplace
Respect lays the groundwork for employees to learn from one another, explore their strengths, persevere through challenges, and form meaningful relationships with their colleagues. It’s a fundamental element of any successful workplace and should permeate every professional interaction. Below, we share three high-level ways to show respect in the workplace. As you read, reflect on how to make these forms of respect in the workplace points of consistency, even (and especially) through this ongoing period of unprecedented change.
1. Seek Diverse Perspectives — Then Listen and Act
Not every instance of discrimination at work is intentional, but it’s a blatant form of disrespect and a detriment to professional wellbeing all the same.
Last year, one study found that Black employees experience workplace discrimination at a rate 60% higher than their white colleagues. Across all ethnic minorities, an estimated 76% experienced at least one unwanted race-based behavior in the past 1-2 years. 42% of women and 90% of nonbinary people say they have experienced gender-based discrimination in the workplace. In many cases, one employee has multiple intersecting minority identities which complicates and amplifies these patterns.
It’s easy to believe your workplace is the exception to these statistics, but it’s probably not. Particularly in homogenous workforces, minority voices are too easily drowned out by the privileged majority who make it difficult or even dangerous for those people to speak up.
These are systemic, deeply-entrenched forms of disrespect to fight back against. A good first step is for employers to intentionally seek out and respond to input from employees with a diverse variety of backgrounds. Establishing panels focused on diversity and inclusion, as well as proactive policies and procedures, will be some among many necessary next steps from there.
2. Give Feedback, Both Complementary and Constructive
Another important way to show respect in the workplace is through feedback. Done right, feedback is an excellent opportunity to show employees they’re valued for their strengths and to offer supportive guidance through professional challenges.
Respectful professional feedback addresses role-specific elements of performance as well as broader workplace skills like communication and time management. It’s straightforward to see how positive recognition functions as a form of respect in the workplace — it directly addresses and expresses gratitude for the strengths an employee brings to the organization.
Constructive feedback can also function as a form of respect in the workplace — it’s an indication that the person delivering feedback trusts the employee enough to be upfront with them about areas for improvement and a sign they have faith in the employee’s ability to digest the feedback and grow from it.
Be sure your managers are equipped with the tools and training they need to deliver all forms of feedback effectively.
For compliments and positive feedback, that might mean a streamlined employee recognition feed that makes the process seamless. You should also provide managers guidance on which workplace behaviors are appropriate to praise (think core values, progress towards long term goals, etc.), and which are not. Managers should receive training for delivering constructive feedback as well. Establish a culture of frequent, open communication between managers and direct reports to ensure they’re able to deliver all forms of feedback in an effective and timely manner.
3. Support Balance Between Personal and Professional Life
People once conceptualized a healthy work-life balance as rigid, unbroken boundaries between two separate worlds, but some employees are realizing that the most effective way to juggle both is to fuse them through work-life integration.
The best person to decide how an employee should manage their personal and professional lives is that employee. One of the best ways for employers to show respect in the workplace is to give employees the space and autonomy to make that decision.
Colleagues with comparable professional lives often hail from drastically different living situations. On top of that, circumstances related to mental and physical health can give way to distinct, often invisible needs. Pair all this with the fact that individuals differ in their preferred work style and setting, and you can imagine the complex factors that determine what the best work-life balance/integration is for any given employee. The shift en masse to remote work brought on by COVID-19 has made this more evident than ever.
Show respect in the workplace by demonstrating you trust employees to make these decisions for themselves. This might mean offering a generous PTO policy, flexible working hours, ample support for services like childcare, healthcare, and therapy, or all of the above.
Respect in the Workplace Is a Two-Way Street
Promoting respect in the workplace is a learning process, and you should iterate on the steps you take today to continually refine your organization’s approach(es). Keep in mind that sometimes respect is intuitive, and other times it takes intentionality and effort. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to interrogate all aspects of your business and company culture to ensure respect is present in every corner of your organization. Finally, keep in mind that respect is a two-way street, and employers who treat their teams disrespectfully will be hard-pressed to earn respect or loyalty in return. It’s an essential ingredient to organizational success.
Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.