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Building a Culture of Respect

July 10, 2017
By Michele Eby

“Civility is a thing of the past!” a friend of mine lamented over coffee one day. I expected her to go on and cite the current political landscape or a viral Facebook video, but instead she described her workplace.

Every Friday morning, she and her co-workers file into the conference room with their heads and spirits down. They brace themselves for the storm as their boss brings the meeting to order with a bombardment of verbal rants and public humiliations. Disrespect and incivility are rampant she told me. After two years of these stormy Fridays and other tirades, she’s ready to see some sun. She wants out.

Fortunately, most leaders don’t behave in such an egregious manner. Sometimes disrespect and incivility flourish because leaders don’t make respect part of the culture. Other times, it’s due to inattention: leaders may be so hyper-focused on results they are unaware of the day-to-day work environment. And, training for the organization's leaders may be needed

Yet, intuitively, most leaders understand the correlation between respect and high performance. And, let’s face it -- all of us want to work in a respectful, civil work environment in which our contributions matter.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual survey, respect for employees is the most important contributor to job satisfaction. For the third year in a row, it topped the list; more people cite it as very important than other factors, including pay and compensation. This is where leadership training in workplace respect and civility come in.


                                For the third year in a row, respect for employees topped the list
                                               of “very important” job satisfaction factors.


Here are a few key takeaways from SHRM’s April 24, 2017 “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey”:

  • Respect is #1.
    The number one contributor to job satisfaction (65% deemed it very important) is “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” (but only 38% said they were very satisfied).
  • Trust is #2.
    “Trust between employees and senior management” is the second most important factor (tied with pay and compensation). While 61% said it was very important, only 33% reported they were very satisfied. Also of note: trust between employees and senior management is gaining importance; this job satisfaction factor increased by 6 percentage points from 2015 to 2017.

This data reinforces the notion that in creating a respectful workplace, leaders need to pay attention to the level of respect and trust that percolates through their organization. ALL employees deserve (and desire) a workplace that is built on respect and dignity.

If you think this is just about adding something else to your already overflowing plate, think again. Building respect is not a box on a compliance training checklist or another task to add to your to-do list. With some intention, it becomes part of your day-to-day. It becomes who you are as a leader and it trickles down to your employees.

What can leaders do?

Consider these ideas for building a diverse and inclusive workplace free of harassment and bullying.

  1. Be the first in line. Like it or not, your employees are watching what you say and do. They assess whether your actions match your words. Training about unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying is important. But, talking about these difficult topics is not enough. Your participation is critical. Be the first in line. Attend the training (or facilitate it yourself) and make sure your employees know it’s important.
  2. Make respect a core value. Talk about it. Offer training. Make sure your employees know you will not tolerate gossip, harassing, bullying or any other negative or disrespectful behaviors in the workplace. Communicate policy, and lead by example. In other words, walk the talk. Don’t let respect, diversity, and inclusion be the “flavor of the month.” If your employees think a respectful workplace is just another company initiative that will go away, they won’t take it seriously.
  3. Make employees responsible for maintaining a respectful workplace. While it’s true that you set the tone, the responsibility for a respectful work environment does not fall solely on your shoulders.  Hold employees accountable for respectful behaviors.    
  4. Diversity is not enough; focus on inclusion. Listen without interruption. Encourage employees to share ideas and opinions. Let your employees know that you value their contributions and encourage team members to collaborate and work together.
  5. Show you care. Your employees are more than the role they perform in your department. They are more than their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. They are more than their values, beliefs, or how they work and think. They are human beings with thoughts and feelings, and personal lives outside of work. Your employees are people first and workers second. Ask about them. Ask about their loved ones. Check in with them and show you care. Spending a couple minutes connecting with your employees as people first, can go a long way toward building trust.
  6. Strive for fairness and transparency. You build trust, one person at a time, one interaction at a time. And, you can undo the trust you’ve built with one unfair or unjust act. Let your words and actions be transparent. Not all company decisions, goals, and strategies can be immediately shared. But, it is important to acknowledge things when they are happening, even if you can’t go into details. If your employees feel you are hiding something or not being honest, or if they question your integrity or character, they’re not going to trust you. And, once you’ve lost trust, it’s a lot harder to rebuild it.

Disrespect can be as subtle as hidden biases and lack of inclusion. Or, it can be as blatant as harassment or bullying. Either way, the impact is significant. Regardless of how respectful your work environment currently is, it’s important to remember that building (and maintaining) a culture of respect and trust begins with the leaders. It takes intention and commitment, but it’s worth the effort. And, the payoff is big. Higher job satisfaction. Higher morale. Higher productivity. It’s a win-win for the employees and the organization. 


Explore training options with Respectful Workplace training videos.