Why Respect at Work Matters

As a leader, it is your job to create a workplace where jerks don’t thrive. You can lose employees, customers, and productivity with one critically positioned offensive employee. Respect is an essential leadership behavior. Developing respect in the workplace builds an environment where employees and their companies become the best versions of themselves. Workers flock to respectful offices because their ideas will be seriously evaluated.

You’re a branch manager with no alternatives other than redistributing workloads with tellers because of recent layoffs. So when you show up first thing in the morning, you usher your assistant bank manager into your office and assign her the task of redistributing workloads among the tellers. Your tone is expressionless and indifferent. When she asks you about the work, you act like you don’t hear her or even look her in the eye. You are trying to be efficient and fair. But will your employee feel that you are respectful?

This icy cold exchange fails to show respect to your subordinate. It will drive toxic incivility in your bank, lowering morale, productivity, and profit. Your failure to openly communicate with coworkers, devote full attention to the conversation and acknowledge the colleague in conversation is disrespectful behavior.

The Business Case for Respect at Work

Disrespect inflicts significant damage to an organization. According to research, nearly 80% of employees treated with disrespect lower their commitment to the organization and spend substantial time at work worrying about it. Half spend less time at work and intentionally decrease their effort. And 75% of them reported a decline in performance. Customers turn away too. People are less likely to buy from a company with rude employees, even if the rudeness isn’t directed at the customer. Eighty percent of customers would avoid business with a company with rude employees. Respect creates a resilient organization where employees are grateful and loyal. They take direction from leaders, cooperate, perform better, and are more creative. 

How do you know that your workplace lacks respect? 

An office where there is micromanagement, incivility, abuse of power, and an idea that employees are interchangeable is toxic. Stealing credit for others’ achievements and failing to recognize success are signs of a workplace with a respect problem. Those situations are poisonous. The short-term gains that they achieve will come at the expense of long-term gains. 

Am I the office jerk?

Less than one percent of American workers admit to committing workplace disrespect. But workers have witnessed 50% of their coworkers being disrespectful. Those numbers don’t make sense. Either a lot of jerks are lying or they aren’t even aware that they are jerks. Self-awareness is created by discovering how others see us—even when it hurts. You may be the office jerk if:

  • You work harder and sacrifice more than others and regularly let coworkers remember your martyrdom.
  • You get special privileges.
  • You are never at fault. If nothing bad that’s happened was your fault this week, you are definitely at fault. You’re just blaming others for your failures.
  • You have too much to work, too much to think about, and you’re always in a rush.
  • You are surrounded by a bunch of jerks. Meanness can spread through an office like a virus.
  • You exercise a lot of control over others – and held little power before.
  • You feel a continuous need to glance at your phone.
  • No one gives you feedback.
  • You are at the top of the heap, and you are an ambitious personality who feels intimidated by your star employees.
  • You don’t sleep enough.

Workplace Stress is Deadly

Office disrespect is killing workers. The top stressors on physical and mental health are tied to workplace stress. This creates an enormous financial toll on the companies where these stressed employees work. It costs more to remediate the effects of toxic workplaces than it does to prevent them in the first place. Loads of studies illustrate that our tendency to overdrink, overeat, and take drugs is affected by our workplace environment. We take better care of ourselves when we like our work. 

How do you create a respectful workplace? 

Just as incivility can spiral through a team, so can respect. A respectful workplace is overflowing with professional, trustworthy, fair, open, and understanding workers. As leaders, we must demonstrate respect. Leaders are always on stage. So you must show respect at all times. We must build bridges with respect for individual differences. Leaders must cultivate a place where questions are not perceived as a threat but as an indispensable way to communicate if we do not understand. There are many other elements of a respectful workplace.

  • Respond promptly. Return phone calls and emails within the same day. Communicate with transparency and openness. This shows trust.
  • Speak up. Most workplace rudeness is the result of a lack of self-awareness. Ask coworkers why they showed disrespectful or unsafe behavior. As a leader, when you stop bad behavior, you indicate that you hold employee well being in high regard. 
  • Smile. You show kindness when you routinely smile and greet everyone as you arrive at work. Practice the 10/5 rule. If you’re within 10 feet of someone, make eye contact and smile. If you’re within five feet, say hello. Companies that follow this rule see greater customer satisfaction and referrals.
  • Reward. Publicly recognize when workers treat each other with respect. That will create a workplace that gives colleagues a standard of care to emulate in their everyday interactions with one another.
  • Listen without interruption. Show respect in your tone of voice, body language, what you say, and how you say it. 
  • Don’t deal in gossip. Avoid tendencies to become caught up in complaining, scandal, or other negative forms in day-to-day interactions. Be mindful of the saying that, “What Peter tells me about Paul tells me more about Peter than it tells me about Paul.” Your actions will change how people perceive you, not how they perceive others. 
  • Think long term. How will your conduct look in a week, month, or year? Show gratitude by showing people that you appreciate them and their actions. Encourage to show you value your team’s contributions.
  • Treat feedback as a gift. Praise four times as much as you criticize. If the only feedback you give to people is negative, people will think that you just don’t like them. 

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Even when they don’t reciprocate the respect back. Your supervisors, subordinates, coworkers each have competence, experience, and opinions. They make mistakes. Just like your mistakes, theirs are also lessons to be learned. They all have insecurities and concerns. All of them want to win. A professional, respectful work culture encourages growth and productivity.

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