The Secret to Respect in the Workplace

July 23, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

Respect has gotten a lot of attention in the work environment lately, as it relates to equity, fairness and just getting along. In fact, I think most of us will agree a healthy level of respect is probably the most potent ingredient for workplace civility.

But respect reaches much further than manners and compliance. It also plays a key role in recognition, engagement, and in creating a strong organizational culture. Think about it. Recognition, at its core, is really just a form of respect. People who have been recognized tend to rise to that recognition, and strive in the future to be worthy of it. People who are not recognized for hard work tend to feel forgotten, unappreciated and disrespected.

According to research from executive advisory firm CEB, the top five things employees look for when seeking a new job are:

  1. Stability
  2. Compensation
  3. Respect
  4. Health Benefits
  5. Work-Life Balance

Respect is top of mind for today’s workers. “It’s not a do your work and keep your head down environment anymore,” says Brian Kropp, a managing director at CEB. “Everyone is looking to be recognized and respected for their individual contribution.”

Studies confirm this. One 2012 study of social workers highlighted respect in the workplace as a key factor in voluntary turnover.  When respondents felt perceived lack of respect and support from various levels of the organization (including the administration, directors, supervisors and co-workers) they reported feeling “devalued as individuals and within their organization.”

A reoccurring theme in the qualitative data, said researchers, was a lack of appreciation and recognition for hard work. “The lack of appreciation derived from various players, including supervisors, management and the administration. Some respondents directly linked appreciation and recognition to perceptions of respect/disrespect. For example, a survey respondent wrote, “workers at this agency are not appreciated and are always put down. We are made to feel worthless.”

In fact, respondents specifically cited a lack of a recognition system at their agencies and discussed the need for supervisors and management to publicly recognize staff for their hard work.

“Employee engagement depends upon the extent to which individuals respect their organization and its leadership, and feel respected,“ writes Paul Marciano, organizational psychologist and author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.  Marciano outlines seven critical ways in which managers can show respect to their employees.

  • Recognition: Thanking employees and acknowledging their contributions on a daily basis.
  • Empowerment: Providing employees with the tools, resources, training, and information they need to be successful.
  • Supportive feedback: Giving ongoing performance feedback — both positive and corrective.
  • Partnering: Fostering a collaborative working environment.
  • Expectation setting: Establishing clear performance goals and holding employees accountable.
  • Consideration: Demonstrating thoughtfulness, empathy, and kindness.
  • Trust: Demonstrating faith and belief in their employees’ skills, abilities, and decisions.

Bruce J. Avolio, from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business has offered five similar ways for both employers and managers to earn employee respect:

  • Be authentic: Be an authentic reflection of your organization’s espoused values and principles while promoting transparency and justice.
  • Promote ‘ownership’: Make all employees feel like ‘owners’ versus ‘renters’, that their voice matters, and that people in positions of power listen to learn and engage with their employees.
  • Develop potential: Help each individual feel like they are reaching their full potential and achieving their performance goals by investing in development.
  • Create an energized culture: Create a positive climate where your followers’ energy is directed towards winning against competitors versus defending against internal detractors from what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Sacrifice when necessary: Be willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the organization when such sacrifices contribute to everyone’s success.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Avolio and Marciano’s tips for building respect segue quite closely with the advice for creating happier employees that I published last week, and the advice for creating more passionate employees that Thad Peterson blogged about earlier in the month.

Have you any stories to share about your experiences with respect and recognition in the workplace?

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