”Every human being, of whatever origin,

of whatever station, deserves respect.

We must each respect others

                                                      – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you remember Rodney’s Dangerfield’s take on “ Respect”?   Do you feel respected?  Do you give respect?  When?  Where?  How do you express it?  Respect is something each of us want, but also something that we sometimes need to be reminded to give. 

Respect is defined as, “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” How important is it to leaders?  A Gallup Inc. study notes “respectful treatment” as the No. 1 contributor of employee satisfaction, followed by compensation and “trust between employees and senior management.”  A separate study also considered the impact of respect on workforce retainment .  When summarized, the results revealed that the real reason people quit is lack of respect for their leader.  The research is clear, when people feel valued and respected they are more grateful and loyal.  If you create these conditions, your business and personal relationships will flourish.  So how can this be done? 

Kristie Rogers, a contributor to HBR considers the importance of “Respect” in her July/August post, “Do Your Employees Feel Respected?   She begins by sharing an interesting disconnect brought to light through a Georgetown University survey revealing that while employees rank respect as the most important leadership behavior, they simultaneously report increasing levels of disrespectful and uncivil behavior on the part of leadership.  Rogers’ research demonstrated two important preconditions: (1) Many who are already in leadership positions are oblivious to the problem.  Respect is not an issue for them. (i.e “ ignorance is bliss”)  (2) Many leaders have an incomplete understanding of what constitutes workplace respect – so well-meaning efforts to provide a respectful work environment may fall short.

Rogers’ research demonstrated that employees value two distinct types of respect:

  • Owed Respect:  That which is accorded equally to all members of the work group.  It is inclusive, signaled by civility and creates an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the organization is valuable and contributes to the organizations mission.
  • Earned Respect:  The recognition of individual employees who demonstrate valued qualities of work or behavior.  It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and affirms a belief that all employees have unique strengths and talents that they bring to the organization.

The challenge then, in creating a respectful workplace atmosphere, is finding the right balance between the two types of respect.  Workplaces with high owed respect and low earned respect can make individual achievement a low priority, while an environment with high earned respect and low owed respect can encourage excessive competition among employees.  So how do we close the gap?

Rogers provides seven (7) suggestions that leaders can use to build and/or improve a respectful organization.  There is no demand to overhaul HR policies or procedures.  Rather, there is simply a need for ongoing recognition of the need for respect combined with subtle and important ways owed and earned respect can be conveyed.

  1. Establish a baseline of owed respect – Every employee should feel their dignity is recognized and respected.  This is especially important for those in the trenches (custodians, shop floor, food service, etc.).  It is important they know their contributions count.  They are treated with the same respect that would be afforded the CEO or other C-suite employees.
  2. Know how to convey respect in your particular workplace – Research identifies specific behaviors that convey owed respect such as active listening, valuing diverse backgrounds, and idea generation.  Leaders can also demonstrate owed respect by delegating tasks, being open to advice, promoting creativity, taking an interest in non-work life, and publicly backing staff in critical situations.
  3. Recognize that respect has ripple effects – Leadership behaviors are often mimicked within an organization; just as incivility can spiral down, so can respect.  As we treat those who work in out organizations, we can expect them to treat each other, our customers, and the broader community.
  4. Earned respect needs to be customized – Identify the reasons that earned respect is to be emphasized or recognized.  Remember that monetary incentives have value, sometimes a personal note, face to face praise, or opportunities for leadership have even greater value. 
  5. Think of respect as infinite – It’s not like dividing up a pie.  It can be given to one employee without shortchanging others.  This is true of both owed respect and earned respect.  All members of then organization are entitled to the first, and all employees who meet or surpass performance standards deserve the later.  Likewise, one’s place on the organizational chart has no bearing on the respect deserved.
  6. See giving respect as a time saver, not a time waster – Respect is largely about how you do what you are already doing.  Owed respect should be embedded in our daily behavior.  It is as simple as greeting staff, communicating, active listening, being appreciative, demonstrating empathy and affirming employees value to the organization.  The time and conditions necessary to demonstrate owed and earned respect pale in comparison to the time and energy that will need to be expended to deal with the aftermath of disrespectful behavior.
  7. Know that efforts to convey respect can backfire – Attempts to demonstrate respect can cause more harm that good when they are inconsistent, haphazard, or simply done for show.  Employees see honesty as one of the most valuable expressions of respect.  Hence, insincere comments and compliments, no matter how well-intentioned, are likely to be counterproductive.

Whether it be in the workplace, our community, or our home, respect is a universal need.  We can all do a better job conveying respect that enables our employees, our friends and those with whom we interact to become the best possible versions of themselves.  It would seem that all we want is a little respect