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How to practice respect in the workplace
Illustration by Tiffany Tsai

4 min read

How to practice respect in the workplace

Cultivating a respectful workplace starts with leadership, but it's also the responsibility of each employee.

Do you feel respected at work? Do colleagues listen to what you have to say and value your opinion? Do people in your office treat each other professionally?

Feeling respected is something we sometimes take for granted because, most of the time, people treat each other with respect and kindness at work. But when someone doesn’t hold themselves to that standard and makes us feel insecure about our abilities, it can have a demoralizing effect on our attitude towards our job, and that can create a ripple effect throughout the company culture.

We’ve all no doubt had negative experiences with disrespectful coworkers or even toxic working environments that made us feel like we weren’t valued or treated fairly. But if disrespectful behavior is a routine occurrence for you, something you have to contend with often at work, you’re working in a psychologically unsafe workplace. And no one should have to endure that.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at how to be more respectful of each other at work. We’ll also look at some strategies for creating more respectful workplaces.

What does respect in the workplace look like?

A respectful workplace is one where acts of professionalism, integrity, trust, fairness, openness, and understanding are the norm. Here’s what that means in practice:

  • Treat people the same no matter their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, size, age, or country of origin
  • People can freely express themselves and share their ideas with confidence that they’ll be taken seriously
  • Practice constructive criticism only
  • Disputes and disagreements are resolved in a healthy, respectful way
  • Open channels of communication
  • Recognize that employee safety, health, wellbeing, and work-life balance directly impacts professional success and productivity
  • New employees are welcomed across the organization and provided with adequate training and development opportunities
  • Advancement and promotions are unbiased, fair, and based entirely on merit

Together these form the foundation for a respectful workplace, though this list is by no means exhaustive. The benefits of enacting these in the workplace should be painfully obvious: increased productivity, a sense of integrity and trust, a more close-knit culture, transparent and free-flowing communication, and healthier, happier employees.

But respect in the workplace not only depends on a shared understanding. More importantly, it requires a conscious effort by each and every employee to elevate their behavior to a certain standard. As you probably already know, this is the tricky part.

How to create a more respectful workplace

1. Lead by example

As leaders it’s not only in your interest to treat your employees with respect and dignity; it’s your duty. Because leaders are in a much more visible role, it’s imperative that you exercise utmost care when you’re in a room with your team or speaking publicly.

When there’s resentment or a lack of respect between two leaders, or between a leader and a team member, it becomes very obvious very quickly to everyone who has to witness it. It's awkward! Not only that, it tells the rest of the team that disrespectful behavior is tolerated.

On the flip side, mutual respect is also plain as day. Susan Heathfield explains: “You can hear respect in a person's tone of voice, in their nonverbal communication, and in the words they use to address you. You can see respect in how your coworker or boss deeply listens to you and asks questions to make sure they understand your point of view.”

Leaders set the tone for their teams, and subsequently for their organizations, so it's your duty to strive to be respectful and inclusive at all times.

2. Swiftly shut down disrespectful behavior

People disrespect each other intentionally and unintentionally, but if it’s something that happens regularly it’s typically because there’s no consequence. I’m a firm believer in shutting down bad behavior immediately because, if you shrug it off or turn a blind eye, it can quickly poison an organization’s culture and tank employee morale. If it doesn't get shut down, it's going to be a bigger problem later on. Just take a look at Uber.

When a leader calls out a colleague or team member for inappropriate or malicious behavior it makes it abundantly clear that 1) employee wellbeing and psychological safety are held in high regard, and 2) disrespectful behavior won’t be tolerated.

Of course this is a rare occurrence in most organizations because most people are by default pretty respectful in the workplace. That said, it doesn’t hurt to remind wayward employees of office norms from time to time, either in a private message or a stern 1:1 conversation.

3. Recognize respectful employees

Public recognition can go a long way towards cultivating an atmosphere of respect across your organization. Employees who treat others with respect and dignity, who go out of their way to be fair and understanding, can be celebrated for these traits at an All Hands or Fireside chat.

This rewards respect in the workplace and gives colleagues a standard of respect to emulate in their everyday interactions with one other.

4. Sensitivity training

If that’s not enough to help promote respect in the workplace, there’s always sensitivity training. It doesn’t have to be a last resort either. Implementing a short sensitivity program into your employee onboarding helps set expectations around behavior among new hires from the get-go.

Conclusion

Much like company values, respect is more than just paying lip service to an idea. It’s about embodying that idea in the daily actions of each employee—it’s about making it real within your culture.

 

Want to a create an employee experience centered on respect?

Read how

Read more by
Corey Moseley

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