Successful meeting with a handshake
In 2018, Georgetown University surveyed 20,000 employees worldwide and asked respondents to rank positive leadership traits in order of importance. Attribute # 1 wasn’t clear communication, strong work ethic, or empathy, important as those are. Instead, employees put respect at the top of the list.
Any company that does not promote an environment of mutual respect only requires employee turnover. A persistent lack of appreciation and general courtesy is sure to keep your HR team busy managing a revolving door of new hires and disgruntled exits. As always, word of this will get around quickly and seriously damage your brand’s reputation.
As with any other business priority, teaching a shared value of respect starts at the top. Leadership must consistently show what it looks like to show respect in the organizational chart. A key component of the process, as Aretha Franklin famously suggested, is figuring out what it means for your employees. In addition to being clear about how different people perceive and receive respect, there are a few steps you can take to create a respectful atmosphere.
1. Choose your words carefully
Let your people do things right. Praise lavishly in public and criticize sparingly in private. Try not to go overboard on either side of this equation, but don’t slowly share the well-deserved praise.
Give an example of what it looks like to have a positive attitude and show gratitude for a job well done. By leading in this way, you are inviting others to join in with words of praise and encouragement as well.
Constructive criticism is often necessary for growth and improvement, but too much of it can be debilitating. You also want to watch out for signs of micromanaging in your leadership style. Micromanagers send a silent message that they don’t trust their employees, even if they mean well.
With the increase in remote working, your ability to speak to co-workers will be limited. So take advantage of the opportunities that are offered to you. During virtual meetings, focus on employee praise and use online communication channels to send the occasional positive message.
2. Make soft skills a priority
I would much rather hire someone with obvious soft skills – emotional intelligence, self-control, adaptability – than a candidate with superior qualifications who can overwhelm others. Maintaining respect in the workplace becomes exponentially easier when you filter out selfish, immature people on the front end.
Scanning an applicant’s digital footprint (especially their social media feeds) is an easy way to gauge the level of respect they show to others. Having more than one look at an applicant during the interview is another.
Any commitment to mutual respect must primarily be strengthened through thousands of small, daily interactions. However, you should also allow time and resources to develop soft skills throughout the year, whether this is in the form of seminars or informal book studies. Don’t wait for problems caused by bias, assumption, or misunderstanding.
3. Resist all forms of exclusion
Keep an eye on the cliques that are forming in your workplace. When employees begin to separate based on job description, seniority or other criteria, this can quickly lead to an erosion of trust. Should a rift develop between two entrenched groups of friends, it will be all the more difficult to unravel their destructive effects.
If appropriate for your environment, consider holding short, informal morning sessions to improve communication. Smart use of project management software can also help employees better understand how each member of the team is contributing to a common goal. Whatever you can do to break down silos promotes mutual respect.
Another tried and tested mechanism for promoting employee loyalty across workgroups is to have occasional activities for your team outside of regular working hours. These events work best when they’re both fun and optional. Whether it’s a meal, a sporting event, or a game night, the idea is to plan out ways to interact that people really want to participate in.
4. Clearly articulate zero tolerance for harassment
Few things torpedo workplace respect faster than unaddressed harassment. Studies have shown that approximately 60% of workplace misconduct goes unreported. The most common reasons for underreporting are fear of not being believed, threats of retaliation from an abuser, or belief that management doesn’t really care. Any workplace that does not speak out against all forms of employee harassment is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Each of your employees must be 100% sure that management not only prohibits abuse based on established guidelines, but also has effective methods in place to deal with it if it occurs. When abuse is investigated, the consequences must be quick and severe. Clear information about an employee’s rights and company-specific procedures for confidential reporting of harassment should be posted in prominent locations.
5. Become transparent
Maintaining an atmosphere of respect inevitably requires an emphasis on transparency. Personally, I find it hard to respect someone who keeps a lot of secrets, and the same dynamic happens at the macro level in the workplace. By promoting openness and clear communication, you earn respect by showing trust.
Start by making company information more accessible to employees. Everyone should know where to look when they need details on a specific project or business initiative. Improved access to information makes employees feel respected as they are more autonomous, work without micromanagement and can take responsibility for their performance.
If you prioritize respect as a company value, you might be surprised at how quickly your team gets stronger and overall performance improves. Employees who feel respected are more likely to pass this on to others and are less likely to behave negatively.