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Showing respect at work: For managers, peers, reports, and ourselves

April 20, 2022 - 13 min read


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What does workplace respect mean? 

Why is workplace respect important?

3 benefits of a respectful workplace

3 consequences of a disrespectful workplace

How do you demonstrate respect in the workplace?

Examples of respect in the workplace

Moving forward

Treat people with kindness and respect. It's a simple first lesson.

But sometimes people need a reminder that respect is necessary in any situation — and essential in a work environment. 

​​Respect impacts employee engagement, well-being, and productivity.

Respect can mean different things to different people, and they will interpret situations differently as a result. For some, respect has formal rules and language and a code of actions that signify levels of respect. For others, respect is a way of seeing and appreciating others.

For instance, many of us were taught to address teachers and other adults as "Mr" or "Mrs," to defer to the judgment of elders, and possibly to not speak until spoken to. Others were taught to never talk down to anyone, to call everyone by their first name, and to always be straightforward in our opinions and feedback. Both might be interpreted as "showing respect."

No workplace can reconcile all of those expectations of respect across 4 or 5 generations in the workforce. However, most workplaces should be able to align on a basic standard of respect. It might not always be perfect but is grounded in recognizing the individuality and humanity of each person you interact with and treating that person with care.

It’s more than simply asking people to do things in a friendly tone. That is being polite. Politeness is important, but showing respect is rooted in actually having respect for the people around you and all the things they contribute and carry.

Workplace respect isn't just for managers, either. Every team member must understand how to behave in a respectful manner.  And, workers at all levels should know how to identify disrespectful behavior.

Let’s start with learning what respect at the workplace looks like and why it's so important.

What does workplace respect mean? 

It starts with recognizing that anyone you work with has feelings and personal lives outside of work. We are all human, not machines. We all have more to us than what is on the surface.

In a respectful workplace, everyone understands that people have good and bad days and that we all make mistakes

A respectful work environment also recognizes that people are bringing different talents, skills, and experiences to the table. Not only is everyone bringing diverse skills and perspectives, but those diverse contributions are valuable and welcome. They have the potential to make a positive impact on the team, the company, and the customer.

Working in a way that is inclusive and welcoming shows true respect for others in the workplace. 

Everyone should feel valued for their hard work and contributions. Ultimately, incorporating and building on others' viewpoints (and crediting them for their contributions) is the greatest show of respect. But smaller things matter, too.

In the moment, you can communicate respect with your words and also through body language. Nodding along as someone speaks can show you are listening — nothing shows respect like paying attention.  And, of course, avoid obvious signs of disrespect like rolling your eyes. 

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Why is workplace respect important?

Take a moment to think about the phrase, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This sentiment applies everywhere: the grocery store, the movie theater, and yes, at the workplace. 

Respect in the workplace helps to build a positive work environment, which allows greater productivity. When people feel heard and valued, it leads to higher productivity. Working on your emotional intelligence as a team will help you create a respectful atmosphere. This all contributes to better company culture.

Rudeness and undermining can lead to people feeling insecure and uncomfortable. This damages psychological safety for everyone. Eventually, the whole company will suffer if lack of respect is tolerated.

Everyone in the workplace should aim to uplift their coworkers — show people they’re important to the team. Your company’s human resources department can help ensure that your team understands the importance of mutual respect.


3 benefits of a respectful workplace

Check out these three benefits that highlight the importance of respect in the workplace:

1. Reduced stress among team members

In a positive work culture, people know they’re supported in both challenging situations and everyday work. Employees who aren’t stressed out can open up and share their ideas. This leads to stronger collaborations, not to mention better physical and mental health.

2. Improved productivity

A respectful workplace motivates people to work harder because they know their work is appreciated. When employees know that their perspectives are valued, they’ll feel encouraged to share their ideas and perspectives with others.

3. Increased employee satisfaction and happiness

Respected employees are happier employees. 

Think about it this way: If you had a manager or team member that showed you nothing but disrespect, would you be happy going to work each day? No. But a culture of respect improves the employee experience, increases job satisfaction, and helps with employee retention.

At BetterUp, we can guide you to develop the skills to manage your professional relationships so that you can feel more confident and empowered in your personal and professional life.

3 consequences of a disrespectful workplace

Working in a disrespectful workplace is generally an unpleasant experience. It can lead to harmful consequences, including:

1. Attrition and unfilled roles

When a leader or manager doesn't show respect in the workplace, it sends a clear signal that there is no psychological safety. People stop trusting their leaders and managers. They stop trusting each other.

Without mutual respect and trust, leaders can't lead their teams effectively. A good leader should lead by example, solve problems effectively, and make people feel welcome.

Without the respect of their team, they won’t accomplish much. Worse, a bad leader who doesn't model respect creates a toxic environment. A recent report in the Sloan Management Review reveals that toxic work cultures are driving many people to quit. Good employees will start eying the exits.

Knowing how to gain respect in your workplace is crucial. While some people may conflate gaining respect with punishing others or flexing power, respect at work often grows out of consistency, integrity, and modeling respect for others. 

2. A shortfall of creative ideas

Lack of basic respect harms working relationships and productivity. It is especially bad when managers or leaders don't show respect for each other or their teams. A lack of respect anywhere in the chain of command doesn’t create a collaborative work environment and collaboration on the team suffers.

People won’t feel welcome on the team, and problems won’t be solved efficiently and effectively.

A lack of respect deters employees from sharing their ideas. Skill sets will go unused, and the company could stall out when it comes to growth if people don't feel comfortable and confident speaking up.

3. A demoralized workforce

People feel insulted without mutual respect. This lack of respect can cause harassment, discrimination, or a lack of equal opportunity for every everyone. 

Disrespect makes us feel small. This takes a toll on our mental health and self-esteem. Our work-life balance will suffer if the workplace constantly disrespects us and we can’t leave that negativity behind.


How do you demonstrate respect in the workplace?

We can show our respect for people in many ways. Huge gestures aren’t required. Instead, showing respect can be as casual as friendly chit-chat or sending an appreciation letter or email.

Here are five tips on how to show respect in the workplace:

  1. Encourage people to give and receive feedback that is productive.
  2. Give your attention. Practice active listening when someone has something to share.
  3. Recognize employee achievements more often. Err on the side of sharing more credit rather than less.
  4. Empathize with your team members and understand that life happens
  5. Never call anyone a name they don't like or make fun of their identity


Examples of respect in the workplace

Now that we know all the power of respect in the workplace, let's think about how to encourage this environment. 

Check out these examples of what respect can look like at work:

  • You're having a meeting, and you invite every employee to it — even the newest hires who are still doing their onboarding. Since you're discussing an issue that the company is facing, you want everyone to be aware and to have the chance to provide suggestions. You make it clear that everyone's opinions are important.
  • A team member has done something at work that's impacted a lot of other employees. Rather than scold them in front of everyone, you ask if they can come to see you in your office. You close your door and have a one-on-one conversation to explain their mistake to prevent any extra embarrassment. 
  • You've become aware that your body language can be intimidating. Others feel threatened and unconsciously mirror your body language. When they do, it makes you feel disrespected. Rather than focus on how disrespected you feel, you try your best to have open and welcoming body language and start to see a difference in how others act around you.


Moving forward

Nobody wakes up in the morning and wants to be disrespected, especially at work. Having respect at the workplace is crucial to achieving meaningful team goals and collective outcomes. So why not be respectful to one another and work together?

We don't need flashy signs or throwing parties every week to show respect. Being respectful is as simple as including people in meetings or congratulating them on a job well done. 

Get someone who will encourage you to share your creative ideas. BetterUp can guide you toward using your voice effectively and with confidence at work.

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Published April 20, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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