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 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 assorted contributions are valuable and welcome. They have the potential to make a positive impact on the team, the company, and the customer.
Operating in an 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 heat of the moment, you can communicate respect with your words and body language. Nodding along as someone speaks shows you are listening — nothing shows respect like paying attention. And, of course, avoid obvious signs of disrespect like rolling your eyes.
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.
Employee respect leads to a more positive work environment which leads to increased productivity. The entire organization benefits when people feel heard and valued and trust their leaders.
Motivated team members who know their input is appreciated are more likely to share novel ideas. These creative solutions might draw a manager’s attention, helping employees with their professional development.
Developing your emotional intelligence as a team and establishing integrity as the norm will help you create a respectful atmosphere. It all contributes to a respectful, welcoming, and innovative company culture.
Rudeness and undermining can lead to people feeling insecure and uncomfortable. It damages the psychological safety of everyone. Eventually, the whole company suffers if management tolerates a lack of respect among teammates.
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
2. Improved productivity
A respectful workplace motivates people to work harder because they know their work is appreciated. Glassdoor found that 53% of employees feel managerial appreciation keeps them at their job. When we feel valued, we work harder and value our employer in turn.
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 demonstrated 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 boosts employee engagement.
People will want to work for your organization, making hiring easier and reducing employee turnover and the need for employee retention campaigns from the HR department.
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. Good employees will start eyeing the exits. A recent report reveals that toxic work cultures are driving people to quit.
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
A lack of basic respect harms working relationships and productivity. It’s especially egregious when managers or leaders don’t show respect for each other or their teams.
This happening anywhere in the chain of command doesn’t create a collaborative work environment — instead, it creates communication silos and ineffective team collaboration. People won’t feel welcome on the team, and problems won’t be solved efficiently and effectively.
Low respect also deters employees from sharing their ideas. Skill sets go unused and the company could stall out growth-wise if people don’t feel comfortable and confident speaking up or sharing ideas.
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 employees at every level.
Disrespect makes us feel small. This takes a toll on our mental health and self-esteem. Our work-life balance also suffers 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 productive feedback to acknowledge employee strengths and help coworkers improve weaknesses. This shows you care for their professional development and gives you a chance to appreciate their innate skills.
2. Always give team members your full attention. When your coworker shares their point of view, ideas, or insights, actively listen to encourage them to expand on their thoughts.
3. Recognize employee achievements more often. Err on the side of sharing more credit rather than less, especially if it’s a team effort. Everyone’s contribution is important, and creating an environment of fairness and respect means avoiding any hint of favoritism.
4. Empathize with your teammates 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.
Quotes to inspire respect between coworkers
Respectful behavior doesn’t come naturally to everyone. While they may feel respect, maturity levels or previous experience may get in the way of showing it appropriately in the workplace.
In this case, upper management needs to step in, model expected workplace behavior, and openly discuss what constitutes a respectful and fair environment with their team members.
Here are some words of wisdom to kick off the conversation:
“If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” – Maya Angelou
“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.” – Bruce Lee
“We are not a team because we work together. We are a team because we respect, trust, and care for each other.” – Vala Afshar
“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” – Albert Einstein
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant McGill
A respectful work environment flows from the top. Management can’t expect to reap the benefits of respect if they don’t demonstrate it themselves.
Improve your work environment
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.
If you’re working on your workplace respect, chat with a coworker to see if you can be each other’s accountability partners. Check in on progress and pinpoint disrespectful behavior, so you both improve quicker and build a better work environment for all.