I’ve been doing the LinkedIn rounds since I returned to the corporate world after my sabbatical. Catching up with old colleagues and friends to let them know what I’m up to now. A message popped up the other day from someone I used to work with. I hadn’t heard from the person since I had to make her redundant a couple of years ago. Ugh, just typing that makes me cringe a little. ‘Redundant’ is a horrible word, especially when used in relation to a person with feelings and responsibilities and plenty to offer the world, regardless of whether there is a spot in your organisation for them right now.
Anyway, the message was just lovely. She thanked me for the support and guidance I had provided over the time we worked together and was hugely positive about the changes to her life since. Warm fuzzies all round. Then I spoke to Leonie about a week later and she had a similar conversation with someone she had made redundant during her time consulting. We are now doing some work with this person’s new organisation.
It really got me thinking. Amongst other things, I think the consistency in the attitudes of both these people was founded on the belief that they were shown respect during not just the final conversations at work, but over the course of their interactions with us. Which meant the hard messages were delivered on a base of trust, respect and empathy built up over time. That allowed them to focus on resilience and moving forward instead of bitterness and resentment.
A recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘Do Your Employees Feel Respected?’ by Kristie Rogers quoted a survey by Georgetown University of nearly 20,000 employees worlds wide. The participants ranked respect as the most important leadership behaviour.
Rogers discusses two distinct types of respect, owed respect and earned respect. She categorises owed respect as being accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organisation; it meets the universal need to feel included. In environments with too little owed respect, you typically see micromanagement, incivility and a sense that employees are interchangeable. Earned respect recognises individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviours. It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and affirms that each employee has unique strengths and talents. Stealing credit for others’ success and failing to recognise employees’ achievements are signs that it is lacking.
Rogers reports employees who say they feel respected are more satisfied with their jobs and more grateful for—and loyal to—their companies. They are more resilient, cooperate more with their leaders and others and perform better and more creatively. Whereas, a lack of respect can inflict real damage. Rogers refers to a quote from Crucial Conversations, “Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about.”
It’s worth spending some time thinking about the conversations in your workplace. Do they indicate a culture of respect? If not, what can you do to start building a respectful organisation? Rogers sets out seven simple steps and her article is well worth reading, but here are a few of the key takeaways that really spoke to me:
1. Respect in action: Whether we are leaders or colleagues, we can all shape an environment where we reinforce respectful cues and make social worth a day-to-day reality for one another. Things like active listening and valuing diverse backgrounds and ideas convey respect. For leaders, delegating important tasks, remaining open to advice, taking an interest in their nonwork lives and publicly backing them in critical situations are some of the many behaviours that demonstrate respect.
2. Respect ripples: Recognise that respect has ripple effects. Leadership behaviours are often mimicked throughout an organisation, and just as bullying or rudeness can spiral, so too can respect. The cascade from the top down is also likely to shape the way employees treat customers, external stakeholders and members of the community.
3. Tailor respect: Ensure a baseline of owed respect and then identify and tailor the mix of respect types that will best enable their employees to thrive. Perhaps you’ve set a goal that requires a lot of collaboration and cohesion, warranting greater emphasis on owed respect. Alternatively, if your culture focuses largely on individual contributions, you might emphasise earned respect while ensuring that performance standards are transparent and direct employees’ attention to objective deliverables rather than to subjective comparisons with peers.
4. Respect saves time: See respect as a time saver, not a time waster. Conveying respect doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of critical tasks. Respect is largely about how you do what you’re already doing. Even if small tweaks are required, the cost of dealing with the consequences of disrespectful behaviour can be far more significant in terms of time and money.