Do your employees feel respected?
When you ask workers what matters most to them, feeling respected by superiors often tops the list. In a recent survey by Georgetown University’s Christine Porath of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, respondents ranked respect as the most important leadership behavior. In fact, no other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the traits that were measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback — even opportunities for learning, growth, and development. Yet employees report more disrespectful and uncivil behavior each year.
What accounts for the disconnect? Although employees who aren’t shown respect are acutely aware of its absence, people who feel respected on a regular basis—typically, those in managerial or other high-status roles—don’t think about it very much. So leaders may simply be unaware of the problem. Leaders need to keep in mind that respect is different for different people; it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Respect is directly tied to what a particular individual expects — and how the leader makes the person feel. Norms vary by culture, generation, and gender — as well as industry and organization.
A respectful workplace brings enormous benefits to organizations. 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 others, perform better and more creatively, and are more likely to take direction from their leaders. Conversely, a lack of respect can inflict real damage. To quote from the best-selling book 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.” In addition, disrespectful treatment often spreads among coworkers and is taken out on customers.
So what are leaders supposed to do with these findings?
- First and foremost, they need to promote a culture of respect. That starts with recruiting and selecting for civility. Do your homework on candidates and ask directly about their treatment of other people in reference checks.
- Next, leaders also need to be role models for civility.
- And lastly, leaders need to correct bad behavior. Employees that fail to treat people respectfully, should be given fair notice about their behavior, along with clear direction about what needs to change. Impolite behavior must be dealt with swiftly. After all, respect pays.