A group of about 20 prospective college students from Algeria met with a University of Nevada, Reno strategic communications class during summer session 2014 — interacting with the UNR students, several times they used the phrase “to be taken seriously” when listing reasons for choosing an American college.
However, the expression “to be taken seriously” is typically used less often in the U.S. than phrases such as “earning respect” or “achieving recognition.”
Examining what we are really looking for — recognition, admiration, dignity, or acceptance — may help answer the question of whether an individual needs to sense respect from colleagues and managers to feel successful.
Researchers, organizational science experts, managers, and staffers themselves have described what respect looks like, and talked about how respect affects satisfaction in the workplace. One may be able to spot a culture of respect during job interviews, as well.
Respect increases productivity
Christine Porath, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In a 2018 TEDx talk at UNR, she said that disrespect decreases morale and productivity for those experiencing it, and even for observers who are not directly affected.
Dr. Porath ties respect to civility. She studies the effects of incivility on the way people engage with work, and whether uncivil actions reduce cognitive performance.
Porath launched a study together with Christine Pearson, professor of global leadership at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. They found that events such as when a boss made insulting comments or physically ripped up a staffer’s work resulted in productivity consequences; 80 percent of employees worried about it, 66 percent cut back work efforts, and 12 percent quit.
She conducted another study together with Tony Schwartz and the Harvard Business Review (HBR).
“What do people want most from their leaders,” Porath asked during the TEDx presentation. “We took data from over 20,000 employees around the world, and we found the answer was simple. Respect. Being treated with respect was more important than recognition and appreciation, useful feedback, even opportunities for learning. Those that felt respected were healthier, more focused, more likely to stay with the organization, and far more engaged.”
Research analyst and human resources professional Johnny Duncan agrees.
“According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) in 2014, respectful treatment of all employees at all levels was rated as ‘very important’ by 72 percent of employees surveyed, making it the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction,” he wrote. “The businesses that perform better in regards to increased productivity and job satisfaction had developed effective communication practices that included respect for each employee’s work as well as their opinions and ideas.”
Trust shows respect
Duncan ties respect to trust.
“Whether it is being granted the freedom to make mistakes on a particular project or removing restricting rules related to a company travel policy, anything that signals a sense of trust is showing respect for the employee and increasing engagement,” he wrote.
David Balovich, owner of the professional training and coaching firm 3JM Company, Inc. agrees.
“If the employee knows their manager not only trusts them but also invests in them, then that alone will often compensate for the company’s small benefits package,” Balovich wrote in his essay “Respect In the Workplace.”
What respect looks like during the hiring process
A general attitude of respect for employees, and between colleagues may be spotted during a job interview.
Fast Company contributor Jared Lindzon ties respect to a functional company culture is his article, “How to Identify a Toxic Culture Before Accepting a Job Offer.” He interviewed Piyush Patel, founder of the online training company Digital-Tutors. During job interviews, Patel recommends that candidates check for physical cues and use their senses to pick up on signs a culture is functional or dysfunctional. Surprisingly, one place to check is the restroom.
“’If the person who you rely on to work next to you every day didn’t care enough about you to just change out the toilet paper, what does that say about how we work together?’ he says, adding that an empty toilet paper roll can indicate a culture of passing the buck and not taking responsibility for each other’s wellbeing,” Lindzon wrote.
In Lindzon’s article Patel also recommends paying attention to the voices of employees — listening for whether the conversations sound fearful, panicked or excited.
Smelling food may be a bad sign because it could indicate that staffers are eating at their desk — revealing leaders haven’t planned well enough to keep workers from racing during sections of a project, he added.
Lindzon also spoke with Aaron Harvey, founding partner of Ready Set Rocket, a company that won recognition as Best Agency Culture in the Ad Age Small Agency Awards 2018. Harvey suggests asking questions during an interview such as whether mental health is an open topic, and other questions that relate to management style.
“Where will I have the final say in my work, and what needs approval from a superior,” Lindzon wrote.
Signs of disrespect from a co-worker
Balovich listed characteristics of disrespect between co-workers that are sometimes overlooked, such as loud phone conversations or “not pulling their own weight.” Also named are the following:
- Wearing too much cologne
- Playing personal radios audibly
- Sending unwanted email
- Blaming others for mistakes
- Withholding vital information from a colleague
- Taking credit for another’s idea
- Talking behind a co-worker’s back
- Telling off-color jokes
Lori Petterson, department admin at University of Maryland, College Park wrote a Quora response about experiences with disrespectful co-workers. One of the two colleagues she wrote about was observed stealing other staffers’ ideas and passing them off as her own.
“I also worked with a ‘mean girl’ who hated one of our co-workers and would exclude her on purpose from everything — she would ask everyone, one at a time, to go to lunch as a group, and not ask this co-worker,” Petterson wrote. “She would have a party at her house and invite everyone but this one co-worker.”
Petterson then happened to hear the ‘mean girl’ talking with their boss, asking to exclude the ostracized woman from a project because she was unlikable to the point that no one wanted to eat lunch with her.
“The mean girl really disliked this co-worker and now she was telling the boss no one liked her to screw with her work, as well,” Petterson wrote. “I walked in and said, ‘I like her. She’s a good worker and has helped me a bunch of times. She’s very likable.’ I stopped going to the mean girl’s lunches and started eating lunch with the woman who was excluded. Soon the mean girl singled me out but after a few months she gave up — if I wasn’t included in the project, I would volunteer my time and join anyway.”
Staffers may decide to collaborate on their own set of expectations to head off issues such as these.
Dr. Porath — together with Stuart Price, a managing partner of the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm — led an exercise to help employees develop a “civility code” at their Irvine, California office.
Two of the 10 items in the code included the word respect, she wrote on HBR.org.
“We treat each other equally and with respect, no matter the conditions,” Porath wrote. …and “We respect each other’s time commitments.”
What respect from a manager looks like
Respect can be shown whether or not it has been earned, according to Balovich.
“Everyone deserves to be treated without abuse regardless of the quality of their work,” he wrote. “If the employee’s work is good and is still being criticized, they are permitting themselves to be demeaned unnecessarily. If their work is of lower quality than expected, this should indicate to the manager they may need help in learning how to do the job better. Regardless, the employee still deserves respect.”
He suggests questions for employees to consider, including the following:
- “In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for the good work I have done?”
- “At work, are my opinions asked for and considered?”
- “In the last twelve months have I been given opportunities to learn and grow?”
Duncan added that staffers will be more ready and willing to take on assignments in an atmosphere absent of micromanagement.
“The workplace becomes a fun place to make things happen,” he wrote. “Managers and supervisors no longer micromanage, but become ‘encouragers’ of people they respect.”
In addition, Duncan wrote that intently and actively listening to an individual is a show of respect.
Fairness and equality reveal respect
Calgary, Canada-based public speaker and author Patricia Morgan ties respect to inclusiveness.
“When I was a career counselor assisting those on unemployment insurance with preparing for job interviews, I worked with a man the staff secretly called ‘Dinosaur Guy,’” she wrote on SolutionsForResilience.com. “He treated me differently from the male professionals in our office, referring to me as ‘The Blonde Dame.’”
Actions that discriminate may wear down confidence and sense of safety.
She added that in the Canadian Human Rights Act, sexual harassment includes telling a woman that she is “not suited for a particular job.”
In addition, the way questions or comments are worded is important. Phrasing can make remarks subtly disrespectful. Statements such as “You are too sensitive” sound and are insensitive, Morgan wrote.
“Many workplaces have a tolerance policy,” she added. “Take the high road and ask yourself, ‘Would I want others to tolerate me?’ Do what you can to move you and your organization from tolerance of differences to respect. Then consider moving to appreciation and finally celebration. Celebrate differences, strengths, and similarities.”
Dress shows respect
Professional fashion blogger Alison Gary ties respect to personal carriage. Dressing up can show another person you take them seriously, or take the occasion seriously.
“Clothing may cover the body, it may express one’s personality, but the main reason we have skirts and pants, jeans and gowns is for respect,” she wrote on WardrobeOxygen.com.
One of the reasons that job candidates dress more formally for a job interview is to show respect for the interviewer. This attitude can extend to workplace culture.
“A casual environment does not mean you can waltz around in tanks and flip flops and belly tees advertising beer companies,” Gary wrote. “This look gives off the impression that you don’t care about your job, or yourself. I am not saying that you should wear a suit every day, but think carefully about the image you are portraying in your work environment.”
Dena Kouremetis agrees. In an article on the Psychology Today blog, she wrote that semi-formality has traditionally been a demonstration of respect between people in American society.
“Someone wearing their best can have thrown together an outfit from Target, and I’d never know the difference,” she wrote. “These days I could just tell they cared enough to not wear their sweats.”
Kouremetis acknowledges that in the past clothing used to identify societal stratification — dress coats and gloves for the wealthy and sturdy denim for the working class. Today, people have been freed from wearing clothes that reflect their economic status.
Clothes are now more about revealing a personal style, although a balance can be found between expression and respecting others and occasions, she wrote.
“Thing is, dressing elegantly is like breaking out your best stuff when people come over for dinner,” Kouremetis wrote. “It’s a statement about how you feel about yourself and at the same time, ‘treating’ others to something you took the time and effort to put together.”
How do you earn more respect?
Experts say that showing respect for others will inspire their own respect for you — in other words, a strong character increases esteem.
Suzanne Lucas ties respect to mutual regard in her article on TheBalanceCareers.com, “8 Ways to Gain Respect From Your Co-workers.”
The first way to demonstrate honor at work is to follow company rules.
“People don’t respect people who don’t respect the rules,” Lucas wrote. “This is especially true in a workplace where most employees do follow the rules. …Working hard also means that you need to spend your work time on work. You won’t earn the status of a respected employee if you are viewed by others as a person who steals time from your employer.”
Her full list includes the following:
- Follow the rules
- Work hard
- Talk less and listen more
- Assume the best about people and situations
- Apologize and admit mistakes
- Take criticism and learn from it
- Help others succeed
- Stand up for yourself
“You can carefully consider criticism and say, ‘Jane, I heard what you said about the marketing plan not hitting the right target, but I disagree. I believe that the market research shows that blah, blah, blah,” Lucas wrote. “If someone criticizes your personal appearance, family status, race, gender, whatever, you can certainly call them on it. ‘I’m sorry, the fact that I look young has what to do with this?’ Standing up for yourself is critical to earning respect from co-workers and bosses.”
She added that there are times when no offense is intended, or the ill-phrased comment may be a mistake or something that can just be let go.
“When you lift up those around you, you all rise together,” Lucas wrote.
Respect is a part of feeling successful
So, is respect from co-workers and managers needed for experiencing career success?
When looking at research by Dr. Porath, the answer is “yes.” Her studies show that cognitive functioning takes a hit when exposed to incivility. Therefore, not being at one’s best cognitively could lead to mistakes that hinder success.
In examining the work of Balovich, Lucas, Duncan, and the expert commentary in Lindzon’s article, the answer is “probably.” The specialists point to co-workers, managers, and company culture as possible determining factors in happiness at work — that a person is not in it alone and needs others’ support.
Articles by Gary and Kouremetis indicate that dress respects self and co-workers, but they do not make an argument that dressing down causes feelings of disrespect by others. In this case, the answer is “no.”
Morgan breaks respect into layers; tolerance is the first step, then up to respect, next appreciation, and finally celebration. Therefore, one may feel a level of respect, and the corresponding level of success at work.
Alternatively, perhaps it is more about the factor to which an individual ties respect — civility, trust, culture, inclusiveness, carriage, or character — that shapes one’s fulfillment.
At the end of a challenging workday, the answer to whether one needs respect to feel successful appears to point to the idea that offering civility and esteem to co-workers, customers, clients, and managers grows respect for an individual from the inside out.
- “8 Ways to Gain Respect From Your Co-workers,” by Suzanne Lucas
- “Do Nice People Finish Last or Best?” TEDx talk by Christine Porath
- “Respect in Organizations: Feeling Valued as ‘We’ and ‘Me,’” research article by Kristie M. Rogers and Blake E. Ashforth