Before We Focus On Employee Engagement, Let’s Focus on Employee Respect

To build a strong company culture, It must be part of the DNA.

By fizkes/Shutterstock
By fizkes/Shutterstock

It had been a long day and I was feeling grateful to finally grab some dinner. My mobile, which has a habit of betraying me by ringing when I don’t want it to, started chirping. A very distraught, good friend of mine from college, was on the line. He had recently resigned from his company of twelve years to pursue another career opportunity and was about to leave in a few days. He needed a routine, yet crucial employment document from his company for a time sensitive transaction. It had become part of his daily routine to follow-up. Often he didn’t get a reply, and when he did, the message he received was to wait, as there were more critical employee cases on a higher priority queue, with the implied emphasis that they were not “deserting the company,” like him.   Frustrated, my friend asked me, “I have been and am highly engaged to this date – but right now, I feel disrespected.” His words stayed with me.

Much has been said about employee engagement. It is and will continue to be an important part of what constitutes a great place to work.   But the fact that we consider it an initiative, signals to me that we are attempting to fix a problem – happiness, morale, retention, commitment, alignment ….. Light is needed when there is darkness. A doctor prescribes medicine when someone is not feeling well… It seemed to me we needed to get to the heart of employee engagement (and not its periphery) through a simple 7 letter word: RESPECT.

It may sound simple. After all, we often hear that we should treat people the same way you would want to be treated yourself.   So, what could get in the way? I want to take a moment and talk about what I call Barriers to Respect – which can potentially shake the foundation of even the best laid out employee engagement strategies.

Barriers to Respect

Segmenting respect and often subjecting it to boundary conditions by:

  • Grade level or seniority
  • Tenure or length of service
  • Level of performance
  • Stage of employment – a prospective applicant, current employee or exiting employee

Theory of immediate benefit – respecting someone in the context of a specific business transaction if some immediate gain can be realized and only if it is a good use of time!

Theory of reciprocity – Person A will respect Person B, only if Person B respects him / her back in return. The original respect vanishes if reciprocal respect is not received.

Theory of entitlement – Person A defines his /her expectations of how to be respected.   Person A is focused inward—on how respect is received and is very critical of organizations and others who do not conform to the standards of respect defined.   Person A however does not define how he/she would give respect outwardly to others, using the same standards.

Theory of resignation – Why bother? How will one person showing respect change the broader eco-system. This is akin to not recycling with the logic that one person alone cannot save the environment

Respecting ourselves – As Confucius said Respect yourself and others will respect you. Self-respect is in our own control; an amazing feeling, it generates self-confidence, self-esteem and positivity which attracts external respect like a magnet.

Visualize respect as the foundation on which you can build the house of engagement. Engagement initiatives are like the different rooms of the house — some initiatives target specific audience and different initiatives have different objectives and end outcomes. Respect on the other hand is universal – it applies to everyone. Everyone deserves, wants and is motivated by respect. Respect is what employees work for and respect is what they seek in their next career move. The job title change, salary change, responsibilities are all manifestations of a need for respect. The common underlying universal principle is respect.

Respect your ex and prospective employee the same way as your current employee. Respect your new employee the same way as your longest tenured employee. Respect your bottom performer the same way as your top employee. Respect your employee regardless of grade level or title. Respect does not have boundaries. It must be part of the DNA. True boundary-less respect is what employee engagement is all about.

This piece originally appeared on

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