What does it mean to have a respectful workplace?

Time to engage in Intro[re]spection™

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The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions’s Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace report offered insightful guidance to employers on how to create a workplace free of harassment, stating,

“Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted.” 

United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I totally agree. 

As an employment attorney, I see employment situations at their best and their worst.  I like to think of the employment relationship as a marriage—they can start off great, but without proper care, the employment relationship can erode.   

What successful marriages can teach us about successful employment relationships.

In the vein of thinking of employment relationships like a marriage, I started thinking about what creates successful marriages.  As fate would have it, I was one day listening to a podcast, discussing Mark Manson’s research on successful marriages.  Surveying 1,500 married couples, he learned the following:

As I scanned through the hundreds of responses I received, I began to notice an interesting trend: People who had been through divorces almost always talked about communication being the most important part of making things work. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts…

But I noticed that the thing people with happy marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect.

Mark Manson

The the couples that had been married for over twenty years said that respect was the key to their successful marriage!  When I learned of this statistic, wow, did I have a Eureka moment?! So, I thought, “if respect is at the center of successful marriages, employment relationships would likely be more successful and last longer if all employees felt respected at work.” Aha, there it was!  Respect is the key to successful employment relationships.

It’s no wonder that conducting a key word search of publicly filed employment discrimination cases will render countless results with plaintiffs using the word “disrespected” to describe their feelings towards the employer who they felt harmed them in the workplace.   Feeling disrespected is often at the core of workplace disputes. 

Defining workplace respect.

So, let’s take this concept one step further.  What does respect at work truly mean? Have you ever personally defined this concept? If you’re a manager, have you ever asked those reporting to you what respect at work meant to them? Have you ever articulated what workplace respect means to you?   

Defining this ambiguous term is difficult, but critical to building inclusive workplaces.  With the diversity of race, age, genders, experience, religion, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, family status, educational status, and other identities represented in the workplace, it is short-sighted for employers to fail to do a deep dive into how their diverse workforce exhibits and displays “respect.”  To me, workplace respect is feeling acknowledged by my colleagues, feeling supported by my colleagues, and having colleagues who demonstrate cultural sensitivity and awareness.  If I were to ask another person what workplace respect meant to them, they would likely offer a very different answer.

This is precisely why we cannot rely on one definition of “respect” to inform how we show respect to our colleagues at work.  We must engage in a more nuanced look at what weight each of our colleagues places on various factors at play in the workplace and how these factors inform the way that our colleagues exhibit and receive respect at work. This level of introspection, or Intro[re]spection™, is how can build more respectful and inclusive workplaces.

There’s a tool for that.

My law firm has developed a unique resource to help organizations discover how their employees view respect at work.  The Intro[re]spection™ program offers an employee assessment tool, which scores the employee who is responding on ten different outcomes, all reflecting various aspects of workplace respect.  The Intro[re]spection™ Outcomes consist of the following:

• Acknowledgement
• Empathy
• Transparency/Honesty
• Loyalty/Commitment
• Support
• Deference
• Interest
• Gentleness/Warmth
• Privacy
• Cultural Awareness/Wokeness

The assessment provides the person taking the test with an individualized Intro[re]spection™ Outcomes report.  This report ranks the Intro[re]spection™ Outcomes according to which factors the employee views as the most important to feel respected at work.  Using the Intro[re]spection™ Outcomes report may be one important tool that employers can use to launch the needed discussion about what workplace respect means to each member of the employer’s team.

To create a sense of workplace belonging, our discussions surrounding loaded terms like “belonging,” “inclusion,” and “respect” have to be intentional and conducted with a keen eye towards the varied perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds that are present in today’s workforce.  It’s time to engage in a little Intro[re]spection™.

Attorney Advertising. This article discusses legal developments, which are intended for informational and educational purposes only. The information contained in this publication is not intended as legal advice, and it should not be constructed as legal advice.

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