I’ve worked at a few places with a high degree of respect in the workplace, but generally I’d say that concept is fairly rare. A couple of years ago, there was some research that 60 percent of managers felt they “didn’t have time” to respect their employees. That stat seems odd to me, because respect usually isn’t something you put on an Outlook calendar (“1:15pm — Respect Tim”), but I know a lot of wanker managers who would say that with a straight face. (Ironically, they’d probably expect a pity party when they said it — “I know you work so hard, Roger!”)
For as much as we mash our teeth about “the future of work,” a lot of that concept is also tied to respect. There are some target-chasers in the world who will always want a higher compensation. But I’d argue most people would take a lower salary in exchange for respect in the workplace. Who wants to grind at a place 10–12 hours/day and have no one respect them? That sucks.
I think one of the issues here is that a lot of managers don’t even know when they’re not being respectful. Here’s an example of that. I just had a lady I work with call me “Tim” repeatedly in a series of emails. In my mind, that’s not respectful. It’s lazy and annoying, but … you know, she probably could care less. A lot of people see their job as “I get out there and I hit targets in a productive way,” and if stuff like “needing to show respect” gets in the way of that, well, can’t make an omelette without…
That’s one of the essential problems with management. We love us some productivity numbers, and anything that gets in the way of that — “soft skills!” — can be sacrificed. Problem is: we’re human beings. Social animals. We want connection and respect. Respect in the workplace is a necessity, and yet … we often gloss it over. Can we fix this?
Respect in the workplace and some Google context
Haven’t quoted Google’s reWork blog in a hot minute, but here’s a new post entitled “Bringing Civility Back To The Workplace.” Seems a noble goal, yes? The second paragraph will make you weep. Here we go:
My research highlights how small civil and uncivil behaviors spread, for better and worse. In one experiment, we found that those simply around incivility are more likely to have dysfunctional and aggressive thoughts, although they may be unaware of the connection. Research has shown that people who are typically surrounded by jerks learn intuitively to act selfishly, even when cooperating would pay off. Our environment rubs off on us, and if our environment is toxic, we can expect to stay somewhat sick and to pass it on to others.
Phrased another way: hard to have a good work culture if you keep promoting the same assholes.
How did respect in the workplace get so far off the rails?
Some of what I argued above: our focus is often solely on productivity. Ever heard of “The Spreadsheet Mentality?” Guys that abide by that tend to end up running companies. As a result, those cultures persist. When your focus is numbers and targets above all else, respect in the workplace is going to decline. That’s a pretty strong correlation, IMHO.
There are some other reasons, of course:
- We usually make people work in teams, but we promote individuals — which can lead to some under-cutting of co-workers
- Companies aren’t usually beholden to moral norms
- Poor priority management decreases trust and respect in the workplace
- Some dudes/women you work with are just jerk-offs
- Managers love “sense of urgency” projects whereby you run in circles for three weeks on nothing that matters to anyone; hardly respectful
- A lot of us aren’t even sure what our job role is supposed to be, which leads to “warm body project staffing” whereby a manager grabs you because “I need this done now!”
I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.
Can we improve respect in the workplace?
We can try, but it’s a micro-level thing. Managers need to be more respectful, and executives do too. (“No time, chasing my bonus!”) A few suggestions, though:
Please don’t make this some HR-owned program: “Today we’ll discuss our Q2 roll-out of Respect Reward Redeem, managed by Sally from Human Resources…” Five days after that is announced — five minutes? — no one will care.
I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.
Fix your hiring process: Because your hiring process is a rushed, low-context slop bucket, there’s a good chance you’re getting the wrong types of people. That frays trust and makes people feel they’re carrying others, which in turn decreases respect in the workplace. In that Google article, they say “hire for civility.” That’s really hard because some douchebag guys know how to fake that in an interview process, but yes, try to hire for civility.
Model the right behavior: When someone does something respectful — actually speaks to their employees as opposed to hiding behind email, for example — reward them. Bonus them for that stuff. Give ’em a perks trip. Pop ’em. What happens at most places is this: they reward the number. Someone hit a target and gets promoted and praised at meetings. Most workplaces are monkey see, monkey do — so if you can get the perks for hitting the targets, you go hit ’em yourself. That makes you a slave-driving micromanager. Respect in the workplace declines.
Care about mission and vision and purpose: It all matters — to the bottom line too.
An amazingly ironic story about respect in the workplace
As I once noted, I once heard a manager say to a subordinate, and I quote: “You better hit those fucking targets, or I’ll put you through a fucking wall.” That’s an actual quote. Think about it for a second. “Those targets” imply some low-priority goal that might — just maybe — be tied to incremental revenue. But if those targets are not hit, this direct report will be “put through a fucking wall.” Do you understand how this is essentially psychotic? And yet, many managers believe this is the path to being a high achiever. Demand demand demand, the theory goes. Accountability accountability accountability.
Hard to foster respect in the workplace that way.
Oh, so why is this story ironic? In the example above, the people worked at a company …
… that made employee recognition software. Yep.
What else might you add on respect in the workplace?