By: Matt Ingold

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August 20th, 2015

Why Mutual Respect in the Workplace Should Be HR's Main Focus


Mutual Respect in the workplaceWe've all had superiors that we didn't particularly care for. The proverbial "Bill Lumberghs" (Office Space anyone) who walked around with their fourth cup of coffee, offered a kind comment with no genuine concern, and then dropped the bomb on you. "Yeah, we're gonna need you to come in Saturday...okay good talk." 

The sad reality is there are a lot more Lumberghs in the world than inspiring leaders. Studies show that 50% of employees have rickety relationships with their superiors. While there is always a need for some healthy tension (the kind that drives mission oriented decision making versus comfort-based), these insecure relationships have a direct impact on workplace behavior, satisfaction, and productivity.

A 2015 Employee Job and Satisfaction Survey performed by SHRM identified areas of importance noted by employees to creating a satisfactory workplace, and compared that to employees' levels of satisfaction. While compensation and overall benefits were amongst the top 5 most important aspects of job satisfaction, the number one aspect was "Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels" of the company. Sadly, this was also the area of greatest disparity between what employees valued most, and their level of satisfaction.

Mutual Respect in the Workplace

If ever there was a place for Strategic HR professionals to step in and make a difference, an initiative dedicated to building mutual respect in the workplace would likely have the most significant impact on shaping workplace behavior and increasing employee satisfaction.

Related Blog: For Millenials, Mutual Respect in the Workplace Trumps Compensation

This certainly is not an easy feat, and not something that a siloed HR professional can tackle on his or her own. building mutual respect in the workplace is a project nested in shifting company culture. Here, company leadership will be either your greatest asset or obstacle. As business culture consultant, Patrick Lencioni, puts it, the CEO is the key-master when it comes to shaping company culture. Without executive buy-in, you're fighting a losing battle.

That doesn't mean it's not a worthy battle. Start small, and look for small incremental projects that may increase employee satisfaction with the level of workplace respect. Small projects could be as simple as:

  • Launching an employee satisfaction survey
  • Celebrating workplace milestones
  • Hanging a poster that says "smile" in the break room...

Ok that last suggestion was a joke, so I affirm you for slightly crinkling your nose in disgust. But I insert this little quip to drive home the point; any initiative to increase workplace respect must be genuine. 

So what does genuine concern for our employees look like?

Peter Senge, author of the award winning book, The Fifth Discipline, states that if you want people to feel valued at work and know that you care, you have to show a dedicated interest in helping them realize their own personal vision. Everyone has a vision for how they hope to leave their impact on the world. Unfortunately, so often in our focus to achieve our organizational vision, we can forget that vision does not exist in the abstract. An organization can't have vision--people within an organization have vision, and they are invested in the organization's vision to the extent that it helps them achieve their own. 

This is a campaign that Strategic HR professionals ought consider investing their time. When employees see how their personal vision can exist in harmony with the organizational vision, only then will they come to work with a sense of purpose, rather than a sense of obligation. You can throw all kinds of point systems and gift cards at them, or whatever the flavor of the week employee engagement method is. When an employee feels that the leaders for whom they work (not the organization, but the actual leaders) care about helping them achieve their personal vision for their lives, you will find the satisfaction rates you are looking for regarding mutual respect in the workplace.

The bottom line always follows in suit.

For more guidance on best practices for developing Strategic HR initiatives in your organization, see Strategic HR: What it Means and How to Get There.



About Matt Ingold

Matt serves as Benetech's Director of Business Development. He helps employers reduce the cost of personnel management, and discover where improved talent management can give their business a competitive advantage.

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