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Do your employees feel respected?

When employees were asked what matters most to them during a recent survey by Christine Porath, Professor of Management at Georgetown University, feeling respected by their superiors topped the list. Yet surprisingly, workers report more disrespectful treatment each year. While employees who aren’t shown respect are obviously aware of its absence, those in managerial or high-status roles are more than often not.

According to Professor Kristie Rogers, Assistant Professor of Management at Marquette University, leaders are not simply unaware, they lack a comprehensive understanding of what constitutes workplace respect. Unfortunately, this often means that even the most well-intentioned initiatives to establish a respectful work environment fall short of their envisioned outcome.

Rogers identifies 2 types of workplace respect in a recent article in Harvard Business Review: owed respect and earned respect.

Owed respect is rendered equally to all members of a workforce and fulfils the widespread need to feel included. It’s characterised by an inclusive atmosphere, one in which every member of the group fulfils an essential role. When owed respect is lacking, we often witness micromanagement, incivility and a sense that employees are expendable.

In contrast, earned respect recognises individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviours. It distinguishes employees who surpass expectations and upholds the idea that each employee has unique strengths and capabilities. Signs that it is lacking, might include robbing others of their hard-earned success and failing to recognise employees’ accomplishments.

A fundamental challenge to creating a respectful workplace atmosphere is establishing a balance between both types of respect. An imbalance may produce frustration amongst employees and hinder productivity by discouraging the sharing of critical knowledge about their successes and failures or producing an unhealthy degree of competition. As Rogers insightfully points out, ‘once leaders understand these nuances, they can craft an environment that is right for their situation—in most cases, one with high levels of both kinds of respect’.