Research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in 2016 shows that 98 percent of employees experience workplace incivility, with 50 percent experiencing it minimally every single week. The cost is estimated at $14,000 per employee annually from distracted, disheartened employees and the resulting productivity impact.
Apple CEO Tim Cook poignantly elevated the issue recently at the 2019 Dreamforce conference, stating: "Wouldn't it be great if everyone woke up and said, from now on I'm treating people with dignity and respect. There would be so many problems in the world that would go away."
Let that sink in for a moment.
We can unintentionally engage in behaviors at work (and in life) that cause unintended tension or that send the wrong signal--little unnecessary violations of one's dignity and respect. Quiet little foibles that speak loudly and say things like "You're not worthy of my time and attention," or "You aren't important to me." On a more micro note, making respect a priority and value can have a ripple effect that changes a company's entire culture.
Here are nine ways leaders can show more respect for their co-workers, little doses of dignity to ingrain in your day-to-day.
1. Inquire and listen. Really listen.
Leaders must attentively listen. Period. Put your phone down. Paraphrase the employee's main points to show you're listening and absorbing. Don't let others interrupt when an employee is talking. Practice the W.A.I.T. principle and ask yourself, "Why Am I Talking?" (instead of listening to the employee).
You're fundamentally recognizing an employee's worth when you really listen, and when you don't, it's a direct affront to how valued the employee feels. Some of the most positive feedback I got as a leader came from those who simply felt like I listened to them.
2. Stay available and approachable.
When a leader is aloof and never around, it's just plain disrespectful to employees. When you stay approachable and available, you're recognizing that employees need your time --some even see the opportunity to connect with you as a form of reward. You don't have to choose being professional or being personable. You can be both.
3. Be proactive in seeking out others opinions.
Employees want to know that their opinion matters, and feel respected when they're sought out for their opinion (especially those not ordinarily in the decision making process). I had one boss who would often forget to solicit my opinion--so I eventually stopped wanting to give my opinion because I doubted it would be appreciated. Toxic.
4. Be mindful of the other's state of mind.
I imagine an invisible sign around each employee's neck that speaks to his or her state of mind, and try to read what it says. Are they distracted, stressed, sad? Being sensitive to what may be going on at work and in employee's lives shows you respect the fact that we're human beings before we're employees.
5. Be respectful of different styles of communication.
This is about accepting and rewarding employees for who they are and adjusting to individual styles. For example, maybe that R&D person takes forever to get to the point, but when they do, there's usually a gem buried within. You can show blatant impatience that their communication style doesn't match yours, or you can be patient and accommodating.
6. Be on time, every time.
I struggle here, but it's an area I constantly work at. There's no clearer way to say that you don't respect an employee's time (and him or her by default) than to waste it by showing up late. Enroll other employees to help if you have to. At one point, I announced that I was working hard at being on time to meetings and asked my entire team to help me (by not keeping me past a meeting's end, etc.).
7. Recognize others' existence.
Yes, I mean the simplicity of saying "Hi" in the halls. To everyone. No one has invented invisibility yet. Too simple and obvious to bother with? Think of what it says when you don't.
8. Show respect for the past.
When leaders come into a role and begin trashing how things were done in the past, it's tremendously disrespectful to those who did the work (many of whom are likely in the room).
9. Respect social comfort zones.
Use humor, but never cruel humor that comes at the cost of another human being. Be fun around employees, but don't make hurtful fun of any employee.
Dignity and respect really can solve so many problems, in the world at large, in the work world, and in your world.