5 Ways to Create a Respectful Workplace

Published by Win Advisors on

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A respectful workplace is one where integrity and professionalism are displayed, diversity is promoted and civility is practised regardless of position.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Harvard Business Review (HBR) identified two types of respect: owed and earned respect (HBR, 2018). Owed respect is accorded to everyone in the workplace equally, meeting the universal need for inclusivity. It values every member of the organisation. With little owed respect, we see micromanagement and over-monitoring, or even the abuse of power. Earned respect recognises individuals for displaying certain values or behaviours. It values achievement and motivates workers to work harder. It also appreciates the unique strengths of individuals.

There must be a good balance between owed and earned respect. Workplaces with a lot of owed respect but little earned respect can make individuals less motivated to work hard, since it may be perceived that everyone will be treated equally regardless of their performance. On the flip side, workplaces with little owed respect but high earned respect can create a more competitive and cut-throat environment which may be counterproductive when it hinders cooperation for the achievement of overall goals. Good leaders need to pick up on these nuances and craft a good balance between the two.

Why create a respectful workplace?

There are many benefits of having a respectful workplace. A pleasant working environment increases employee engagement and job satisfaction. This also creates room for personal growth. Many employees join with the hope of developing themselves over time, and respect is important as a feedback mechanism and catalyst for this growth (HBR, 2018).

Here are five ways to create a respectful workplace.

1. Define your culture and set expectations

A strong corporate culture attracts better talent and retains them. By defining expectations from the day employees set foot in the company, employees are more likely to follow these standards. Establish a baseline of owed respect. For instance, create a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

It is also important to reward good behaviour. Companies can implement a recognition program to recognise employees for good behaviour. Of course, you should also penalise bad behaviour. To foster respect, take grievances seriously and do a follow-up.

2. Lead by example

The best way to create a respectful workplace is to lead by example. To show owed respect, treat everyone with respect regardless of position, and conduct regular check-ins with your employees. It is also helpful to practise active listening. When you actively listen to your staff, it shows them that you care about them as an individual and that you respect their feelings and appreciate the talent they bring to the table.

To display earned respect, recognise your employees for their efforts. A simple “thank you” can go a long way to motivating employees to perform to the best of their abilities.

3. Be inclusive in the hiring process

Another way to encourage respect in your workplace is by inclusive hiring. By providing equal opportunities for people from all walks of life, it creates a level playing field and signals to employees that regardless of one’s background, they have the opportunity to showcase their abilities.

4. Ask for feedback

Sometimes, you may not be aware of your actions, and asking for feedback is one way to overcome your blind spots. A manager at Hanover Insurance asked his employees for feedback and realised that it bothered employees when he glanced at his phones or responded to emails during meetings (HBR, 2013). He changed his behaviour and his team appreciated it. You may not even be aware that your behaviour is disrespectful, and feedback is a great way to be more self-aware!

5. Look out for civility when hiring

To avoid bringing incivility into the workplace, look for civility in candidates during the hiring process. Surprisingly, this is something that many organisations overlook as only 11% of organisations considered civility in the hiring process (HBR, 2013). This can be costly. One hospital nearly hired a talented doctor who was highly recommended by his peers and aced the interviews, only to find out that the doctor had treated his subordinates poorly.

On the other hand, looking out for incivility has helped Rhapsody, an online music subscription service, to hire suitable candidates. Rhapsody conducts group interviews to allow employees to evaluate potential teammates (HBR, 2013). Through this process, Rhapsody has turned down qualified candidates who were lacking civility, such as those who talked too much and did not listen to others.


A workplace with little or no respect will lead to more conflicts, lower attendance, and decreased productivity. Time is also lost when employees feel disrespected.

There are many steps we can take to create a more respectful workplace, but this must translate into action with the collective effort of the organisation. If you want to retain talent and encourage productivity, try taking the steps discussed in this article today.

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