Respect in the Workplace

When employees feel respected, everyone in a company benefits.

By Alexandra Walsh

Ask anyone in your workplace what treatment they most want from their bosses and coworkers. They will likely top their list for their manager or supervisor and coworkers to treat them with dignity and respect.

In the workplace, over half of employees claim they don’t regularly get respect from their people in leadership positions. This is especially notable since employees also report being treated with respect by those in leadership is more important than any other leader behavior.

According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management in 2014, respectful treatment of all employees at all levels was rated “very important” by nearly three out of every four (72%) employees surveyed—making it the top contributor to overall job satisfaction.

What Respect Means

Respect is when you feel admiration and deep regard for someone else. You believe the person is worthy of such admiration because of the good qualities and capabilities they bring to your workplace.

You demonstrate these feelings by acting in ways showing you are aware of your colleagues as people who deserve respect. As such, you recognize they have rights, opinions, wishes, experience, and competence. They have earned the right for you to regard them with respect.

Everybody needs a little respect. You know when you have it and when you don’t. You can feel it emanating from your coworkers and bosses. You feel it when it doesn’t.

Respectful behaviors aren’t limited to those in management positions. Anyone at any level in the business or company can and should show respect for others. Whether you’re actively paying close attention and listening to a colleague or cleaning up after yourself in the office kitchen, showing respect for others in the workplace provides ongoing benefits.

In workplaces filled with respect, employees are more engaged and productive. In workplaces with little or no respect, employees report more problems, conflicts, and misunderstandings—resulting in lower attendance and productivity.

Respectful behaviors can lift a person’s spirits and shine light on someone’s otherwise bad day. Treating someone with respect can instill their self-confidence and offer them much-needed encouragement.

Those businesses operating with increased productivity and job satisfaction have developed effective communication practices that include respect for of each employee’s work as well as their opinions and ideas.

How to Judge Respect

You can hear respect in a person’s tone of voice, in their nonverbal communication, in the words they use to address you. You can see respect in how your coworker or supervisor attentively listens to you and asks questions to make sure they understand what you’re saying.

You judge respect by the way your company, managers, and coworkers treat you. You see it in how your company establishes new rules and policies, and how they introduce any new procedures to employees. You measure respect by how you are compensated, recognized, and rewarded.

You see the degree of management’s respect in how often they ask your opinion, run by you work changes affecting your job before approving them, and delegating meaningful assignments.

How is respect really shown? How is respect demonstrated at work?

Tips for Demonstrating Respect

You can demonstrate respect with simple, yet potent actions. These ideas will also help bosses and coworkers avoid insensitivity and disrespect.

  • Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness. That simple.
  • Encourage coworkers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Listen to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint. Never speak over, butt in, or cut off another person.
  • Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let employees know you used their idea, or better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement the idea.
  • Never insult people, use name calling, disparage, or put down people or their ideas. That should be obvious.
  • Don’t nitpick, constantly criticize over little things, belittle, judge, demean, or patronize. Trivial actions added up over time can turn into bullying.
  • Be aware of your body language, tone of voice, and your demeanor and expression in your interactions at work. People have an inner radar where they can hear what you’re really saying in addition to listening to your words.
  • Improve your ability to interact with others by emphasizing knowledge you have gained from your awareness of people and your emotions. It will make you more able to offer sympathy, relate with empathy, and step into the shoes of those with whom you work.
  • Treat people the same no matter their race, religion, gender, size, age, nationality, or team they root for.
  • Enforce policies and procedures consistently so people feel they are treated fairly and equally. Treating people differently can constitute harassment or a hostile work environment.
  • Include all coworkers in meetings, discussions, training, and events. While not every person can participate in every activity, don’t marginalize, exclude, or leave any one person out. Provide an equal opportunity for employees to participate in committees, task forces, or teams. Solicit volunteers and try to involve every volunteer.
  • Praise much more frequently than you criticize. Encourage praise and recognition from employee to employee as well as from the supervisor.

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Of course, there are many other ways to demonstrate respect at work. You want to make jobs at your company meaningful work; respect is the cornerstone of truly meaningful work. These tips constitute a solid foundation, but your imagination and thoughtful consideration will bring you many more.

Practiced consistently at work, these actions help ensure a respectful, considerate, professional workplace. You can be certain that a respectful workplace brings benefits to all stakeholders.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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