How Respect Keeps Your Employees Satisfied

Keep your employees satisfied

More than almost anything else, employees crave respect at their workplaces. They wanted to be valued for their expertise and their contributions, as well as for who they are as individuals. 

We might think that being disrespected at work – in subtle or aggressive ways – is a minor concern. But Roseanne J. Thomas, founder of Protocol Advisors, Inc., argues that employees are much less likely to be successful if they face workplace disrespect. 

“You really have to have the right attitude. 85% of your success is determined by your attitude,” she remarked in her webinar “Respect: The Foundation of Success.” 

How can employees thrive if they feel delegitimized by their companies, leadership, or colleagues? 

They can’t, Roseanne suggests. If a company intentionally or inadvertently fosters a culture of disrespect, it will reap the costs both in employees’ mental health deficits – which influence their productivity – and profits. 

Here are highlights of Roseanne’s presentation about the immense emotional and financial costs of disrespect – and how common it is to see, experience, or even perpetuate disrespect at work. Then, she offers her suggestions for creating a more respectful culture. 

Workplace Disrespect Is Common

Roseanne shares a story about how she was disrespected in her first job out of college. She was tasked with giving a speech at a colleague’s retirement party, so she worked hard to polish what she planned to say. 

At the party, her boss took the speech and gave it to someone else to present. Roseanne expected she would be recognized for writing the speech, but her contributions were ignored completely. 

“I didn’t get any recognition at all. I was naive at the time, but that has never ever gone away. I’ve always remembered how I felt I felt a little disrespected. I felt that I didn’t get the credit I deserved. And of course there was nothing I could do about it,” she said. 

Examples like these demonstrate that disrespect doesn’t have to be nasty, or even intentional. 

Webinar attendees were asked if they ever felt respected at work. 94 percent said they had. Even more participants – everyone – reported having witnessed disrespect at work, though only 61 percent said they reported the incidents they had observed. 

Interestingly, though 100 percent reported witnessing disrespect, only 18 percent of attendees said they had been disrespectful themselves. 

These numbers correlated with the results of larger-scale studies on disrespect in the workplace, indicating how frequent incidents of disrespect really are. 

The Impact of Disrespect

We might think of a respectful workplace as something “nice” to have, but in fact, it is absolutely essential. As a result of disrespect, 70 percent of employees were disengaged to some degree, which negatively impacted their productivity. 

“13% are actively disengaged, which means that they are spreading their unhappiness around not only to their colleagues, but to maybe whoever will listen, and maybe even online,” Roseanne notes. 

She shared a story of one of her friends who spent 26 years training to become a medical doctor. When he started working for an HMO, however, he felt so disrespected that he not only quit that job but left the profession altogether. 

“He went into real estate and is very happy now. This shows the impact that disrespect has on people,” she said. 

This loss of productivity costs organizations $500 billion a year in productivity. Overall, though, the cost of disrespect and its consequences – including absenteeism, healthcare costs, and legal expenses – adds up globally to around seven trillion dollars. 

“People get depressed, they get anxious, they get angry, they get fearful, they have physical ramifications from disrespect. It can be anything from nausea, to hypertension. Of course, collaboration takes a huge hit on employee contributions as well. It affects an employer’s ability to attract and retain key talent,” Roseanne noted. 

Creating a Culture of Respect

Companies that promoted engagement and respect saw huge improvements in a number of factors, including 41 percent lower absenteeism, 59 percent lower turnover, and 40 percent fewer quality incidents. 

To improve respect, Roseanne recommends boosting a company’s cultural awareness. She worked for Tiffany & Co. for 11 years and came to understand gift-giving expectations around the world. 

“There are cultures that make it a point to learn about other cultures before they work with them because they know how important it is,” she suggests. 

She also recommends exploring unconscious biases before they rear their ugly heads in disrespectful attitudes. Roseanne shares an incident from her own life when she moved away from two Black men when walking home late at night – and didn’t even notice. 

“One of the men said to me, you don’t need to be afraid. And I walked over to them. And I said, I’m not afraid. Why? Why would you think I was afraid? And one of them said to me, because when you saw us, you walked to the other side of the walkway. And I said to him, I assured him I absolutely did not. And he assured me, I absolutely did. I have no conscious memory. I did not know that happened,” she recalled.  

She also said an organization is defined by the “worse behaviors a leader is willing to accept.” So, even if managers don’t engage in disrespect themselves, they are accepting toxic behaviors in others if they take no action to stop them. They may not understand the costs of disrespect in the workplace, or perhaps they don’t want to reprimand high producers for fear they will quit. 

“There are a lot of different ways in which we just kind of ignore the disrespect that’s costly to everyone,” Roseanne said. 

The Real Costs of Dispect

Workplace respect isn’t just a “nice to have” but a “must have” for employees. If someone feels judged or unwelcome in the office, they often disengage from the company and may even drag others down with them. 

Alternatively, companies that boost their engagement by exploring intercultural traditions of respect, rooting out unconscious biases, and addressing disrespect head-on see significant improvements. 

“We tend to focus upon the bottom line, at least here in the United States, and respect comes second, or third, or 10th. But I think that from what I understand, we really need to put it way, way up, at the top,” Roseanne said.

Addional: 15 Habits That Will Make You Well Respected at Work


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