In this excerpt from her new book, Staff Matters, Bonnie Low-Kramen discusses how to demonstrate respect in the workplace

Aretha Franklin’s 1967 smash hit “Respect” is considered to be one of the best songs of all time. Why? The word hits a nerve. In my view, respect is one of the words that hits the biggest visceral nerve in the global workplace. I know that is a bold statement, and I also know that it is true.

I notice that social media posts that contain this word in the headline usually get high views. When I began working with Olympia Dukakis, neither of us dared to wonder how long our work together would last. At the core, we worked together for twenty-five years because of mutual respect. That bedrock of mutual respect carried us through every storm, every crisis, and every adversity, including deaths, divorce, mistakes, and much more.

Olympia believed that every person was very important and deserving of respect. That was the given, and she expected me to execute my work with respect as a core value.

I’ve lost count of the stories of people who are quitting their jobs and coming to me looking for new work because of how disrespected they feel. But I’ll get to that in the next chapter. In this chapter, I focus on the impact of mutual respect and the realistic and actionable ways to respect staff and all the constituents in our workplace, including leaders. The staff are referred to as crucial body parts – the backbone of the company, the right arms to managers, the face of the culture, the eyes, the ears, and the lifeblood, not to mention the glue. If any of these attributes ring true regarding your staff, they are more than deserving of respect.

I speak about how respect and belonging are the top two most important things that staff want and need for job satisfaction. They want it even more than money. Surveys show this to be true, but how do I really know? In my workshops and conferences, I see the nodding

heads of recognition when I discuss respect. I watch the body language in the audience. Staff come up and tell me how much it means to them when I even speak the word. Readers of my book show me the word highlighted with exclamation marks in their copies. It means a lot to them and it means as much to me. I hope respect means a lot to you, too.

Why Do It? The Impact of Respect

The results and benefits of a culture of respect are shown in the following ways:

  • Higher staff retention, which saves money. A lot of money.
  • Improved productivity.
  • Increased engagement—staff’s desire to go above and beyond.
  • Increased job satisfaction.
  • Increased happiness and creativity. Staff generates new ideas that work!
  • Increased loyalty, confidence, morale, and teamwork among staff.
  • Stronger and more resilient working relationships.
  • Staff encouraging their talented colleagues and friends to work at the company.
  • Higher company profits.

How to Demonstrate Respect: Words Matter

Be polite and courteous. This may seem elementary, as we learned it in early childhood, but in today’s world, good manners are lacking. “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” and “How can I help you?” are magic words that open doors and calm nerves. Saying them costs not one penny. Some think skipping over manners is a sign of the 24/7, frantic-paced virtual times we are in. Some say being polite is old school and not needed anymore. Untrue.

My mother said they were “magic words” and she was right. The benefits of speaking the magic words are valuable. Literally. The average cost of replacing a $50,000 employee is $62,500–$70,000 according to the Work Institute.

Feel the difference between “Get me the Smith file” and “Please get me the Smith file, Laura. Thanks.”

My student Christina wants to be called by her full name – not Chris or Chrissy. Her executive insists on calling her “Christy,” which irks Christina, but she has decided to tolerate it. My student admits it feels disrespectful, but it is not a battle she wants to fight . . . not right

now, anyway. The executive may believe this issue is trivial and no big deal, and it may not be – to them.

Every leader must decide the degree to which they consider the concerns and preferences of their staff and the actions they are willing to take to address them.

We all need to decide which battles are worth fighting and what things we simply tolerate as part of the job. Recognize that whatever subject is preoccupying us is taking up valuable brain space, time, and energy. That is time that cannot be retrieved, and it is time when other work is not getting done.

Respect Others’ Time and Feelings

Very few people enjoy having others hijack their time. Let us not presume that others have time for us at the particular moment we want their attention. Here are a few examples of the words to say to show respect about time.

“Do you have five minutes to talk?”

“I have an idea. Do you have a few minutes to hear it?”

“I have something on my mind. May I share it?”

Apologize when you have made a mistake or offended someone. If you are not sure whether you have, ask. There is never a bad time to own your behavior.

Just ask. “Did I do something to offend you or make you angry?”

Be proactive. If you see something, say something. Don’t wait until someone says, “I’m drowning. Can you help?” Instead say, “It seems like you may be having some trouble. Can you use a hand with that?”

Whatever words you say, speak calmly and with a cool head. Loud and aggressive voices generally make other people shut down and render them literally incapable of hearing anything.

Respectful Everyday Actions

Written thank-you notes

Students in my classes confirm they have landed jobs because they sent a handwritten thank-you note in addition to an email following an interview. I have heard this same success story many times. This expression of respect via snail mail and attention to detail matters. The extra effort can mean the difference between getting hired and being looked over in favor of another candidate. After all, the potential employer, recruiter, and hiring manager all want to feel respected and special, too.

Turn off the tech

You will stand out from the rest simply by being the one to power down your phone at an interview, at dinner, and in a meeting. The ability to give another person undivided attention in today’s frantic 24/7 instant-access world is a game-changer.

Hold the door! Hold the elevator!

Even if it is going to make you a little late. These respectful acts are remembered and modeled. You never know who is watching. Be sure to say thank you. Giving up a seat on the subway, bus, or train – whether it is for a pregnant woman, an elderly person, a young child, or anyone who looks like they are struggling – is respectful. It is noticed and remembered.

When I see someone doing something kind, I look them in the eye: “I think what you did for that person was really cool. Thanks.”

Surprise acts of kindness and respect

On long flights, I bring a bag or two of individually wrapped chocolates or candy for the flight attendants. I give it to whoever greets me at the front of the plane and say, “I know you and the team work really hard, and I want to say thank you.” The reaction is worth everything. Every flight attendant makes it their business to come by and say thank you. The action makes the crew feel respected and valued.

Getting Schooled on Respect

If it is true that respect is the number one most important workplace value, and that the lack of it is the foremost reason why people resign from their jobs, then what is to be done?

Interpersonal education and communication training is needed. Education and empathy are

key. The dollars that it will cost to train business owners, executives, and managers are far outweighed by the profits to the bottom line generated by an effective and optimally performing staff who feel respected.

The problem is complex, and a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist. Working on the issue of respect in the workplace will only produce positive results. The goal is to create a consistently positive environment where respect is the norm. A culture of respect is enthusiastically supported, expected, and promoted by everyone involved in the running of a company. The results may just be magical.

    Staff Matters Questions

    What ideas about respect would work in your company?

    What issues around respect matter to you?

    Who needs to be involved in order to build a more respectful organisation?
    Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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