By Amy S. Cramer, J.D., LL.M.
Aretha Franklin’s song about “RESPECT” is great to listen and dance to, but actually getting respect at work can be a challenge. It isn’t as easy as demanding a little respect.
Respect is a feeling of admiration and regard for someone because of the good qualities or capabilities they demonstrate. Individuals can attract respect in a number of ways: They may hold a title, such as judge or referee, which automatically commands respect. They may speak in a confident tone of voice. They may send nonverbal messages about respect based on the way they walk or carry themselves. Their facial expressions or personal style may even communicate a sense of self-assurance.
Regardless of how your verbal and nonverbal cues are interpreted by coworkers and bosses, if your behavior is worthy of respect, you have a right to be respected in the workplace. You should expect others to treat you fairly, have regard for your opinions, and appreciate your competence. Receiving respect makes your job more meaningful and provides a solid foundation within your role. Without respect, your base can become unstable and the work environment untenable. For example, you might listen politely and have cordial relationships at work, but you are not being treated with courtesy and kindness in return. Perhaps some kind of office conflict has made you feel alienated, creating a dysfunctional environment which isn’t conducive to work. This sort of disrespect is unnecessary. And sometimes, it is not legal.
While disrespect is not always illegal, it can certainly sap employee morale. Disrespect could be the unwelcome use of profanity in the office. Or, it could involve malicious gossip about a certain employee. Left unaddressed, disrespect can lead to more serious issues like harassment or workplace violence. The Human Resources Department of a company should have clear, written policies and procedures regarding disrespect that turns into harassment. Additionally, the consequences of disrespectful behavior should be outlined in the employee handbook. It’s usually up to a company’s leadership to set the tone for how things proceed in these cases, but several instances of disrespect could result in an employee being terminated, especially when the behavior is considered harassment. A safe work environment is your right as an employee. If you are worried about your personal safety in the workplace, seek legal counsel immediately.
Having periodic training sessions about treating each other respectfully should be a priority in any organization, even those who do not seem to have a problem. If these are not part of the current protocol, consider reviewing examples of how we treat people with respect in a high-traffic area of the office.
- Use courtesy and a kind, engaging approach
- Encourage others to offer their opinions and ideas
- Listen to those opinions, and don’t cut someone off or speak over them
- Use ideas from others and note their ownership of an idea, especially if the idea proves helpful in finding a solution
- Never insult anyone or disparage their ideas
- Don’t become a nit-picker or belittle anyone
- Don’t bully – enough said
- Check your demeanor when talking to others and be aware of your body language
- Keep your emotional intelligence at a high level and try to step into the shoes of your colleagues at work
- Finally, treat everyone equally, no matter their race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or ethnicity
- Compliment wins through neutral comments like, “Way to go!” or “Great job!”
Finally, if you are feeling disrespected in the workplace and have considered taking action, here are some tips to improve the situation before considering legal counsel:
Set appropriate boundaries: Let yourself be alright with not having to please others all the time. You will have to be mindful of superiors, but don’t let others walk on you. Listen to the opinions of others, but stand your ground on issues you feel strongly about.
Tell yourself that you are doing your job and doing it well. Be proud of what you have accomplished. Don’t boast, but don’t apologize for your successes, either.
Don’t be afraid to command respect from others. People who are jealous may never show you the respect you feel you deserve. Be straightforward in sharing that you are confident and experienced in handling a particular situation. This is not being boastful. It is stating the facts.
Unfortunately, respect is not always available in the workplace. While the disrespect a person receives may not be illegal, it is important that it doesn’t go unaddressed. Seeking legal counsel about specific examples of what you consider to be disrespect is a wise move. It may help you put into perspective what working in your current role will require.
Then, it’s up to you to answer the question, “Should I stay or should I go?” That is another song by British punk rock band, The Clash, and while it’s not as famous as R-E-S-P-E-C-T, obviously, the two have something in common.