Stimulating engagement through respect

When you ask workers what matters most to them, feeling respected by superiors often tops the list.

That’s Kristie Rogers’ opening statement in her latest article on Harvard Business Review. Though hardly shocking for any contemporary leader or executive, it seems the business world hasn’t yet fully grasped the impact of it. As Kristie goes on to mention, a recent survey of Georgetown University amongst 20.000 employees across the globe shows that respect is the most important leadership behavior. At the same time, employees report more and more disrespectful behavior: the exact opposite of what they need.

Disrespectful behavior from a supervisor (or the workplace in general), doesn’t always originate from malicious intent. In fact, it probably has more to do with our unawareness of the situation, which only adds to the problem. Even simply defining a definition of respect in the workplace is a very hard task for most of us after all.

Mrs. Rogers’ research helps a great deal in that. She was able to distinguish two different sorts of respect: owed and earned respect. The first is attributed to the entire work place, without highlighting an individual’s performance. Rather, it relies on the accomplishments of the entire work force as a whole. The latter however, is solely applicable to individual employees. Employees who excel when compared to their peers, industry standards or even their own company’s standards, should receive credit for their magnificent work.

As you might have guessed, the trick is to find the right balance between the two. Relying purely on owed respect for instance, often results in a working environment where employees are less eager to put in more effort as they feel the credit will only pass on to their peers. An organization that focuses on nothing but earned respect on the other hand, quickly becomes a very hostile environment where team work is completely absent. Their employees will soon realize that helping a colleague, only results in giving him credit, without getting any(thing) back.

Why bother looking for a fine line between two very different forms of respect? Those 20.000 respondents mentioned earlier here, didn’t lie or exaggerate. Research shows that coworkers who feel respected, are more loyal, more satisfied with their jobs, more resilient, more eager to cooperate with others, perform better, are more creative and listen better to their supervisors. If none of that resonates with you, maybe the effects of a lack of balance will change your mind. 80% of employees who feel disrespected, dwell for a significant amount of time on the bad behavior they’ve experienced instead of functioning properly. 48% will even reduce their efforts on purpose! And if that too isn’t enough of a wake up call, the author confirms that yes, disgruntled employees will take it out on each other and your customers.


The good news is: you can do a whole lot, without spending a penny or even without going to great efforts. How’s that for a change?
We’ll help you get started with our 5 favorite tips below.

  1. Owed respect: setting the basics.

Holding the door open for anyone, regardless of rank or function is a prime way to establish a baseline of owed respect. Greeting everyone in the office in the morning, and/or saying goodbye to everyone when you leave in the evening, is another great example.

  1. Know how to convey respect in your particular workplace.

Working on a company culture in which respect is key, is something everyone in the office can and should do. Active listening, valuing diverse ideas (and backgrounds), delegating important tasks, being open to advice,… are all great ways to do so. No office is the same however -even when you’re just talking about different departments of the same company- so find out what works for your office and what doesn’t.

  1. Trickle-down respect effect.

This one is pretty straight forward: in companies where leaders show ample respect to their work force, employees show the same behavior towards one another and to your customers. Be sure to be a great example and your colleagues will follow you. Word of warning: this works the other way round too!

  1. Think wisely about the amount of earned respect.

Sufficient owed respect should be a given, forming the basis of your culture of respect. You’ll probably need to focus on earned respect too, but exactly how much of it will do you any good? That depends entirely on the goals you set -and the people who should achieve them. There’s no golden rule here, so think, implement, measure and adjust as long as necessary.

  1. Be authentic.

Respectful words that feel insincere, will be quickly perceived as insults. Being too vague for instance, or even worse: saying something and doing another, will undermine all other efforts. Be aware of the fact that employees too, see honesty as one of the purest forms of respect.

You’ll find more tips (and a more elaborate explanation of each tip) in the original article posted on HBR. Be sure to read it if you think your company needs a shift in respect! If you’d rather talk face to face about it, contact us on

2 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s