When helping companies create a vibrant work culture in which employees can thrive and love their work, we have found that looking at one little factor can often make the difference between a company that soars and one that languishes. When it comes to forming high-functioning teams in the workplace, respect is one of the most important predictors of a team’s success. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that respectful treatment of all employees in a workplace was the number one predictor for career satisfaction.[1. “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement,” http://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Documents/2015-Job-Satisfaction-and-Engagement-Report.pdf?utm_source=SHRM-MemAcq-M156R-USContacts-NoDiscount-Download2015JobSatisfactionandEngagementReport-SHRMsender%20(1)&utm_medium=email&utm_content=June%2024,%202015&MID=&LN=&spMailingID=22909018&spUserID=OTkzOTk1Njc4MjES1&spJobID=582350350&spReportId=NTgyMzUwMzUwS0] When respect is lacking, then, so is team cohesion and the desire to produce top results for the company.
So what should business leaders do to ensure team members respect one another and work well together? Consider implementing these respect-building tactics to foster happy, healthy, results-producing teams.
A culture of respect in an organization begins at the individual level. Do team members feel valued and respected as individual contributors? Giving respect can be as simple as making a few changes to your communication style. If you speak to your employees in a harried, shrill, or overly blunt tone they may feel disrespected by you. Business leaders, executives, and managers are particularly at risk of coming off as disrespectful in their conversations, albeit perhaps unconsciously. A gruff, harried communication style often stems from simply being too busy, and what business leader isn’t too busy?
But when managers and supervisors are the main perpetrators of disrespect in the workplace (as was found in a study conducted by Cardiff University[2. “Insight into Ill Treatment in the British Workplace,” http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/insight/]), developing a respectful communication style must become a higher priority. I once witnessed a newspaper editor leading a staff meeting that came to a screeching halt after he spoke to a member of his team disrespectfully. The team member piped in with an idea for the next issue of the newspaper, which the editor immediately shot down by saying that the idea was “silly” and “clearly not thought through.” The result? Not only was the insulted team member afraid to speak up again, but so were the other employees who witnessed the disrespectful takedown. The meeting became a complete waste of time.
To avoid situations like this, lead by example by speaking with team members politely, authentically, and without a sense of rushing—your employees shouldn’t feel like a conversation with them is just another task on your “to-do” list that you need to check off. Part of the reason the newspaper editor spoke so disrespectfully to his employee was because he didn’t schedule enough time for this meeting, and so he shot down the employee’s idea quickly and cruelly so he could move on to the rest of the meeting agenda. To make sure that the next meeting with his staff didn’t devolve into an uncomfortable display of disrespect, the editor scheduled the meeting for an hour longer than usual. Having extra time during the meeting allowed the editor and his employees to engage considerately about why or why not an idea might work for the paper, instead of just shooting ideas down disrespectfully.
Adopting a respectful communication style isn’t just for your employees’ sakes, but for your customers’ as well. Studies have shown that employees mimic the communication styles of their leaders,[3. “Effective Communication & Leadership,” http://smallbusiness.chron.com/effective-communication-leadership-5090.html and “The Role of Leaders in Influencing Unethical Behavior in the Workplace,” http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/4910_Kidwell_Chapter_3.pdf] so if your employees see you talking to others with a complete lack of civility, that’s how they’re going to treat your customers—and that’s the fastest way to lose a loyal customer following. While “do as I say, not as I do” may be a popular mantra, it’s one that has no place in an organization that’s trying to foster a culture of respect.
Another way that business leaders can make sure that a culture of respect is fostered in their workplace is by creating and implementing feedback initiatives, which allow employees on a more universal level to feel heard and appreciated.
Employee feedback initiatives, whether they’re administered through surveys, focus groups, or individual meetings with managers, show your employees that you’re listening, and they create safe spaces for employees to discuss issues that may be bothering them. But don’t allow the feedback that you gather to find its way into a business black hole, never to be seen or heard from again—make sure you communicate the results of your feedback initiatives to your employees, and act on any trends that emerge from the information you’ve collected. Acting on employee feedback initiatives pays off; we have seen so many companies use this method to create a culture of openness and ultimately turn around their employees’ experience of the company. But don’t just take our word for it. Õfficevibe reports that companies that implement regular employee feedback enjoy nearly 15 percent lower turnover rates.[4. “Statistics on the Importance of Employee Feedback,” https://www.officevibe.com/blog/infographic-employee-feedback]
Respect is important on an individual level, but it must be more expansive as well. If you aim to create a culture of respect at your company, you must ensure that the company itself is worthy of respect from its employees. How? By developing a mission (a company’s reason for existing—what it’s best at, and what it hopes to accomplish), vision for the future, and long-term goals that help employees understand where you see the company heading. If your employees just feel like cogs in the system, then their level of engagement and respect for the company will be low.
But team members shine brightest when they feel like they’re contributing to a larger mission. This has definitely been our experience as we see time and again how transformative the power of having a vision is for the employees of the companies we help. In fact, a 2013 study by Gallup revealed that when employees felt that they contributed to a company’s mission more broadly, they increased productivity, connected more with customers, and were more likely to stay with the company for a longer period of time.[5. “Why Your Company Must Be Mission-Driven,” http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/167633/why-company-mission-driven.aspx] Straightforward and to-the-point often makes for the most effective mission statement, like JetBlue, an award-winning airline with the mission to “bring humanity back to air travel,” or GalaxoSmithKline, who states, “We are a science-led global healthcare company with a mission: we want to help people to do more, feel better, live longer.”
This aspect of company culture is so essential, but we often find that many employees don’t fully understand what the mission of their company is because it hasn’t been clearly defined or communicated. Make sure you set aside time to communicate your company vision to your employees. Our own experience has been backed by a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review which found that not even 30% of employees understood their company’s strategy. Taking the time to strategically plan for your company’s future will not only set you up for business success, but will foster an environment where employees feel highly engaged, respected, and motivated to move the company forward.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to form high-performing teams and cultivate a culture of respect in your workplace, get in touch! Contact our expert guides to get started.