How to Create a Respectful Workplace

How to Create a Respectful Workplace

Many people can instantly identify a respectful workplace when they come across it and can name an organization that is a respectful workplace. It can be difficult to define into concrete parameters. A respectful workplace is inclusive of diversity, addresses conflict early and in a respectful manner, the achievement of a team supersedes the performance of any individual member, clear and realistic expectations are established and employees are treated with respect that creates a cohesiveness of an extended family. A key component of a respectful workplace includes the intolerance of disrespectful, hostile or bully behavior. A formal conflict resolution process is another key among many respectful workplaces. While the results of a respectful workplace value the collective business and employees, it requires consistent implementation at the individual level.

Employers that hold a respectful workplace in high regard see a greater incidence of content employees, improved morale, increased productivity, increased innovation and decreased employee turnover. It is unsurprising that companies have been actively working towards creating a respectful workplace considering these benefits.

Tools and Techniques

Numerous tools and techniques collectively lead to a respectful workplace. Some of these can also be called common etiquette. Empathy, compassion and caring about another person are the foundation of building a respectful workplace. Some examples of actions that show these traits are:

  •          Using the name of the person you are speaking with or were introduced. This provides a connection and bond that transcends business titles. Greet somebody with a smile and handshake during first introductions.



  •          Genuinely smile at people you pass along the street or in the hallway.



  •          Listen to what another person shares about themselves and their experiences. Ask questions. Ask for their opinion. This will provide insight as to what they hold as valuable. It also allows for mentoring about their experience from successfully trying new things or implementing new processes. They can also share experience from when things do not go as planned. They can provide great insight to the signs or situations to avoid. This should be applied to your peers, elders and junior staff.



  •          Include those that are different whether it is race, ethnicity, regional differences or disability.


    o   For example, if there were a vegan in the group, some acts of kindness would be to ensure vegan options are offered at potlucks or include a vegan restaurant for group lunches.

    o   Another example would be to avoid scheduling working lunches during a time when a member is fasting for religious or personal reasons.

    o   Ensure a meeting room is ADA accessible if somebody has limited mobility or uses a wheel chair. It is okay to be curious and ask questions but avoid having a condescending attitude towards another.


  •          If there is diversity within your group or you routinely have business with another country, learn the customs of that country. This simple jester will go a long way to display that you value differences.


    o   This could be participating in prayer before a meal or changing your clothing style for a meeting.

    o   Minimize or clarify when using idioms when a member of the group does not speak the native language.

      For example, the phrases "curiosity killed the cat," "square peg in a round hole," or "barking up the wrong tree" can cause confusion and hinder communication.

    o   It is perfectly acceptable to laugh if something gets lost in translation as long as it does not embarrass or humiliate any members.


  •          You can show respect even if the person you are showing respect for is not in the same room. An example of this is the recommendation of another for an assignment or praising their accomplishments. Of course, public recognition is great too. Public recognition allows the subject to know they are appreciated.



  •          Avoid losing your temper if possible. Take care to be alert of what is said during the heat of the moment. It only takes 30 seconds to release steam during an argument but can take years to build trust again.



  •          Apologize for lapses in behavior or for causing pain regardless of the original intention.


    These various tools are the foundation of the golden rule. The golden rule is sometimes referred to as the ethic of reciprocity. This simply means to treat others as you wish they would treat you. The inverse is called the silver rule, which is to avoid treating people how you do not want to be treated. These tools are combined to form office etiquette and are invaluable for any situation.

    Loss or Disappointment Scenario

    There are times when a team or individual experiences a set-back. This could be a job loss, demotion, errors on a project, illness, death in the family, loss of a pet, financial difficulties, losing a home, etc. There are simple actions that can be taken during these times of distress that are respectful and kind.


  •          Do not avoid the person. Reach out to them and make sure to include them so they do not feel isolated.



  •          Validate their experience of the loss. Listen to what they have to say.



  •          Be supportive and offer to help find a solution.



    Email and text messages have the highest potential for miscommunication because they lack context. It can be more insightful about the person reading the message and the tone they attribute to the message than the sender. However, there are times when harsh tones are taken in writing that would be avoided in a face-to-face situation.


  •          Avoid using extreme language that is harsh. If you must deliver bad news or need to discuss an issue, it is better to do it in person and then follow up with an email.



  •          Avoid assuming the intent of the sender. They could have been in a hurry or had a lot on their mind and did not intend anything negative.



  •          Ask clarifying questions and parrot back your understanding of the message.



  •          If there is a misunderstanding, meet to discuss the issue with the sender.


    Face-to-face meetings will minimize misunderstandings but will not entirely avoid conflict. The goal should never be to avoid difference of opinions but to ensure everybody has a sounding board to express concerns or ideas in a safe environment.


  •          Smile and greet the members by name.



  •          Include those that are quiet or introverted to ensure that the entire team's input is sought.



  •          Turn off cell phones during the meeting. In this day of continual contact, the simple jester shouts that you value another's time.



  •          Don't check email during the meeting.



  •          Don't allow discussions to turn personal. Embrace respectful debate.


    Telephones and webinar communications provide the benefit of understanding tone, voice infliction and can even include body language cues during video calls. Showing kindness and respect to another leads to better relationships with deeper understanding. Ask questions if you suspect there is something wrong based on their voice or body language. Ask about their family, holiday or upcoming plans. End the call on a high note with clear expectations about the next steps and wish the person well.

    Cell phones have become commonplace and are generally ranked as important as ensuring you have your wallet or purse before leaving the house. Offices have moved away from traditional walled offices with doors and transitioned from rows of cubicles into open layouts of desks. This means that sound transfers easier and can hinder a colleague's thought process. As such, the tools for a respectful workplace can alleviate these types of problems. Using texts with the sound off while you are at your desk would minimize the voice and ringtone carryover to your neighbor's work area. Not answering the phone when you are meeting with somebody shows a great deal of respect for their time. If you do not want to miss an important call, let the person you are meeting with know in advance that you are expecting a call.

    While it is preferable to avoid using offensive language at all, it should be avoided in communal spaces. The primary purpose for most offensive language is to make the targeted recipient feel substandard or to create an emphasis using shock value. Neither scenario leads to a respectful workplace or community.

    Communal Space

    Whether it is visiting a friend, relative or having a communal kitchen at work, cleaning up after yourself can lead to harmonious relationships. Wash your own dishes and make sure you do not leave anything in the communal fridge that has become moldy. If you notice a dish needs washing, sometimes it can have a large impact to take the 10 minutes to wash it. Volunteer occasionally to clean out the fridge. If you notice the coffee pot is empty, make a fresh pot if you know how or alert the person responsible.

    Be aware of the types of material you leave in communal spaces. This is not the place for pin-up calendars, inappropriate magazines or pamphlets. A good rule of thumb is to leave items you would not mind your parents, grandparents or children reading. The goal is to avoid making somebody else feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed.

    Holiday Parties

    Most companies have holiday parties or company retreats throughout the year. Kindness and awareness can go a long way towards ensuring everybody is included and having a good time. Avoid scheduling events that fall on holidays to ensure everybody can attend. Offer a variety of foods so that everybody has an option to partake. This includes watching for allergies, diabetic options and other dietary restrictions.

    If the party or retreat will be located off-site, make sure that all invitees can access the facilities and all the rooms or events being offered. Most off-site locations meet ADA standards but sometimes it can still be insufficient for the full team experience. Do not be afraid to ask those with mobility issues about locations during the planning process. They will be able to provide insight and details that would not be readily available. Holding a retreat on a ropes course may not be the best option if it means a member of the team cannot participate in the team-building exercise.

    Gift exchanges are a great way to build camaraderie. Be aware of any dietary, religious or personal restrictions for your recipient. If you do not know, simply ask or perform some quick research. For example, one would not gift candy made with honey to a vegan. Likewise, if you receive a gift that does not conform with your dietary restrictions refrain from saying anything negative or assuming malicious intent. Thank the gift giver and take the item with you. You can donate the gift to a charity without hurting the other's feelings. This advice is geared towards those that have good intentions. If however, you were given the gift as part of an overall intimidation or bullying situation then a different response is warranted that may result in reporting the behavior as outlined in the human resources manual of your company.

    Physical Safety

    A respectful workplace includes the company providing and maintaining a safe inclusive environment. This includes looking out for your fellow colleague. If you work in a lab, it could mean checking your colleague's personal protection equipment (PPE) as you would check your own. You could ensure your workstation is kept clean. Ensure that emergency equipment is available and in enough quantity for your team. If not, report the situation according to the company policies. If you work in a factory or construction, it could mean ensuring you pay attention to briefing sessions and correct any lapses or report unsafe conditions per the company policies. An employer should ensure their employees have been properly trained and have access to the appropriate materials. Employees should feel safe to report any deficiencies. There should be a mutual respect throughout the company.

    Bullying or Intimidation

    A respectful workplace cannot include, endorse or ignore episodes of bullying or intimidation. Some examples and symptoms of bullying include:


  •          Using dishonesty to forward an agenda or action



  •          Intimidating somebody using threats or retaliatory actions such as increased workload, changing expectations or creating unrealistic deadlines.



  •          Excluding and isolating an employee or colleague to control their behavior or control how others perceive the employee.



  •          Minimize a person's belief or work product in order to control their reaction and minimize resistance. This can also include trying to induce feelings of worthlessness or not being a contributing member of the team.



  •          Regular personal attacks or public criticism.



  •          Withholding information that is critical to successful completion of work.



  •          Gossiping


    The intent of the abuser is to cause irreparable harm to their victim's reputation and quality of life for the sole purpose of advancing their own agenda. Providing constructive criticism, correcting an employee's behavior or disciplining an employee is not bullying.

    If you are in a leadership capacity, you are obligated to intervene quickly and swiftly to prevent the behavior from becoming a pattern that could destroy any semblance of a respectful workplace. Work with your human resources department for guidance on how to stop this behavior as most companies have adopted policies to prevent bullying. If you are an employee that sees a colleague being bullied, report the matter to leadership and/or human resources. Go out of your way to talk to the victim and seek their opinion. Avoid spreading or creating gossip about another. Do what you can to let the victim know that you value their contribution.

    Results of a Respectful Workplace

    A respectful workplace leads to content employees that are willing to go the extra mile for their employer. It is a family atmosphere with some dysfunctional moments but the overall care for one another overrides negative tendencies. It is about following the golden rule and embracing colleagues with respect and kindness. A respectful workplace is one where employees choose to remain and transform a job into a career. Likewise, employers choose to provide support and guidance that provides a career pathway for employees.

    A company's reputation for being a great place to work naturally attracts highly skilled employees. Absenteeism is lower in a respectful workplace. Employees want to be at work and do not need to escape as often for recovery. This leads to increased productivity since more days are worked and the learning curve declines the longer a person stays with a company. Employees take fewer stress-related breaks during the day. Leadership and employees are more willing to work through conflict in a healthy manner. Morale is higher for all involved and workplace injuries tend to decline. Innovation explodes in a respectful workplace with minimal fear of failure or lack of support.

    While an organization becomes a respectful workplace, it is up to every individual to make it a reality. Negativity is contagious and can lead to dysfunction, which results in higher turnover and lower productivity. A respectful workplace is dynamic. It is not something that a company attains and never has to worry about again. It requires effort and continual improvement to maintain a respectful workplace. It is easier to maintain a respectful workplace than to move from a dysfunctional workplace to one of respect and cohesion.


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