All Employees Are Asking Is for a Little Respect

All Employees Are Asking Is for a Little Respect

Writing at Quartz, Christine Porath, a professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, points to a lack of civility and respect as the silent killer of workplace productivity today:

What are the costs of employees feeling disrespected? Over the past 20 years, I have researched this question. I’ve polled tens of thousands of workers worldwide about how they’re treated at work. Nearly half of those surveyed in 1998 reported they were treated rudely at least once a month, which rose to 55% in 2011 and 62% in 2016. Though the toll is sometimes hidden, the costs of incivility are tremendous.

Of the nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries Christine Pearson of the Thunderbird School of Global Management and I polled, those who didn’t feel respected performed worse. Forty-seven percent of those who were treated poorly intentionally decreased the time spent at work, and 38% said they deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Sixty-six percent reported their performance declined and 78% said their commitment to the organization had declined.

Incivility and disrespect affect performance in various ways, Porath elaborates, increasing stress and harming employees’ mental and even physical health. Even employees who are not themselves the victims of disrespectful behavior, they can lose time and energy to worrying about how to respond or whether they will become targets. Many of these employees leave their jobs, often without telling their managers why. Finally, an uncivil environment is toxic to collaboration.

Porath’s argument about the importance of respect is consistent with the findings of the latest Global Talent Monitor from CEB, now Gartner. This quarterly report provides workforce insights on global and country-level changes about what attracts, engages, and retains employees, based on data from more than 22,000 employees in over 40 countries. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can peruse the full set of insights from Global Talent Monitor.)

As part of our survey, we asked employees for the most important elements of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that influenced their decision to accept their most recent job.

Based on the most recent data from Q3 2017, we see that respect is the fourth most significant EVP attribute selected by employees, behind only compensation, work-life balance, and stability. Additionally, we see that the importance of respect as a key component of attraction has been increasing over time, especially in the United States, Southeast Asia, and India.

While respect is clearly a priority for prospective job candidates, ensuring leaders and managers foster a respectful environment for all employees should be also be a priority for HR leaders. Mutual respect is a precondition for a healthy organization; we see direct negative consequences for performance and engagement outcomes when employees report a lack of respect in their work environment. Employees who report satisfaction with the degree of respect that the organization shows employees are 47 percent more likely to have exceeded expectations in their most recent performance review. Additionally, they are about twice more likely to exhibit high levels of discretionary effort and a high intent to stay.

Another troubling finding from Porath’s study is the high percentage of employees who deliberately reduce the quality of their work in response to perceptions of disrespect. In this regard, perhaps another way a lack of workplace respect can hurt performance is by contributing to the development of an offensive ego in these deliberately disengaged employees.

An article in the Q3, 2017 issue of CHRO Quarterly (which CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read here) addressed the topic of egos in the workplace and how HR functions can deal with them to better their culture. The article defines ego as “a constant preoccupation with one’s own self-worth,” and likewise an offensive ego as wanting to be acknowledged for their work. As Shayne Hughes, culture change expert and author of “Ego Free Leadership” explains, employees’ egos are not static but are rather a product of their environment, and can be pushed in positive or negative directions by their organization’s culture

Employees who react poorly to lack of respect by purposely diminishing the quality of their work would seem to fit the definition of those with offensive egos. They assume they must be acknowledged and will do what they can to receive that acknowledgment. Of course, this is a double-edged sword: While these employees are displaying poor workplace behavior, almost all human behaviors can be attributed to their environment. A culture that allows for disrespect will also encourage employees to grow these offensive egos and engage in negative behavior. Eradicating disrespect from an organization’s culture may be easier said than done, but it is a goal worth striving toward, as a culture that allows for incivility clearly harms employee engagement and business performance in unique ways.