This post is by Paul Marciano, author of “Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.” Follow him on Twitter @drpaulmarciano.

Growing up, my parents taught me to respect my elders, teachers, and those in uniform e.g., police officers, fire fighters, military personnel and clergy. As I got older, I also learned the importance of respecting those for whom I worked — even when I disagreed with them or felt treated unfairly. You respected the boss because he was the boss, as you respected your parents because they were your parents. You didn’t have to like it but I think that it achieved some sort of order in the world.

Perhaps I’m just getting older but it seems to me that our world is in a crisis of disrespect. In fact, the term dissed has even become part of our vernacular and we regularly hear about gang members killing one another for having been disrespected. School children bully one another, and politicians cannot have a civil dialogue.

As an organizational psychologist, I’ve seen the critical role that respect plays in the workplace. In fact, it has become clear to me that respect is the lynchpin of employee engagement. Despite 40 years of research on employee motivation, organizations continue to waste resources developing, administering and executing traditional reward and recognition programs that actually reduce motivation. Promotions, trips and perks lead to temporary increases in performance, not enduring changes in commitment and continuous improvement. Corporate vitality depends on creating a culture that leads to committed, loyal, and engaged employees, and “carrot and stick” approaches just won’t get you there.

Here’s what does work: showing employees respect. Employee engagement depends upon the extent to which individuals respect their organization and its leadership, and feel respected.

There are seven critical ways in which managers can show respect to their employees.

  • Recognition: Thanking employees and acknowledging their contributions on a daily basis.
  • Empowerment: Providing employees with the tools, resources, training, and information they need to be successful.
  • Supportive feedback: Giving ongoing performance feedback — both positive and corrective.
  • Partnering: Fostering a collaborative working environment.
  • Expectation setting: Establishing clear performance goals and holding employees accountable.
  • Consideration: Demonstrating thoughtfulness, empathy, and kindness.
  • Trust: Demonstrating faith and belief in their employees’ skills, abilities, and decisions.

This is an actionable philosophy that speaks to how employees and managers should treat one another on a regular basis. If your goal is to create highly engaged and dedicated employees, then spend some part of everyday showing your employees that you respect them. Think about the boss to whom you were the most dedicated and would work the hardest. Did you respect her? I thought so.

Image credit, joebelanger, via iStockPhoto.com

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45 Responses to “Engaging employees with RESPECT”

  1. Dan Costigan says:

    Psychometrics Canada just released a study on employee engagement: http://www.psychometrics.com/docs/engagement_stud
    The vast majority of survey respondents (84%) indicate that senior leaders and managers are primarily responsible for employee engagement. Fair or not, it appears that it is not up to employees to engage themselves, but up to organizations to engage their employees.

    The study, which involved a poll of 368 human resources (HR) professionals across Canada, shows that employee engagement is seen as problematic, with the majority (69%) indicating it is an issue in their organization. Eighty-two per cent say that it is very important that their organizations address employee engagement. In fact, less than half of one per cent feels that engagement is not an important issue for their organization.

    • And, that is exactly what great managers have always been able to do! Employees come to us with a "readiness to engage" — the question is why does their initial enthusiasm decline for so many? Of course, my answer is that they feel disrespected in some way, e.g., failure to be recognized for contributions, ideas not considered, being micro-managed, etc.

  2. Ray says:

    There are so many ways managers can show respect. One I'd like to add is Take Ownership: If a mistake is made, admit it, and then work to correct it. There's no quicker way to lose respect with employees than avoiding responsibility and shifting the blame to others. Accepting responsibility is huge in gaining respect, which goes a long way in creating partnering (the fourth item above) and fostering a collaborative environment.

    • epindura says:

      I find they tend to look for fault in emplyees rather than than look at their strength and abilityies to really find how best they can make them even more productive. It's sad the way some of them want to put unnecessary pressure on their workers.

  3. Such a great article. When I was finishing my master's degree I surveyed employees about what bosses could do to influence them. The two answers was listen and show respect.

  4. We built a conpany called Marion Laboratories Inc into a Billion dollar firm with the highest productivity levels in the pharmaceutical industry and a regular "100 Best Companies to Work fzaFor in America" in the 80s usinf a very simple approach to management……….. "Treat People as you would want to be treated… with dignity, RESPECT, integrity, and honesty". and a philosophy that " Those who produce should share in the results". When we sold the com[any to DOW Chemical Company in 1989 over 300 "associates" became millionaires as a result of sharing in the results.
    Company Founder, Ewing Kauffman created a Foundation where I served as Founding President of the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership charged to teach these principles to entrepreneurs. My partner and I currently share these insights with early stage and rapid growth companies through our consulting firm, 5th Dimension Strategies LLC in Overland Park, KS.

  5. Mike Sealy says:

    These points (and those in the comments) are all right on target but one other piece is missing – and that is building a compelling vision of the Organization's mission or purpose. In addition to feeling respected, people also need to feel that their work contributes to, or is part of, something important and larger than Self.

  6. Funny…Your post could show up on my educational blog. The 7 ways to show respect are exactly what teachers should be doing with students. Thanks for the post=)

    Jess http://msjessicareeves.edublogs.org

  7. huynh van hoa says:

    Sharing is essential for corporate leaders, from knowledge and information work, and all other rights. Interest is also a big problem, you might be interested then you are sharing. When you share power cut to work, power production and increase productivity. Leaders need to know are interested in any of their workers. Workers, the need to share.
    My company is doing, workers have always been of interest from leaders. They have been and are being shared. I have the strength from them, I believe I will succeed and excess capacity in the last months of 2011.

  8. Valeria Makowski says:

    Great article! Respect and all that embodies respect is crucial in building relationships. Effective relationships cannot exist without trust, and a lack of trust can undermine good business practices and communication. Especially in the turmoil of today's economy, reduction in force, and fierce competition, effective relationships are vital in our daily business practices. Often companies go to great lengths to communicate the important of relationships and customer service (in their vision, goals, and objectives) only to skew the message through their interactions. Relationships are the catalyst that drives success. Respect, trust, empowerment, supportive feedback, partnering, expectation, consideration, and communication are ingredients required of a good relationship.

  9. DAlnB says:

    I have for a long time felt the bad supervisor or manager is a major threat to the organization, the employees and the community. States require almost all professions to be certified and licensed by a state agency. To be certified the person must meet certain qualifying and sustaining standards. None, not the barber, the realtor, the car salesman, plumber or therapist, has the personal impact on a persons mental and physical well being that their supervisor or manager has. A bad supervisor or manager treats the employee badly and the person leaves at the end of the day upset. On the way home he creates road rage, gets home and kicks the dog, goes into the house and argues with the wife and bullies the kids. A chain reaction of unpleasant and potentially life threatening events brought on by a bad supervisor or manager. Mangers of any business should be required to complete certain training and maintain certain state standards if they are to be allowed to impact employees lives.

  10. edmusesupon says:

    I always look forward to my SmartBrief e-mail but this was the first time I was so struck by something I read that felt compelled to comment.

    Respect is an incredibly powerful tool and I really like Ray's early comment about its corollary of taking ownership.

  11. Doug Lubin says:

    Paul, I agree completely that respect goes further than monetary rewards in creating deeply motivated, engaged and loyal employees. I think your entire bulleted list can be summed up by one more way to show employees respect: Career development. Employees want to know that you’re committed to them not just in the present, but in the long-run. In addition to short-term empowerment, feedback and expectation setting, sit down with your employees and plot out a roadmap for their career at your company. Show them where you’d like to see them three, five or ten years down the road, and explain how you’ll help them get there.

    Overall, great advice.

    Doug Lubin, http://blog.yoh.com

  12. Disrespect Ed says:

    This post is out of touch and too academic – money will always be the end goal and determining factor in every organization. “Respect” is all fine and well to talk about, but honestly, where is your evidence that any company does what you recommend – where is your example, your case? “The Seven Critical Ways to Respect Employees” as outlined here is likely to become another laminated placard, signed off by the HR department to remain in compliance with minimum standards, given perfunctory lip service by management, and shared in press releases to appear as a “best company to work for” by the local/regional/national business magazine.

    The crux of the matter is money – how do you use this to keep the company and its employees accountable? If there is no incentive/disincentive, then people will revert to their base instincts. In this economy, it is all about self-preservation; this is true from the hourly worker on up to the CEO.

    If you really want to shake up an organization, tie behavioral-based incentives to the employee’s wallet, and they will behave, using an impartial 3rd party to administer and monitor the behavior, especially with the “company watchdogs” of HR who only act in the company’s best interest.

    Please, I implore the author and the the other academics who responded, take a good hard look at what’s going on in today’s world before making pronouncements about respect, empathy, or otherwise. The working world of today is not a science experiment, but is very much a cesspool of human depravity. One needs to either be self-sufficient or start their own company to have any semblance of respect as a professional in the business world anymore.

    – Disrespected in Chicago

    • Dear Disrespect Ed,
      I am really sorry that you feel this way about my blog post, although I am intrigued by your intense reaction to it. I did want to point out that while I do have an academic background – Ph.D. from Yale in Psychology and have taught college courses, I also founded the manufacturing firm ColorMe Company in 2003 and was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal because of our practices. So, I actually know what it is like to run a successful business and was able to put RESPECT to the test. I was born and raised a farmer and have worked in many different jobs, including, as a night janitor. My work was not derived in some lab – it came about my interviewing employees from over 100 different companies around the world. I would be happy to send you a copy of my book so that you can understand my work more fully. Regards, Paul

  13. Alice says:

    It's been shown in the past that employees who do not feel respected in their workplace will be pushed to the breaking point and either quit or 'go postal.'

  14. Michael Shelton says:

    This is hard work for managers. But if it was easy all managers would do it and we'd have hyper productivity and competitiveness in American companies. That's not happening.

  15. Burt McAuliffee says:

    Here it is again – a "formula" for employee motivation, treat them this way, show this or that, etc., all phony-baloney stuff. For those of you who have successful marriages, why is that so? Because it works like a partnership maybe? Mutual trust and respect built from genuine honest-to-goodness contribution and communication; i.e., sharing of knowledge and commitment in BOTH directions….period.

    • Just to be clear — I am not taking about a motivation here. Motivation and engagement are two entirely different concepts. It is actually a huge problem that people don't seem to understand the difference between these two concepts. I argue that employee engagement is an actionable philosophy built on respect of which a component is trust.

    • Burt,
      I'm really confused. First, the article is about employee engagement — not motivation. Two very different concepts. Second, are you agreeing or disagreeing that respect and trust is important — that is the entire argument. Respectful communication is critical and I'd like to think that we could model that on this blog.

  16. John Porcaro says:

    Loved this article. Definitely easier said than done. There's no quick fix if there's no mutual respect, but these suggestions can be a good starting point. I used the same points on my own blog to show why respecting customers matters in Social Media.

    • Dr. Paul Marciano says:

      Changing culture is never a quick fix and, obviously, the more long-standing the culture the more difficult. You may be interested in taking a peek at the RESPECT Customer Service Model — you can download a whitepaper on it from my website — http://www.PaulMarciano.com

  17. Ray –I could not agree more! And, it is a critical step to maintaining or re-building trust!

  18. Dr. Paul Marciano says:

    Thanks so much!

  19. Dr. Paul Marciano says:

    Thanks so much Doug. Feel free to connect with me directly — paul@paulmarciano.com

  20. Dr. Paul Marciano says:

    WOW — thanks so much for the RESPECT! Regards, Paul

  21. Dr. Paul Marciano says:

    Thanks so much Valeria — it is all about relationships! Regards, Paul

  22. Great post. I don't know if these are listed in order of importance, but I appreciate that recognition is listed first. Simple acknowledgment of ourselves, our work, and the value of our contributions goes a long way to telling us we are respected in the workplace.

  23. NoRESPECThere says:

    Interesting. However where I work I bet the top management would go through your list and check off each one as "Yep, we do that". Yet my (and others) biggest complaint about the organization is the lack of respect.

    A key problem here is that management views themselves as having all the answers and being smarter than all the people who work for them. If an idea or project is presented that is at all different than what the top management had in mind, then it is viewed as just wrong. Further, the lower in the heirarchy you are, the less respect and knowledge you are assumed to have. There is no understanding of the fact that the mailroom personnel might actually know more about mailroom operations, than the CEO or a Senior Vice-President.

    • carlyd1 says:

      That's been my experience also. Isn't it amazing how simple respect goes out the window when some people are promoted into positions of authority? It's as if they view respect as a sign of weakness.

    • Dr. Paul Marciano says:

      Oh my gosh — you could not be more correct! It is so frustrating for me dealing with many executives who think that they show respect and demonstrate these behaviors when they don't. This is why when I begin working with companies I insist that company leaders undergo a RESPECT 360 assessment — trust me — it is very eye opening for them!

      I also agree fervently and frustratingly that folks at the lowest levels of the organization often have wonderful ideas that are completely ignored. In a truly respectful organization they are not!

  24. [...] and what makes employees engaged, happy and really supportive.  I found this post from the Smart leadership blog and what makes employees engaged.  These 7 points really show the qualities I tried to have [...]

  25. [...] to Paul Marciano’s recent piece on SmartBlog on Leadership there are seven critical ways in which managers can show respect to their [...]

  26. [...] a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T all it takes to maintain an engaged workforce? In a recent blog, Engaging employees with RESPECT, the author Paul Marciano suggests that Aretha Franklin had it right all along. Marciano maintains [...]

  27. Yuvarajah says:

    Dr Paul Marciano,

    Thank you for a wonderful recap of what matters between leaders and followers. These served as foundational values that drive engagement at work.

    However, I am rather lost whenever people try to disconnect or dissociate "engagement" as mutually exclusive from other individual drivers or outcome such as happiness and motivation. You have tied the actionable ways how managers can show respect and achieve engagement. Don't you think being motivated and happy (intrinsically) is a mutually complimenting criteria for people to become engaged at work?.

    I do agree that the stark reality that monetary reward has become a predominant motivational driver of self preservation in an affluent society. No amount is going to change because, it's the best (or easiest) model to champion the free market forces. Hence, teamwork and collectivism has been put on the back-burner compared to WIIFM focus. The very basis of the reward and recognition system insults and undermines the "respect" for what motivation and happiness at work means. I cannot imagine any leader being able to achieve "full engagement" by overlooking the need to address motivation and happiness factor.

    I think the biggest respect managers, as leaders, ought to bring into the philosophical belief is to incorporate what matters most to employees in terms of motivation and happiness. If money is still the number one motivator, than that's what they would deserving continue to see – a distanced, disconnected and de-humanised workplace environment, whist they continue to rant anonymously about a lousy workplace on surveys platforms.

  28. [...] post, Engaging employees with RESPECT, is a must read for ALL managers, because he provides seven tangible ways they can show respect to [...]

  29. [...] Engaging employees with RESPECT | SmartBlogsMar 15, 2011 … This post is by Paul Marciano, author of “Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of … [...]

  30. click here says:

    Many companis do not maintain this rule.But it is so necessary to engage employess with their deserving respect.

  31. thanks ,the article very usefull

  32. this is so inspiring

  33. Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this.