Can a Little Respect Improve Employee Engagement?

Would it surprise you to learn the discouraging news that employee engagement in the workplace is not improving?  In fact, Gallup’s recent Annual Employee Engagement Survey results suggest that “the 2015 averages are largely on par with the 2014 averages and reflect little improvement in employee engagement over the past year.”  If this is true, 50% of American workers are “not engaged,” while another 17.8% are “actively disengaged.”  Why does this matter?  According to this report, Gallup’s extensive research shows that employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement.

In response, Gallup, individual companies and bloggers like myself continue to posit topics like the “Five Key Steps to Improving Engagement” or something similar. I’m beginning to believe we are overthinking the solution.

Here’s a crazy idea…What if leaders everywhere began to treat each employee with respect?

Merriam Webster defines the noun “respect” in two ways:

  • A feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.
  • A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way

What if this pervasive respect crept all the way through the organization so that pretty soon everyone understood that they were valued? Wow! Employees at every level would begin to understand their importance in the organization and, knowing this, would be committed to the organization and perform at the highest  levels. This sounds like engagement to me!

Let’s explore this magic world of respect.

First, the organization must believe that people are capable and resourceful. The great female sprinter, Wilma Rudolph said, “The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” Just think about how language and behaviors change when you believe someone is capable and resourceful. You come to a conversation with the belief that the fellow employee understands the job requirements, has the “can do” and the “will do” to get the job done, and will rise to any challenge. With this foundation, your tone and word choice are supportive, enthusiastic and positive. It communicates “of course you can do this and I’m here if you have questions.”

This does not mean that you bring everyone and anyone into your organization. A careful hiring process is still important to ensure that employees have the skills necessary for the job and support the culture of the organization.

Second, when you respect someone, you assume positive intent on their part. In a 2008 column, Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsico said that an important lesson that her father taught her was “… always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, “Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.”

Positive intent respects the point of view of the other person.

Third, being curious about another person shows respect. The 2013 Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy supports this notion of being curious this way: The idea of paying heed or giving proper attention to the object which is central to respect often means trying to see the object clearly, as it really is in its own right, and not seeing it solely through the filter of one’s own desires and fears or likes and dislikes. Thus, respecting something contrasts with being oblivious or indifferent to it, ignoring or quickly dismissing it, neglecting or disregarding it, or carelessly or intentionally misidentifying it. 

If you are curious about your fellow employee, you will go beyond your initial judgment and try to understand what makes her tick – the goals, skills, experiences and values that drive her. You will ask questions to understand, rather than make statements to confirm your own beliefs.

If you want a team who is involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace, try a little respect.

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