When Your Boss Treats You Like a Turkey: Respect in the Workplace

By Freda Marver 9 years agoNo Comments

When Your Boss Treats You Like a Turkey: Respect in the Workplace

Aretha Franklin had it right. Now there are statistics to back it up.

Working in a place of disrespect has far-reaching consequences not only on employee satisfaction but on productivity, creativity, problem solving, customer relations, and even the bottom line.

So what can you do when you find yourself in a workplace where incivility, rather than civility, is the norm?

Read on to learn:

  • What studies teach us about the importance of respect in the workplace
  • Helpful tips for creating a more respectful workplace

And then for a final boost, watch the video of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, from Blues Brothers 2000.

What does the research say?

Half of employees don’t feel respected by their bosses.

This was the title of a post on HBR.org by Christine Porath on Nov 19, 2014. She reported that in a study of nearly 20,000 employees conducted with Harvard Business Review and Tony Schwartz, the most important attribute leaders need to demonstrate to obtain commitment and engagement from employees is respect.

Those that get respect from their leaders reported

  • 56% better health and well-being
  • 1.72 times more trust and safety
  • 89% greater enjoyment and satisfaction with their jobs
  • 92% greater focus and prioritization, and
  • 1.26 times more meaning and significance
  • being 1.1 times more likely to stay with their organizations.

However, over half of those surveyed (54%) said they don’t regularly get respect from their leaders. Imagine how pervasive workplace disrespect is, and the impact it has on worker well-being and engagement.

Why are people disrespectful?

Porath has studied workplace civility for years, and the above research prompted her to survey 125 employees to find out why they behaved disrespectfully.

  • 60% said they were too busy to be nice. (Porath called this “hollow,” saying respect doesn’t require extra time – it’s how you communicate vs, a separate action.)
  • 25% said they don’t have a role model, and are behaving as their leaders do.

Through her prior research, she claims that most disrespectful behavior stems from a lack of awareness. People don’t realize the impact that their behavior has on others.

Her research also shows that either being the recipient of incivility or evenwitnessing incivility causes performance to suffer along many dimensions:

  • Puzzle solving ability
  • Brainstorming
  • Product creativity, as rated by external consultants

The bottom line is ultimately affected.

As a result of workplace incivility,

  • Many employees leave.
  • About half deliberately choose to reduce their efforts and quality of their work.
  • Customer relationships suffer: people are less likely to buy from rude employees, and customers generalize disrespectful behavior to the entire organization.

Try these helpful tips to create (or find) a more respectful workplace:

For those who manage others

Many of my executive coaching clients have managerial responsibilities, so they may be balancing how to treat their employees better, while at the same time trying to be treated better by their own leaders. Porath suggests incorporating respect into employee evaluations – being sure to reward employees for civility and holding them accountable for incivility.

For everyone — whether one manages others or not

There are several strategies I discuss with my career coaching clients, and these apply to anyone working within an organization:

  • Modeling respectful behavior
  • Speaking directly to one you feel has treated you disrespectfully
  • Seeking employment elsewhere
  • Being realistic about workplace stress and setting your tolerance level

Model respectful behavior

Just what is respectful behavior? In my mind, it’s being non-judgmental, direct, honest, authentic. It’s not about avoiding conflict, because conflict is not only inevitable in the workplace, it’s an important element of making good decisions that take into account many different points of view. The time you really feel respect is when you’re being treated “well” in an uncomfortable situation. Respect means “being heard.”

Thus, to model respect is to listen to others, even when they disagree with you. It means to take a breath first when you feel like lashing out. It means apologizing if you realize you have acted in a way that has “stepped” on someone else.

I also speak to my clients about not just treating others with respect, but treating yourself with respect, too.

Speak directly to one who has treated you disrespectfully

While it can be scary to confront someone who has treated you disrespectfully, I strongly encourage my coaching clients to do this. We strategize what to say, when to say it, and how to react depending on the person’s possible reactions. Frequently, my clients find themselves being more direct with managers and co-workers than they thought possible, and with reasonable results.

However, it is critical to remember: we can control our own behavior, but not that of others. We can make requests, but we have no guarantee how others will respond.

My clients and I frequently discuss the benefits as well as the risks of speaking directly with others, knowing that in some cases, the conversation could backfire. However, my clients frequently find that speaking their truth is empowering. And if they feel too restrained in what they can and cannot say, then perhaps they need to make a switch if the disrespect has become intolerable.

Seek employment elsewhere

When a situation has become truly intolerable, it may be time to find a different work scenario. (In many cases, I have recommended that clients speak to an employment attorney to discuss whether the “disrespect” has crossed a legal line, such as discrimination or retaliation.)

It’s important to realize that stress is part of work life, and there is no guarantee that simply moving to a new area or new job will result in a more respectful environment.

Is there any way to assess this before making a move?

Options I discuss with my coaching clients include:

  • Learning as much as you can about the person who will be your manager. See if you can find people who have worked with the person, either through your network or even LinkedIn.
  • Check out the organization. Glassdoor.com is a good first website to check, however, it is much better if you can find contacts of your own and speak with them directly to learn about an organization’s culture.
  • Follow your gut. When you walk into an organization, how does it feel? When you talk to your potential new manager, do you feel heard and respected?

Being realistic about workplace stress – what will and won’t you tolerate?

The fact of the matter is that no workplace is without stress. Where there is stress, there will be conflict and disagreement and the increased chance of uncivil behavior. My career coaching clients and I frequently discuss not just what are you willing to tolerate, but what will you do to feel empowered when situations arise? How will you decide when to speak up? I believe in the adage: “Choose your battles wisely.”

However, if one chooses not to speak up, I am not advocating caving. I speak of making an intentional choice: whether it’s giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, or showing them some slack, knowing you will benefit from receiving that consideration down the road.

If you are confident in your abilities on the job and your intention to treat others civilly, then there are times that you will take a breath and take the high road.

But that’s really hard to do!

That’s where restraint, maturity and a sense of humor can come in helpful. To that end, enjoy the following clip. When you’re feeling tense, just inhale some of that Aretha swagger and feel your own empowerment swell.

Here’s to turkeys at Thanksgiving, not in the workplace.

Best wishes for a happy, peaceful, abundant Thanksgiving —


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