Few businesses realise that one simple word, if effectively and genuinely put into practice, can have such a powerful effect on business transformation. That word is respect - but how can just one seven letter term have such an influential impact?
During my 15 plus years in HR it has become apparent that respect in the workplace is the key driver on an organisation’s culture. Regardless of rank or seniority, if there is no culture of respect - whether senior management or at grass roots, the entire organisation suffers, making it less likely to withstand any challenges it faces - now and in the future.
Today’s multi-generational workforce is more diverse than ever – where diversity includes different personalities and workstyles as well as race, gender, religious and philosophical beliefs such as veganism. This multi-generational and diverse workforce has also given rise to a new era of honesty where transparency and accountability is required from the top down. It’s against this backdrop and the rise of the #metoo movement that reports of bad behaviour are increasingly called out and reported.
It’s also why inappropriate behaviour at work has become one of the most pressing issues facing HRs when some employees don’t recognise what is acceptable behaviour and when bosses think they can ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and not ‘walk the talk’ themselves and demonstrate respect for all. And it’s why organisations such as The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) felt it necessary to recently release a seven-step guide to prevent and deal with sexual harassment at work.
Without a positive, respectful culture where respect for each other and individual differences are embraced a malaise can spread throughout an organisation. The level of respect in a workplace influences all five key pillars of risk in an organisation – from the financial bottom line, reputation, talent retention and attraction, to employee wellbeing and potential investment. It’s the essence and energy of what helps an organisation to thrive and meet today’s business challenges when it’s people and not robots who are still the lifeblood of organisations – generating sales, creating new ideas, products and talking to customers.
To protect these five pillars of risk HR needs to work with leaders to build a respectful culture. This starts with taking a ‘warts and all’ look at an organisation’s cultural climate and weaknesses by doing a culture check which needs to ask questions such as is the leadership team leading by example in their behaviours and attitudes? Is every employee treated equally with fairness and respect? Are team managers supporting every member and immediately handling issues as they arise?
Once you have a clear picture HR should work with Directors to agree a set of visions and values based on respect which are central to the business. Agree their behavioural expectations so they lead by example – while making the changes identified from the cultural check. This should be followed by a clear set of policies based on the organisation’s stance on respect and inappropriate behaviour, along with the purpose so employees understand the primary aim.
It is important that any grievance procedure is open and understood by all employees so line managers can feel confident in instigating or managing any claim. Then backed up and evident in all materials – from contracts to handbooks.
To sustain this for the long term needs consistent effort. Regular training, mentoring and coaching and quick resolutions of any problems if needed. Take the temperature of the organisation regularly with ‘culture check-ins’ and set targets against areas such as attitudes, wellbeing and performance.
There is no quick fix, but steady consistent effort brings rewards and ‘Respect for People’ becomes embedded throughout with everyone becoming accountable for their actions. Get it right and you’ll have a hugely positive, engaged, productive and responsive workforce that respects one another and which can withstand the five pillars of risk, whatever the future may hold.
Suzanne Hurndall is relationship director at hr inspire and leader of the Respect for People programme.