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Respect in the Workplace: What it Means to Everyone

When soul singer Aretha Franklin belted out her anthem “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!” the world sang along. But what does R-E-S-P-E-C-T really spell in the workplace?

The Cambridge online dictionary defines respect generally as: “admiration…for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities; politeness, honor, and care shown towards someone or something that is considered important.”

More specifically, the CSA Group 2013 National Standard “Psychological health and safety in the workplace” points out that respect is linked to the basic human needs of social justice and self-worth and is therefore a key factor in a psychologically healthy workplace. The document further states:

“Civility and respect is present…where workers are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients, and the public. Civility and respect are based on showing esteem, care, and consideration for others, and acknowledging their dignity.”

Where respect and civility are lacking, it can lead to dis-respect, rudeness, intolerance, prejudice, unfair treatment, and even bullying or harassment. The ugly threat of workplace violence can never be ignored (see SafetyDriven’s earlier blog posts “End Workplace Violence” and “Violence in the Workplace”). So it’s vital that every employer and worker understand what respect means, not just to each of them, but to everyone in their workplace.

With that in mind, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recently outlined a number of tips on how to create and encourage an atmosphere of respect and civility, including the following:

  • Train and develop. Employers can foster desired behaviors with employee training in areas such as:
    • listening
    • giving feedback
    • conflict resolution
    • anger management
    • handling difficult people, including those whose behavior is disrespectful or uncivil
  • Incorporate respect and civility in both written and spoken communications by:
    • using non-discriminatory, non-offensive, respectful language in external and internal communications
    • showing good manners. Those words your mother drilled into you—Please…Thank you…Excuse me—are still golden, and a Hello, Good morning, or Have a nice evening helps to create a courteous atmosphere at work as well as in other facets of your daily routine.
    • preserving employees’ privacy
    • addressing problems in a polite way. Think: This is the issue and let’s work together to solve it rather than Who’s fault was this?!
  • Be careful and considerate with humor. Not everyone is like you or shares your sense of humor. What is harmless or funny to you may be insulting or embarrassing to someone else. Think before you speak.
    • Give your full attention to the person or people you are with. This includes:
      • turning off your phone or other device
      • listening closely to what the speaker is saying
    • Be inclusive and friendly. Belonging is another basic human need, so go out of your way to make sure everyone in the workplace feels welcome. It’s easy to form cliques with people who are similar to you, so challenge yourself to move outside of your usual circles and connect with those who have a different type of job or who come from another culture. Bridging those gaps will promote workplace camaraderie and you might be surprised how much you can learn.
    • Be humble. No one likes a braggart, so keep your ego in your pocket. Be sure to acknowledge the contributions of others and emphasize that “a good team” was the key to success.
    • Be a role model. Display respectful behavior in all your workplace interactions and encourage others to do the same. Employers can insist that managers similarly model good behavior.
    • Address uncivil behavior. Create guidelines and policies that focus on expected conduct, provide definitions, and outline consequences.

For more information on this topic, read CCOHS’s “Ten Tips for Respect and Civility in the Workplace.”

CCOHS has also created a poster titled “Respect: Everyone Deserves It,” available free for download in PDF format.

For more on preventing workplace violence, check out the following CCOHS courses offered by SafetyDriven – TSCBC:

SafetyDriven also offers a sample company policy on violence in the workplace.



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