By Elisabeth Goodman, 6th July 2018

Respect HBR article

One of the challenges we have at work is the expectation that we not only get on with, but achieve our best outcomes with people that we might not necessarily like!  When delegates on our RiverRhee training courses ask me what they can do about that, I suggest that the best thing is to discover each other’s strengths, and so find ways to respect each other.

So it was with great interest that I read Kristie Rogers’ article “Do your employees feel respected” in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review (pp. 63-71).

“Show workers that they’re valued, and your business will flourish”

This is the sub-title of the HBR article.  Apparently respect was ranked top of the most important leadership behaviours in a Georgetown University survey by Christine Porath, of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide.

Kristie Rogers quotes the book Crucial conversations:

“Respect is like air.  As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it.  But if you take it away it’s all that people can think about”

Her research suggests that respect is “an important feedback mechanism and catalyst” for individual growth – so that they are more likely to be open to learning and to experimenting with new behaviours and ways of working.

Employees who feel respected are more likely to:

  • feel satisfied in their work
  • be loyal to their company
  • be resilient
  • cooperate with others
  • be more creative
  • perform better
  • take direction from their leaders

There are two kinds of respect – it’s important to find the right balance for your organisation

According to Kristie Rogers, there is owed and earned respect, and the balance of these will deliver different results to an organisation.

Owed respect is like a baseline that relates to our universal need to feel socially included.  It’s about being civil to each other, and demonstrating that each individual is of value to the organisation.

Earned respect recognises the distinct strengths, capabilities and achievements that people contribute to their work.  Rewards and recognitions do not have to be purely financial.  Just acknowledging people’s achievements and making them visible to their colleagues in some way may be enough.

If there is lots of owed respect, but little earned respect – there is little incentive for people to strive beyond the minimum expected performance.  They may feel motivated to work well together as a team, but feel less motivated to take accountability for going beyond that.

Conversely, an emphasis on earned respect, at the expense of owed respect could create a very cut-throat competitive environment, with little cooperation or collaboration between individuals.

Each organisation will need to find the right balance for their goals, and for creating their desired culture

Creating a culture of respect requires some attention

Kristie Rogers includes a case study in her article on Televerde, a marketing firm staffed mainly by prison inmates – a great challenge for creating a culture of respect that is distinct from what the individuals will have previously experienced.

Rogers’ case study and research suggests that:

  1. Owed respect is everyone’s responsibility in the work place.  It can be demonstrated in such simple ways as acknowledging each and every individual.  Greeting them. Listening to them.  Offering praise where it is due.
  2. How respect is conveyed may be organisation dependent. The right ways of demonstrating respect need to be identified, established, reinforced according to the organisations culture and social norms. It’s important to find out what works best in each case, so as to avoid the risk of seeming patronising, embarrassing, or underwhelming.
  3. Leadership role-modelling of sincere respect will establish behaviours that will extend throughout the organisation and to interactions with customers and partners.  Any lack of sincerity will be rapidly spotted and lead to scepticism and cynicism.
  4. Respect is infinite and not a time waster – it will never run out: giving respect to one employee will still leave plenty more for others.  Making respect a natural way of working will “oil the wheels” of every interaction and so save time that would otherwise be wasted in fixing the effects of a lack of respect.


Kristie Rogers’ article goes way beyond the basic suggestion that we should show each other respect at work in order to get on well with each other.

Establishing a culture of respect, and finding the right balance of ‘owed’ and ‘earned’ respect would seem to be crucial to the growth of individuals, and to the growth of organisations as a whole.

The approach for demonstrating respect, and finding the right balance is likely to be organisation dependent – but it need not be complicated.  It can be based on behaviours role-modelled by the leadership and adopted by and towards everyone throughout the organisation.


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  

Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.




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