Motivate Employees in the Workplace by Respecting Them

by: Steve Damerow June 28, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that's how you motivate your employees! According to a new article in Harvard Business Review, the best way to motivate employees in the workplace is by showing them respect. The cornerstone of the article is a recent survey of ~20,000 employees worldwide, in which respondents said respect was respect was the leadership behavior most important to them. The problem? More and more employees report disrespectful behavior every year on HBR surveys. Here are five ways to show respect in a way that motivates employees in the workplace.

    1. Show both owed respect and earned respect to motivate employees in the workplace.

      According to HBR, there are two kinds of respect in the workplace:

      • Owed respect, or the baseline respect that everyone in the workplace is owed. "It meets the universal need to feel included. It’s signaled by civility and an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the group is inherently valuable." Some examples of showing owed respect include active listening and valuing diverse backgrounds, perspectives and ideas.
      • Earned respect is the respect individual employees receive when they demonstrate qualities or behaviors valued by the organization. It distinguishes employees who go above and beyond, affirming that each employee has their own unique strengths and skills. Examples of showing earned respect: delegating important tasks, staying open to employee ideas and advice, letting employees explore their creativity and ideas, showing interest in employees' non-work lives and publicly supporting them in at critical times.
    2. Motivate employees by helping them develop their identities.

      Most employees want to grow and learn in the workplace, becoming better versions of themselves. Showing an interest in an employee's unique skill development and growth is a major sign of respect. You can help employees develop their identities by helping them determine their dominant personality traits and figuring out how how those traits can be applied successfully in the workplace. Invite experienced employees to speak at or lead training sessions. When employees see real-life examples of success and growth, they'll gave more confidence in their own growth.

    3. Don't "make time" for respect.

      Respect for employees shouldn't be something you have to "make time" for. The best way to show respect is by incorporating it into things your company already does. According to experts cited in the HBR piece,

      Conveying respect doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of critical tasks. Christine Porath calls lack of time a “hollow excuse,” pointing out that respect is largely about how you do what you’re already doing. Jane Dutton agrees, suggesting that owed respect is best embedded in our normal interactions and can be as simple as communicating and listening in appreciative ways, being present to others, and affirming others’ value to the company.

    4. Be consistent in how you show employees respect.

      Inconsistent demonstrations of respect for employees indicate a lack of transparency and established corporate values. Don't show employees respect only when it's most convenient, don't show one employee more earned respect than another, and don't offer praise only when senior management is (or isn't) around to hear.

    5. Don't fake it.

      Think you can get away with tossing out insincere praise now and then to meet your employee respect "quota"? Think again. Employees can sniff out unearned respect and it has the reverse effect that earned respect does.

      Because employees see honesty as one of the most valuable expressions of respect, insincere compliments, however well-intentioned, are likely to be counterproductive.

Respect is one of the best ways to motivate employees in the workplace, but it's not the most tangible or easy-to-execute strategy. Each workplace is different and you may need to tweak your approach to be relevant to your unique employee base. But you'll find that the more effort you put in, the greater the response will be.


About Steve Damerow

Steve Damerow is the Founder of Incentive Solutions, an incentive program provider in Atlanta specializing in helping B2B companies increase distribution channel sales, establish customer loyalty and retention, and develop long-lasting channel partnerships.