Julie Tucker
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Why it’s important to respect your work colleagues

If anyone asks what’s the most important thing about your job, what do you say? While it’s normal to reply “the salary” or “enjoying my work”, most people believe their relationships with their work colleagues rate especially high on the list.

Work relationships rely very much on respect. Without respect in the workplace, employees quickly feel undervalued and demotivated. No matter where you work or what you do, in the words of the song, “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect!”

Every employee should be respected by managers and peers alike. It’s not only about having a professional attitude and treating colleagues how you wish to be treated yourself. It’s also about being a role model to others.

Why is workplace respect so important?

Mutual respect establishes a healthy working environment. It lets everyone know they are valued for their abilities, achievements and personal qualities. This promotes a positive work culture, where employees perform at their best.

Those who are disrespectful to others are not only unprofessional; they also threaten the health, harmony and success of the company by spreading the seeds of discontent, which can soon fester and grow.

A survey by Harvard Business Review of 20,000 employees revealed a staggering 98% had been disrespected at work at some point. Some experience the odd incident. Others suffer disrespectful behaviour all year round. Where it is common, it can lead to a high staff turnover.

If managers don’t lead by example and fail to deal with a lack of workplace civility, problems can arise with rude co-workers. Managers must enforce standards – otherwise, staff feel like nobody cares.

A Gallup poll of more than 350,000 employees concluded only 30% felt engaged at work. In both the Harvard and Gallup studies, respect was the leading behaviour that encouraged engagement and commitment and reduced stress.

How can you show respect for a colleague?

There are many different ways you can respect colleagues such as simply saying hello, praising their work, listening to what they have to say and taking part in group discussions.

Basic good manners, such as saying good morning when you arrive, or stopping for a brief chat over the coffee machine, helps foster a sense of community. This increases collaboration and productivity, providing greater opportunities for employees to shine.

When opinions are valued, people will share their ideas on achieving goals and overcoming challenges. This can result in more creative solutions, benefiting individuals and the business as a whole. Projects can be completed faster, and everyone gets a chance to use and improve their skills – all because of a culture of mutual respect.

What are the common workplace conflicts?

Disrespectful behaviour can range from subtly snubbing a colleague to a total disregard for the someone’s dignity and rights. This can cause a loss of self-esteem, impacting negatively on performance and derailing career ambitions. It often leads to stress and depression for the victim.

In the worst-case scenario, it can include continually criticising a colleague in front of others, making disparaging remarks, making them the brunt of jokes and gossip and retaliating against them if they raise concerns with a manager.

Eventually, it can cross the legal line and become discriminatory behaviour. This can mean unjust performance reviews, overlooking an individual for deserved promotions and subjecting them to biased behaviour.

Is bullying still a problem?

Unfortunately, bullying remains a serious problem in the UK workplace. A poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Trades Union Congress concludes 29% of employees have suffered workplace bullying, including threats and intimidation. This equates to 9.1 million people.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitrary Service reveals its helpline receives 20,000 phone calls per year about workplace bullying. The figure has remained consistent since 2010.

A total of 60% of employees surveyed by UNISON have experienced bullying themselves or have witnessed a colleague being bullied. As the use of technology advances, cyber-bullying has become an issue too. UNISON claims almost 20% of workers receive cyber abuse at least once a week.

With employees often being contactable outside working hours through mobile devices, there’s no respite, as they can receive unpleasant emails or texts from managers or colleagues at any time of the day or night.

How can businesses make sure respect is demonstrated?

If you feel your workplace suffers from a lack of respect, it’s vital to put measures in place immediately, before it spirals out of control. Meet co-workers who feel they’re being treated disrespectfully to discuss their complaints one-to-one.

If there are signs your workplace is being controlled by an overbearing bully or is full of unhealthy cliques, more than one employee might be feeling aggrieved. Interview both the victims and the accused in private meetings to try and understand the complete picture.

Note individual times, dates and places where allegations of unprofessional behaviour occurred including any witnesses, in case disciplinary action is needed. However, this is really a last resort if you have a serious bullying problem.

Respect comes in many forms and is easy to demonstrate, whether you’re a manager or an employee. Always treat colleagues with kindness, courtesy and politeness. Encourage them to share ideas and actively listen with genuine interest. Don’t interrupt with your views. Hear them out and respond when they’ve finished. If they are good ideas, adopt them to increase productivity and efficiency, making sure the individual’s role is recognised.

Never insult colleagues or whisper behind their back. Don’t nit-pick, demean others or micromanage in a condescending manner. Be aware of your tone, demeanour, body language and expression during interactions. Everyone you deal with should be treated equally, regardless of their age, race, religion or position in the company.

Invite all necessary colleagues to meetings, working lunches and activities after work, providing an equal opportunity for all to participate. Above all, give praise where it’s deserved and encourage everyone else to do the same.


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