Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles

By Raquelle Solon November 28, 2018
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SHRM has partnered with Security Management magazine to bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies. 

This is the #MeToo era. The great wave of public accusations involving inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment between managers, employees and co-workers has washed over U.S. workplaces, unsettling everything in its wake.

But sexual harassment is not the only conduct that can help turn a working environment hostile. Given this, employers who take action now to help establish and solidify a welcoming and hostility-free work environment will be better positioned for the future. Such actions can come in many forms, ranging from zero-tolerance anti-harassment policies and violence prevention training to diversity task forces and team-building exercises.

While they vary, these actions all benefit from a proactive approach. Opposing views and opinions are inevitable among a diverse workforce, but leaders of organizations should not wait until disruptive incidents break out before focusing on the state of the workplace environment. Instead, they can start immediately.

Respect and Dignity

Human resources is a team sport. No one HR manager, no matter how talented or knowledgeable, can completely shoulder the burden of protecting his or her firm from employee issues and litigation. A cohesive HR team, on the other hand, is positioned to tackle anything thrown its way. But when one gear gets out of whack, the whole team is affected and compromised.

Take, for example, how an entire company can be impacted by one disruptive manager. Sam's team was led by a small group of managers who worked well together; they collaborated to achieve goals and boost one another to success. However, a new manager, Chris, was brought on. 

Chris had a markedly different type of attitude and leadership style. Chris was demanding and sometimes even yelled at employees in public. He occasionally disparaged another manager's directions to team members and would even threaten a firing in an attempt to improve performance.

A few months after this leadership transition, some employees began to leave Sam's team by choice. But those are not the only changes triggered by the new manager. Some of Sam's team members absorbed the negative qualities Chris exhibited, including degrading public chastisements, gossiping and expressing increased agitation in the office. Chris' overwhelming negativity threw a wrench into a once strong team and threatened to break it down into an unproductive group of individuals.

Before Chris took over, Sam's team members respected one another and successfully accomplished goals. Chris' harsh leadership eroded the members' respect and kindness, causing productivity to decrease and spirits to drop.

How can HR help make sure this type of situation is addressed and avoided? When building a team, it is important to establish respect, dignity and kindness as foundational principles. This will very likely increase productivity and reduce the risk of violent workplace behaviors. When employees feel respected and treated with dignity, they are more likely to treat co-workers and customers the same way. This creates a positive culture within the organization.

To facilitate this, HR should go beyond simply asking employees to be civil and respect one another. They should also explain how to do so, and demonstrate what civility means to the organization by providing examples of positive interactions.

Support the Company's Culture

During my time as a line manager, there were key opportunities for me to support the company culture. All managers can take advantage of the same opportunities, if their organizations are willing to provide them.  

For example, orientation sessions are an opportunity for HR leaders to introduce themselves, their department and the values of the organization to those who are being onboarded. Time can be devoted to explaining appropriate workplace behavior through the use of scenario-based situations.

In addition, department team meetings offer opportunities for HR professionals to join in to discuss relevant issues and provide training through small group discussion or case study review. Team members can assess a situation and provide feedback on how it should have been appropriately handled. Using both positive and negative behaviors as examples will help employees understand the difference.

Open houses are another possible venue for educating discussions. HR may arrange with company leaders to have a time where employees stop by, ask questions and participate in discussions that help them understand their role as part of the larger effort to maintain a healthy, inclusive workplace.

Finally, it is important to remember that HR staff should help line managers serve as role models of appropriate behavior. If they are behaving badly by being rude, disrespectful or uncivil, how can HR expect them to help the organization promote a culture that values everyone?

In the end, HR cannot assume that people managers understand what is and is not appropriate. Setting expectations from the start, and clearly demonstrating how to positively act and show respect to co-workers is an effective way for HR to set the right tone—and a more active and effective approach than simply hoping for the best. This will have a ripple effect throughout the workforce, and it will help prevent future breaches of conduct from triggering a domino effect of disrespect, such as the one caused by Chris' behavior.

Raquelle Solon is a business solutions engineer for FEI Behavioral Health in Milwaukee, Wis. She is responsible for helping organizations implement crisis management systems and workplace violence prevention strategies.

This article is adapted from Security Management magazine with permission from ASIS © 2018. All rights reserved.

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