When the great soul singer Aretha Franklin passed away in August, 2018, her signature anthem “Respect,” from 1967, featured prominently in the coverage. It’s a great song that’s still popular—and part of its appeal lies in the fact that everybody feels the need to be respected for who they are and what they can do.
The same goes, of course, for the people who work for you. Showing respect for employees is a key element in retaining them—and retaining good employees makes bottom-line sense, since replacing and retraining costs major money.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Kristie Rogers examines the concept from a business
point of view, and underlines the two major forms of workplace respect employees want, according
to her research.
- “Owed respect,” she writes, “is accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organization; 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.”
When owed respect is lacking, she suggests, it’s usually because employees are being micromanaged and oversupervised. Managers may be abusing their power and treating employees as if they were, as she puts it, “interchangeable.”
- “Earned respect recognizes individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviors. It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and, particularly in knowledge work settings, affirms that each employee has unique strengths and talents.”
Rogers notes that finding the right balance between the two forms of respect can be a challenge. When owed respect is expressed at a high level, but earned respect is lacking, employees can feel that everyone will be treated the same regardless of their achievements—and that can be a de-motivator.
When earned respect thrives at the expense of owed respect, the result can be cutthroat competition that erodes teamwork, mutual help, and the sharing of knowledge.
“When they understand these nuances,” Rogers writes, “leaders can craft an environment that is right for their situation—in most cases, one with high levels of both kinds of respect.”
For more on respectful ways that employers can hang on to their best workers, see our eBook “The Forgotten Driver of Profitability: Employee Retention.”