Circle of Respect Is Key to Happiness in the Workplace

circle of respect I remember the first day of my new job. Excited and a bit anxious, I showed up nearly an hour early to make a good impression and get off to a fast start. Instead of being met by my hiring manager, "Ted," I was greeted by a receptionist who invited me to sit in the waiting area until he arrived. There I sat for over an hour until I was informed that Ted was in a meeting with a client several states away and had forgotten to call me. So much for a fast start!

The receptionist provided me with new-hire paperwork and let me know that Ted should be in the next day. After getting through the paperwork, I asked her what was next and she shrugged.

I walked around the office and introduced myself to my new colleagues and offered to help however I could. No takers.

Determined to do something productive on my first day, I ended up cleaning my desk, sharpening two boxes of pencils, organizing the storage closet, and watering and picking the dead leaves off the office plants. (I would come to realize quickly that his was not an environment where either plants or people could thrive.)

It was the longest, most painfully unproductive day of my life.

Unfortunately things did not get much better -- even after Ted showed up. I had never seen such disorganization, inefficiency and, quite frankly, stupidity. How they actually remain in business is a mystery. Although I started with great enthusiasm, my level of motivation diminished quickly. I felt as though I had become a character in a "Dilbert" cartoon, watching the clock tick in slow motion.

I had always been a hard worker and took pride in my work, regardless of the job or pay, including working as a night janitor in high school and waiter in college. Yet here I was getting paid more than ever, hating the job, and working at far less than my potential. Without any plan for what I was going to do next, I quit three months to the date of my hiring -- which coincided with my eligibility for COBRA insurance.

As awful as the experience was, I learned quite a bit -- most obviously the need for due diligence when considering a new employer, including: spending more time speaking with prospective team members; asking them to give me the "real" scoop; and asking my hiring manager very specific questions about his leadership style and the resources and support that I could expect.

I learned that I needed to be careful about being sold a "bill of goods" because what I had been told and shown during the interview was illusion. It was like one of those bad Internet dates, with someone who posted pictures from 10 years and 30 pounds ago. This job was nothing like it was described. At least I didn't have to think about having to kiss anyone.

Another insight that I had was on the issue of employee engagement: We start new jobs with enthusiasm and readiness. New employees don't start off with the mindset, "I can't wait for six months from now -- I'm really going to hate this job, my team members and my boss." That would be like someone on a first date thinking, "I am so excited about this relationship -- six months from now I see a restraining order and domestic violence reports." People begin a relationship -- whether personal or professional, believing that it will be the start of something good and positive. Not a decision that they will profoundly regret. Employers have new employees at "Hello!"

I wondered how I went so quickly from inspiration to desperation. I kept coming back to one word -- respect. I thought of other jobs in which respect figured in my level of satisfaction and productivity. I noticed a strong correlation.

In speaking to others on the subject, the relation between respect and engagement seemed to resonate. I became fascinated with this topic and conducted research. I eventually identified five specific areas that impacted employees' levels of motivation and engagement in their jobs, specifically, respect for:

  1. The organization - Its mission, vision, values, goals and objectives.
  2. The leadership, and most especially the supervisor - Is he/she seen as someone who will support and develop them, have their backs, and will give them a pat on the back when they deserve it or a kick in the butt when they need it?
  3. Fellow team members - Are they viewed as competent, reliable, supportive and trustworthy?
  4. Their work - Does it feel meaningful and valuable for the organization and world at large? Does it test skills and encourage growth?
  5. The employee, from the organization, supervisor and fellow team members - Do employees feel cared about as individuals? Are they trusted to do their work and make good decisions? Are their ideas and opinions considered?

I term these five aspects, the "Circle of Respect." Each time I ask an audience of 100 how many are currently in positions where they experience high levels of respect in each of these five areas, perhaps three or four will raise their hands. Each is smiling. When I ask what it is like for them to go to work, they uniformly say that they actually look forward to it. Imagine that!

This is not rocket science. Yet this issue of respect plays an enormous role in the satisfaction and productivity of employees who might say: "I just can't work hard if I don't respect my supervisor or team members"; "I feel that my work is meaningless"; or perhaps most of all, "I feel disrespected." When we lose respect for someone or feel disrespected, we disengage -- both emotionally and physically. It's just how it works.

Last week, I received an email from a woman who had recently attended one of my RESPECT presentations. She wanted to thank me for helping her to understand why she had become so unhappy at work for the past five years. That was the time during which she got a new boss who talked down to her and made her feel completely disrespected. She resigned after having been with her company for 14 years. Of course, her boss had no idea it was coming.

Do you feel as though you are being respected in your organization? What impact has it had? I invite you to take a brief survey. We'll share the results later this month.

-- Take the Survey

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