Respect is a notion easily thrown about—after all, who doesn’t want to be respected? It’s easy to say we value it in our workplaces. That it’s a cornerstone of how we treat our people.
But what makes a workplace respectful? How do you know if you have it? More important, how do you know if you don’t? Any why does it matter?
Respect in the workplace shows up in two aspects of the culture: in how individuals behave towards one another and in the group norms for meetings, social events, interviews—virtually every company practice.
It may seem picky to spread the net that wide, but things like how you handle an interview with a prospective employee and whether you start meetings on time has a direct impact on whether you are creating a culture of respect.
Having a respectful workplace culture matters because it allows you to attract and keep the best possible people. Respect doesn’t mean boring, or corporate, or politically correct. It means valuing each person in your company as an individual with needs, rights, and desires that matter.
You want rockstars in your company? Better make sure you’re creating an environment where they want to stay. The best and brightest have other options; they don’t have to come work for you, or stay working for you.
What gets them in the door and keeps them once they’re there is whether you’re creating a culture that aligns with what matters to them. And there aren’t many people in the world who will stay in a place where they don’t feel respected. Would you want them if they did?
So many companies don’t get the connection between their people practices (or lack thereof) and the messages they send. But picture this common scenario: you’re interviewing developers for a mission-critical project and you’re running late. Not hours, but the guy has been waiting to meet you for 10 or 15 minutes. What do you do when you finally walk out to get him? In many companies, nothing. You start the interview, carry on without acknowledging that you’d kept him waiting.
The secret is to treat every candidate as if they were your next rockstar. What if that guy was the most brilliant developer you’ve ever met, but you didn’t bother to apologize for wasting his time by being late? Is it likely he’d pick your company over the other offers he likely has?
Especially in interviewing, many managers treat candidates as if they were lucky to even get five minutes of air time, rather than as if they were an important and respected potential future employee. How you treat them in the interview gives them clues as to how you’ll treat them as an employee, and they’re paying attention. Are you?
The same holds true for things like whether people are expected to show up for meetings on time, or respond to emails or requests in a reasonable time frame. When we treat our people as though their time doesn’t matter, the message they get is that they don’t matter, or that some people’s time (read: more senior people) matters more than theirs.
Eventually, you start building a company where the really good people leave—without telling you why—and the ones with lower standards stay. When you treat respect as a non-negotiable ethic in your culture, everyone wins.