Law Life: 'Owed' and 'earned' respect are key factors in corporate performance

By Jim Nortz
BridgeTower Media Newswires

The late Rodney Dangerfield made a career complaining in multiple and hilarious ways about how he “got no respect.” Of course, this experience is not limited to successful comedians.

We’ve all felt the sting of disrespect in multiple forms and on multiple occasions throughout our lives. Friends or relatives snubbing us at social gatherings; spouses dismissing our suggestions as stupid or ill-advised; sarcastic comments from others; getting cut off in traffic; being deliberately cut out of important family decisions; and being ridiculed for making a mistake are all examples of common forms of disrespect.

Such experiences often damage relationships and cause psychic pain in those on the receiving end. Research into the subject of respect in organizations also reveals that its presence or absence can have a profound effect on individual and corporate performance.

In a November 2014 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Christine Porath — a researcher in the field — reported:

“When it comes to garnering commitment and engagement from employees, there is one thing that leaders need to demonstrate: respect. That’s what we saw in a study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world (conducted with HBR and Tony Schwartz).

“In fact, no other leader behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes we measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback—even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.

“Those that get respect from their leaders reported 56% better health and well-being, 1.72 times more trust and safety, 89% greater enjoyment and satisfaction with their jobs, 92% greater focus and prioritization, and 1.26 times more meaning and significance. Those that feel respected by their leaders were also 1.1 times more likely to stay with their organizations than those that didn’t.

“Respect also had a clear impact on engagement. The more leaders give, the higher the level of employee engagement: People who said leaders treated them with respect were 55% more engaged.”

Sadly, over half (54%) of employees in this study claimed that they didn’t regularly get respect from their leaders. The question we need to ask ourselves is what we can do to ensure this is not the case in our firms.

Researchers generally recognize two kinds of respect: “owed respect” and “earned respect.” Owed respect is respect that is due to an individual because they are a rational being. Earned respect is respect that is given in recognition for an achievement worthy of praise.

An example of owed respect is saying hello to or holding a door for a colleague regardless of their position in the company. An example of earned respect is praising a team member for exceptional work. To achieve optimal business performance, both types of respect must be actively promoted and — in the case of earned respect — equitably distributed.

As with every other aspect of business, good intentions are not enough. Instead, we need to take affirmative actions to ensure a respectful work environment. One step you might take to advance this cause in your firm would be to consider how highly you and your colleagues rate on the Great Place to Work Institute’s “Respect Behavioral Checklist” detailed below:

• I enable people to get the training and development they need for their career success.
• I give honest and straightforward feedback.
• I know the career “next steps” for each person I supervise, and I create opportunities for them to get relevant experience to meet their career goals.
• I make sure people have the resources they need to do their jobs well.
• I recognize that mistakes are a necessary part of doing business.
• I support people in testing their ideas, even if it has a temporary, negative effect on productivity.
• I talk with people regularly about their growth and development, not just during performance appraisal time.
• I tell people when I think they’ve done a good job or expended extra effort on a task.

• I ask that my team members gather input from people, in our department and others, before making decisions.
• I create opportunities for us to decide together on the best course of action.
• I follow up with people who have shared ideas and feedback with me. I make sure people are involved in the decisions I make that affect them.
• I seek input, suggestions, and ideas from my team.

• I allow people to take time off when they need to.
• I attend to the collective stress of my workgroup, be it due to personal, time-management or financial causes.
• I encourage people to balance their work and their personal lives.
• I have an understanding of the benefits the organization offers, and I help people to understand how they can best take advantage of them.
• I know what people in my workgroup enjoy doing outside of work.
• I role model healthy work-life balance.
• When possible, I attempt to bring the personal skills and passions of people into the workday.

In addition to committing to undertaking activities set forth in the checklist, it is also important to modify behaviors that will threaten to sabotage your efforts to build a respectful workplace.

Specifically, commit to never engaging in any of the following behaviors:

• Raise your voice in anger at colleagues;
• Humiliate a colleague in a meeting;
• Ridicule a colleague to their face or behind their back;
• Take credit for another’s work;
• Play favorites; or
• Treat subordinates as “expendable” or as of “lesser importance” to the organization.

These lists are incomplete, but my hope is they will spur you and others into action to take affirmative steps to promote a respectful work environment at your company.
Jim Nortz is president of Optimal Compliance & Ethics Solutions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping businesses minimize risk and maximize performance. Nortz can be reached at