Respect is one of the most important qualities in a workplace. Mutual respect means better communication, higher morale and greater conductivity to teamwork and long-lasting professional relationships.
Without respect, no organization can remain standing for long.
As an employer, respect is even more important for you. You’re in charge of making decisions, coordinating efforts and setting the tone for the organization. If your employees don’t respect you, they won’t obey your decisions, they won’t respond to your direction, and any tone you try to set could be lost or discarded the moment you leave the door.
So how can you tell if your employees respect you? And if they don’t, what can you do about it?
First, you'll be able to tell how much your employees respect you based on how they communicate with you. There are a number of things to look for here:
Professionalism: Do your employees talk to you as though you’re their leader, or do they talk down to you? It's perfectly fine if there's a bit of playful or friendly humor, as well as informal conversations, but any signs of condescension of disrespect should be noted.
Openness: Do your employees feel comfortable opening up to you? Will they tell you when there’s a problem, or will they try to hide it?
Sincerity: Are your employees honest with you. Do they have a different story when they’re talking behind your back? If your employees are disingenuous or insincere, it’s usually a sign they don’t respect you.
Attention: Study how your employees look at you and respond when you attempt to talk to them. Do they give you their full attention? Do they listen to what you have to say?
You want to encourage your employees to think and respond independently, but at the same time they need to respect and follow your decisions. You are the leader, after all.
Pay attention to how your employees respond to commands and direction; do they frequently question you, undermine you or flat-out ignore your requests? If so, there’s a major logistical problem here. Conversely, do they follow your orders, bringing up their concerns respectfully and professionally when necessary? This is key.
There are many ways to detect respect through body language. Do your employees look you in the eyes when you talk? Do they point their bodies toward you when you're having a conversation? Do they appear formal and controlled, or do they close themselves off?
If you notice that your employees aren’t demonstrating signs of respect, there are a handful of strategies you can execute to gradually earn their respect:
Show respect: First, you have to give respect in order to receive respect. Treat all of your employees fairly, and express the value you have for them. Listen to them when they come to you with their ideas or concerns, and never talk down to them or insult them. In short, treat them the way you want to be treated and they’ll likely reciprocate.
Be firm in your decisions: Wishy-washy leaders tend to earn less respect, so remain firm in your decisions. There will be times when you need to adjust your position or make a change when faced with new information, but always do so for reasons grounded in logic. Be sure to enforce your decisions as well.
Be consistent: There are many different leadership styles and no single right way to lead. For example, you might be more hands-off, or more personally involved in your employees’ work — frankly, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re consistent; otherwise, you may lose your employees’ respect.
Admit faults: You’re a leader, but that doesn't make you infallible. You’re a human being, just like your employees, and the more you express this human-ness, the more your employees will respect you. Don't be afraid to admit your faults or admit when you've made a mistake. It shows courage and humility.
Embrace other opinions: Respect and listen to other opinions, from your employees as well as other sources. Showing this degree of openness demonstrates your commitment to executing the best ideas, no matter where they come from. Try to check your ego at the door.
Reward successes: You can also cultivate more respect in the workplace by rewarding your employees for jobs well done. This fosters a healthier, more positive work environment and proves that you genuinely care about your workers. Do this regularly, adhering to the rule of consistency, for best results.
If you follow these rules, you’ll earn more respect, but don't expect results right away. Respect is something that’s cultivated over time.
Anna Johansson is a writer, researcher and business consultant.