May 2003 - Respectful Workplaces
- Definition - Respectful Workplace
- Healthy vs. Unhealthy Workplaces
- Tips for Creating a Respectful Workplace
- Cultural Influences
- Unhealthy Judgments about Others
- Learning about Other Cultures
- Gender Differences and Bias
- Checklist for Sexual Harassment Prevention
- Resources (links, books, articles,
to Create a Respectful Workplace
A respectful workplace is one where employees can feel reasonably
safe and where they are treated fairly, creating the freedom to focus on getting work done.
For more than 10 years, sexual harassment issues have generated news stories,
lawsuits and individual pain. Untold numbers of attorneys, human resource
professionals and trainers are devoted to helping managers and employees
understand that disrespectful behavior is not only illegal ó
it is unproductive, costly and inefficient for businesses and organizations.
In recent years, the term "sexual harassment and discrimination
prevention" training has taken on the focus of "respectful
workplace," as a way of helping people understanding that diversity,
tolerance for differences and acceptance of others is based on the concept of RESPECT.
Respect means showing consideration for others.
When people enjoy their work and respect their co-workers, productivity is
high. When people are afraid, intimidated or threatened, they spend their
time and energy defending themselves or searching for a safe place.
and unhealthy environments have become generally known as hostile
environments, even though that term has legal definitions for sexual
harassment situations only.
In order to create a respectful workplace, it is important to first understand the
differences between healthy workplaces and unhealthy workplaces.
The following chart compares some of the aspects we have noticed in our
work. In your organization, you may have the same aspects or different ones. Try the exercise and see where you fit.
||Hard to get things done
|People enjoy working together and spending time
with their co-workers
||People are not friendly with their co-workers
and may gossip about them
|Changes can be made with full cooperation of
||Employees resist change or undermine efforts to
|Employees enjoy responsibility and seek
||Employees refuse to take on additional
responsibility, directly or indirectly
|Employees and managers are willing to help
where ever needed
||Employees and/or managers stick to "it's
not my job" or "that's the supervisor's
|Work is finished on time
||Work is late or deadlines are
|Work quality is consistently very high
||Work quality is mixed or unpredictable
|Customers and clients report high marks for
||Customers and clients complain about the
customer service they don't receive
|Accidents, injuries, harassment
claims and workers' compensation
claims are very low
||Accidents, injuries, harassment
claims and workers' compensation
claims are high
|Problems and issues are discussed openly
between employees and managers
||Problems and issues are not discussed
openly, even though everyone knows about them
|People are not afraid to express their opinions
||People are afraid to tell the truth because
they are ignored, reprimanded or viewed as trouble-makers
|People are not afraid of disagreements because
they realize diversity is healthy. They feel more productive when issues
are resolved and processes improved.
||People are uncomfortable with disagreements and
will try to stop open discussions of differences of opinion
|When something doesn't work, the focus is on
identifying issues not on blaming people ó
Tough on issues, soft on people
||When something doesn't work, the focus is on
blaming people ó Tough on people, soft on
|When someone makes a mistake, they are coached
to help them understand and improve
||When someone makes a mistake, they are
criticized and punished
|Employees feel empowered to do
their job and to suggest changes for improvement
||Employees feel they do not have the
power to change the way things are
After identifying where you are, you can begin to create training, coaching
and open discussion to move from an unhealthy to a healthy working
Unhealthy workplaces make people sick, physically as well as emotionally.
To change from an unhealthy environment to a healthy environment requires a
strong commitment to changing the culture. This no small task and will not
happen overnight. However, it is
well worth the effort in regained productivity and improved profitability as
well as the positive impact on people's health and their improved sense of belonging and well-being.
Strong leadership and management consistency throughout the organization are required to make this
The question, "What's in it for me?" often comes up when management
tries to change things. It is important that management be fully committed
to doing what must be done for the long haul, not just following this week's or
this month's fad program (Management by
Fad management techniques don't work.
Honesty, commitment, sensitivity, perseverance and diligence do work.
of management's biggest mistakes is believing that they can announce a new
program and everyone will magically see the light and follow through with it
(see The Plan below). Management must be willing to
change their own bad habits and unhealthy practices before they can expect
employees to change.
To create a respectful workplace, managers and employees must realize that
diversity is a good thing. They must learn about people, their differences
and accept that the differences contribute in a positive way toward productivity
and a healthy workplace.
Each of us is a culturally-diverse entity. None of us has exactly the
same programming because we get our cultural teachings from a variety of
sources. We respond differently to the same stimuli.
There are some predominant factors to consider when determining a
1. Environment and Space:
A sense of the personís surrounding and the distance between them
and others ("social distancing"). Small acts (like acknowledging
a person in the room or saying "good morning") show respect.
A personís dress style shows something about their feelings about
themselves and their cultural reference point. Many dress according to
religious beliefs. Make-up and hair style (or the lack of them) may
indicate something about a personís culture.
3. Eating Habits:
Meal times, types and amounts of food eaten may indicate a particular
culture. Many people eat different foods at different times because that
is their culture.
4. Communication Styles:
Since over half of our communication is non-verbal, we often struggle to
communicate with those of other cultures. Non-verbal differences play a
major role in our effectiveness as a communicator.
Lack of eye contact can be very
distracting to us if we are not aware that the other person believes they
are communicating appropriately.
5. Beliefs and Attitudes:
Many of our predominate beliefs are of religious origin. In the
United States, we are greatly influenced by parents and ancestors who came to America
seeking the freedom to be themselves. Significant holidays are based on
religious or ethnic beliefs (Christmas, Easter, St. Patrickís day, Halloween)
or on celebrating our national pride (Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day,
Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving).
Culturally imprinted beliefs and attitudes, religion and spiritual beliefs ó whether
actively practiced or not ó are a very strong
influence in everything we think, say and do.
In some cultures, a male will refuse to work for a woman. In some cultures, a working woman indicates
deficiency in a maleís performance as provider. In some cultures,
students donít question teachers; individuals donít challenge authority; and
employees donít confront managers. Even in America, we may be confused
about the status of our own men and women, and our heritage of freedom as a
melting pot of ethnic diversity.
7. Work Practices Ethics:
We must learn to assess differences between cultures where work is
seen as a "necessary evil" and a "magnificent obsession,"
the ultimate achievement, the quintessential mark of success and
performance. Overtime to one person is a plus; to others, it is a
punishment. To some, a promotion is positive; to others, it is negative.
As a nation concerned with schedules and the consequences of not
meeting deadlines, it may be difficult to comprehend cultures that are less
concerned with schedules.
When we look at other cultural norms, it is easy to make judgments about
rules different from our own. The feeling that oneís own cultural rules
or gender are superior or more "right" than the rules of others is the
essence of unhealthy bias.
Cultural comparisons are natural. The problem isnít the comparison,
rather the tendency to see other norms in less favorable light:
- Those who have less time sensitivity are judged as lazy.
- Those that respect authority and stress harmony are considered
unassertive and lacking in initiative.
- Those with an exacting dependence on promptness and efficiency are seen
as cold and robot-like.
- Those who depend on less communications are seen as devious and sneaky.
- Men are better at ..., women are better at ...
Young people are better at ..., older people are better at ...
We are both targets and perpetrators of such cultural bias, which create the
biggest barriers to inter-cultural and gender harmony.
Ways to Gain More Information About Others
- Hold group discussions with participants from other cultures.
- Research information about various cultures.
- Discuss differences, one-on-one, with a open attitude of learning more.
- Watch and listen to the activities of others.
- Participate in culturally-diverse and gender-balanced activities.
- Ask other employees and colleagues.
- Learn about different personality
styles and needs.
One disturbing aspect of the attention focused on sexual harassment and
training is a new phenomenon called "male bashing." Such
behavior should not be tolerated any more than female bashing or racial/ethnic
comments about anyone ó regardless of race, gender, belief, national origin,
sexual preference or any other reason is simply not appropriate workplace
Comments that are passed off as "just jokes" are extremely
destructive and damaging to the individuals and the organization that seeks to
be healthy and productive. Jokes that seek to embarrass someone else or to
make them seem "less than" are not tolerated in a healthy
With the exception of child-bearing characteristics, there is no task that
cannot be done by either gender. Some men may be physically strong, others
may not. Some women may be compassionate, others may not. There is
no single word that accurately describes all men or all women. People who
say that "men can't do ..." or "women can't do ..." are
engaging in illegal words of discrimination.
Managers must realize that they are responsible for setting a good example
and enforcing the laws ó federal, state and
local. Managers are responsible
for getting the necessary training to know what is illegal and what they should
do about it. And, they are responsible for making sure all employees
receive training and behave in appropriate ways toward each other.
Managers who fail to stop illegal behavior may be subject to civil and criminal
penalties individually, in addition to penalties imposed on their company in a
The concept of corporate liability for "knew or should have known"
is a growing area of discrimination and harassment law. If this concept
exist in your state, it probably will in the future. That concept
implies that managers and their company can be held liable for not stopping
actions that lead to discrimination or harassment whether they actually knew
about it they should have known about it.
As we learn more about different people and begin to appreciate our
differences, we must also have strong rules for those who do not already know
how to behave. The following checklist helps remind managers and employees
about what is necessary to prevent harassment in your workplace. This
checklist is also available as a downloadable file in the Resources section
Sexual Harassment Prevention
- Do you know what sexual harassment is, how
to report it and conduct an investigation?
- Do you pay attention to your workplace
and conduct regular inspections?
- Are pornographic and/or sexually oriented posters, pictures or other
inappropriate materials displayed in your area?
- Are you a positive role model? Do you avoid
making inappropriate remarks, touching, jokes and comments?
- Are you "tuned in" to the
grapevine? Do you know which employees are dating? (If the situation changes, it could turn to harassment).
- Are you available and prepared to take all
complaints seriously? (Teasing, joking or banter may be sexual harassment).
- Have you conducted employee training on:
- Your sexual harassment policy,
- The complaint process and how it works, and
- The investigative process and how it works?
- Do you conduct employee meetings and/or
question-and-answer sessions to reinforce your policy against sexual
- Do you discuss your concerns?
- Have you implemented other means to detect
- Exit interviews
- Attitude surveys,
- Suggestion box (anonymous), and/or
- Employee hot-line?
- Have you:
- Issued your company policy to all
- Posted your policy on sexual harassment?
- Included the policy in the employee
- Delivered information that satisfies your state laws?
- Followed up to make sure new employees
- Re-issued company policy against
harassment on a regular basis?
- Scheduled on-going sexual harassment
- If you receive a claim of sexual
harassment, do you act immediately?
Tolerance: Sexual Harassment Prevention training program.
- If It's Broken, You Can Fix It: Overcoming Dysfunction in the
Workplace, Tom E. Jones. AMACOM Books, 1999 ISBN: 0-8144-0460-X
Related articles on our website:
- In the beginning was the plan.
- And then came the assumptions.
- And the plan was without form,
- And the assumptions without any substance,
- And darkness was upon the face of all workers.
- And they spake unto their team leaders, saying,
- "LO, this is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof
- And the team leaders went unto the supervisors and saith,
- "This new thing, it is a container of excrement, and it is very
strong, such that none may abide by it."
- And the supervisors went unto their manager, saying,
- "This is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its
- And the manager went unto the vice president, bearing this message:
- "Lo, this plan contains that which aids plant growth, and it is
- And the vice president went unto the senior vice president and saith,
- "This new thing promoteth growth, and it is powerful."
- And the senior vice president went unto the president and saith unto him,
- "This powerful new plan will actively promote the growth and
efficiency of all units, even unto the uttermost parts of the
- And the president looked upon the plan and saw that it was good.
- And "the plan" became policy.
- ó Author Unknown
- From the book, If Itís Broken, You Can Fix It, by Tom E. Jones
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