Respectful Workplace Training: Everything You Need to Know
Introduction - The Respectful Workplace
A workplace characterized by trust and the respectful treatment of employees at every level provides powerful support for job satisfaction and employee engagement. In turn, engaged employees are those most likely to contribute the discretionary effort needed to drive high performance at both the individual and organizational levels.
Beyond enhanced business performance and greater employee engagement, organizations that focus on building a culture of respect typically enjoy stronger collaborative capabilities, heightened creativity and innovation, better retention rates, greater ability to attract top talent, and report higher levels of overall workforce well-being.
Key Elements of Respectful Workplaces
Respectful workplaces offer safe environments that strive to be free of such negative behaviors as harassment, bullying, bias, discrimination, incivility and even violence. They are built on seven key elements:
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1. Expressing Regard for Others
Regard for others means genuinely caring about their perspectives, their strengths, and the challenges they face. It means fair and dignified treatment for all, by colleagues and leaders, alike.
In a respectful workplace, an atmosphere in which people show no regard for others is not tolerated. This concept is central to building trust, and it calls for commitments from everyone to conduct themselves respectfully, to act with integrity, and to be accountable for their conduct and performance.
Respectful workplace training helps organizations develop their cultures by breaking the larger, sometimes abstract concept of respect into behaviors that are more easily recognized, such as:
- Acknowledging that every person brings unique perspective and knowledge
- Releasing the belief that one’s way is always right; learning to control the Rebuttal Brain (automatically forming critical or negative thoughts about what others are saying)
- Acting in ways that build people up versus tearing them down (e.g. refusing to participate in gossip)
- Adopting a look-out-for-one-another mindset (e.g., following safety protocols)
2. Eliminating Bias and Discrimination
Bias involves favoring (or disliking) something—a person, way of behaving, opinion, group, etc.—over another. It’s a form of prejudice or a specific inclination for or against that particular thing or idea.
In the workplace, bias can be expressed in many ways. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says that “most people have some type of hidden bias” that can surface at work, causing employees to experience discrimination on the job that can erode “productivity and engagement” and adversely impact “morale, motivation, commitment and desire to advance” in an organization.¹
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)² enforces laws related to discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and genetic information. Such discrimination can be expressed in workplaces in ways that range from subtle (disparaging remarks, offensive jokes) to blatant (exclusion from meetings, pay inequities, career limitations, job loss).
For today’s organizations, unconscious bias training is a key strategy to ensure that people understand what bias is and the damage it can cause in the workplace. Increasingly, teaching people to identify their hidden biases and showing them how to challenge or reframe them is a fundamental element of building respect and inclusion.
Discrimination in any form demoralizes individuals and leaves an organization vulnerable to potential litigation. Because managers are involved in various aspects of talent acquisition and talent management, it is particularly important that they receive advanced training on the prevention of bias and discrimination. Otherwise, they could create talent risk by failing to apply fair and equal treatment to all when it comes to hiring, firing, promoting, and assigning tasks.
3. Preventing Harassment and Bullying
Harassment, according to the EEOC, is “unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability or genetic information (including family medical history)³.” The offensive behavior is deemed unlawful when employees must endure it in order to remain employed, or when the conduct is so harsh and pervasive that it creates “a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
Many different behaviors have the potential of becoming harassment, including racial slurs or insults, gender-based stereotypes, religious intolerance, improper treatment of people with disabilities, inappropriate comments and offensive jokes.
Sexual Harassment is a particularly pervasive and harmful type of harassment that requires comprehensive prevention training.
Bullying is abusive conduct in the workplace that occurs over time and causes harm to the victim. Workplace bullying may consist of verbal abuse, threats, humiliation or other forms of intimidation that can damage the health of those targeted and interfere with their ability to perform their jobs. The mistreatment may be perpetrated by one or more people, and may target one or more individuals.
Whether the harassing or bullying behavior is perpetrated by someone driven by power and intimidation (who knows exactly what they’re doing) or someone who is clueless or even well-intentioned, the toll that harassment takes on the target must be stopped.
Preventing workplace harassment and bullying calls for a zero-tolerance policy by employers, and it begins with workplace harassment prevention training that is mandatory for everyone. Learning to recognize inappropriate behaviors, and developing the confidence to speak up for oneself and for co-workers are important aspects of harassment and discrimination training. Tools – such as assessments that identify bullying tendencies, encourage people to be upstanders (not bystanders); and other harassment
information assets – reinforce harassment prevention training and support respectful workplace environments.
4. Ensuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)
In business organizations, diversity describes a workforce that embodies differences across a variety of characteristics. Diverse employees represent varied age groups, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, economic and educational levels, abilities, and other attributes.
Why is workforce diversity important to organizations? The rich tapestry of perspectives and capabilities that diverse employees bring to work offers many benefits. Those individuals can contribute unique knowledge and understanding of the groups they represent, which aids enterprises in refining existing products and services and developing new ones. Greater levels of creativity and innovation are associated with diverse workforces, along with improvements in employee engagement, retention, and problem-solving.
The presence of a diverse workforce can contribute to organizations’ reputations, too, strengthening employer and product branding, supporting customer satisfaction, and bolstering competitive advantage.
Inclusion is a term linked to diversity. It is the sense of feeling welcome and comfortable, of belonging. Inclusive companies let all employees know they are valued and respected. In turn, that sense of inclusion is communicated through the ways that leaders, employees, teams, and other organizational stakeholders interact and collaborate.
To illustrate the difference between diversity and inclusion, DE&I expert Verna Myers coined an often-quoted observation: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Another key term to understand is equity, which speaks to fair treatment for everyone and an emphasis on revealing and abolishing unfair barriers and inequities.
In respectful workplaces, employers understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion don’t just happen. People must learn how to overcome their natural tendencies toward bias, and they often need both instruction and purposeful practice to do so. That’s why DE&I training is an integral element in development for employees and leaders, alike.
In some cases, effective diversity training is a must-do for organizations to help guard against the risk of potential legal actions that arise when diverse employees experience discrimination because of their age, gender, intellectual ability, sexual orientation, or other traits. Inclusion training enables workers to build the insights and skills they need to develop and express genuine appreciation, value and respect for their colleagues.
5. Emphasizing Open and Respectful Communication
Too many organizations don’t achieve the success they otherwise might because leaders and employees lack expertise in applying a core soft skill—communication. From expressing regard for others to collaborating inclusively, respect in the workplace is all about effective interaction, and that demands excellent communication skills.
Whether verbal, non-verbal, or written, communication is the means by which people exchange information. At work, communication creates employee/co-worker and employee/leader connections, builds relationships with customers, imparts knowledge required for job performance, and ensures that everyone understands the organization’s mission and values. Open, honest and thoughtful communication provides the foundation for respectful interaction, making it a core capability in respectful workplace cultures.
Unfortunately, today’s organizations suffer from a serious gap in soft skills, including—perhaps, especially—communication. New hires arrive in workplaces with little understanding of the impact their words, written or spoken, can have on others. That gap shifts responsibility to employers to teach such fundamental concepts as thinking before speaking and filtering words and actions. For those employers, communication skills training has become a critical imperative.
Effective interpersonal skills training isn’t only about speaking and writing well. Good communication requires active listening and the ability to recognize the non-verbal signals that expressions and body language convey. Empathy plays a part, as does objectivity, trust, conflict resolution, and the ability to build rapport. The capabilities needed to interact respectfully in the workplace demand top-quality communication skills training that aligns with organizational culture to drive positive behavior change.
6. Committing to Ethics and Integrity
Defining ethics as “the values an organization demonstrates in its goals, policies and practices,” SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) says that ethics “are the heart of any workplace culture and [determine] the quality of experience in an organization.⁴” Ethics also influence business success: SHRM reports that companies with highly ethical cultures significantly outperform competitors, and that such organizations achieve greater employee satisfaction and commitment, lower turnover, reduced legal risk, and attract high-potential talent.
In respectful workplaces, ethics and integrity (acting in accordance with personal values) are core drivers of behavior. Individuals who act with integrity are reliable, trustworthy, apply ethics to guide their decision-making, honor their promises, perform their assigned work, and respect their co-workers, their leaders, and their employers. Part of that respect involves having colleagues’ backs and speaking out about observed discrimination, misbehavior, or inappropriate conduct.
Effective ethics and integrity training programs teach employees to take responsibility, to speak up about poor behavior, to analyze ethical dilemmas, and to apply values in making decisions. Some ethics training content includes personal assessments that help individuals gauge their commitments to values-based decision-making.
For organizations, training in ethics and integrity offers opportunities to reinforce and discuss company values, explore potential ethical dilemmas or decisions that might arise on the job, and reiterate expectations about business practices and employee conduct.
7. Providing Safe Work Environments
Well-being in the workplace is such an important topic that employee health and safety is mandated and enforced by multiple agencies of the United States government. Laws charge employers with providing workplaces that are free of known safety and health hazards, and give employees the right to report violations without fear of retaliation. Safety at work can cover a lot of topics and issues, varying significantly from one industry to the next
At its most basic level, workplace safety training is about preventing workforce injuries and deaths. Training can also help organizations reduce lost time due to illness and injuries, reduce legal risks and worker’s compensation claims, improve morale and employee confidence, help workers develop a safety mindset, and enhance company culture.
It is incumbent upon employers to take action to prevent (and respond to) the growing threat of violence in the workplace. From verbal abuse, threats, and physical assaults to active-shooter situations, “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite” constitutes workplace violence, according to OSHA (the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration).⁵
Whether overseen by organizations’ human resources, learning, or safety/security professionals, workplace violence prevention and response training puts the emphasis on awareness, recognition of potentially dangerous behaviors, and empowers employees and leaders to take or to respond to immediate threats.