Gen Z and millennial workers expect respect regardless of their position or job tenure, and they’re deeply aware when there’s a lack of it, says this expert on respectful leadership.
For decades, employees have been told to pay their dues, to “deal with” workplace disrespect and drama, and that earning their bosses’ approval was priority number one. But now, it’s a different ballgame.
Today’s millennial and Gen Z employees—who make up nearly half of all full-time U.S. workers—have their own professional desires and demands. And at the top of their lists is one must-have: respect.
Younger workers expect respect regardless of their position or job tenure, and they’re deeply aware when there’s a lack of it. In a recent poll by The Muse, 55% of respondents said disrespect on the job has created toxic work environments. On TikTok, fed-up and disrespected young workers have made quitting these jobs a viral trend, chronicling their departures with the hashtags #NoTwoWeekNotice and #QuietQuitting.
Are these workers on to something? Why shouldn’t we give respect a more prominent role in our businesses?
For business leaders and managers, there’s a tremendous upside to showing your employees they’re valued and respected. Respect increases loyalty, trust, collaboration, and productivity. It reduces complaints, conflicts, and lawsuits. And it creates a sense that we all can be more successful by simply treating others like decent human beings.
Here are five ways you can ensure your employees feel respected daily.
TAP INTO THE NEUROSCIENCE OF RESPECT
Recent neuroscience research reveals that feelings of respect and disrespect are just that: “feelings” rather than cognitive, rational thoughts. Feeling respected or disrespected comes from activities that occur deep within the most primitive parts of the brain.
When someone treats you in a way that feels disrespectful, your brain stem’s primitive threat sensors light up. Within milliseconds, this information flows to the brain’s amygdala, which instructs your glands to flood your body with powerful hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. Your heart and breathing rates spike. Your muscles tense, ready for action.
Your brain and body have been hijacked to support your flight, fight, or freeze modes—and there isn’t a lot of rational, higher-level thinking going on anymore. This means that if your natural reaction to disrespect is to fight back, you may be unable to control yourself or may say or do something disrespectful in return.
Once the initial threat of feeling disrespected has passed, it can take many minutes (and sometimes an hour or more) for your body to settle down to its previous calm state.
If the person continues their disrespectful behavior, you’ll unconsciously don a metaphorical pair of sunglasses with the words “disrespectful person” written on the lenses, and you’ll view that person through these glasses going forward.
Likewise, because of the way the brain sorts and stores memories, disrespect “sticks.” People tend to remember unresolved disrespectful incidents as if they happened yesterday. They can often remember, in astonishing detail, events that occurred months—or years!—prior.
As a leader or manager, do your employees’ reactions to disrespect now make more sense?
When you’re leading people who are feeling disrespected, their understanding of this neuroscience will help them put the “what happened”—the facts around the language and behaviors that led to feelings of disrespect—into a more neutral perspective, which will allow them to move forward more easily.
BE THE FIRST TO TREAT OTHERS WITH RESPECT
Just because you have a fancy title doesn’t mean you automatically deserve respect. Instead, treat others with respect first; they’ll likely reciprocate. Be a role model and treat everyone with decency, civility, and courtesy, regardless of who they are.
This could be as simple as saying “good morning,” “good evening,” “please,” and “thank you” genuinely and consistently.
TELL YOUR EMPLOYEES WHAT YOU RESPECT THEM FOR
Typically, we respect our colleagues for their knowledge and experience, talents and skills, and how they treat us and others. Make a detailed list of what you respect in each of your employees. Be specific and write down examples.
When the time is right, perhaps during a performance review or when you’re giving an employee performance feedback, share what you respect about them.
NIP DISRESPECT IN THE BUD
When you witness disrespect or hear about it afterward, how can you stop it without making matters worse? Start with SBIR, a simple process for giving feedback and requesting a behavioral change:
- Situation: Remind the person of the specific situation.
- Behavior: Review the behavior (or lack of) you’ve observed. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed in meetings you’ve been interrupting your colleagues frequently.”
- Impact: Describe the impact this behavior has on them, their colleagues, you, and the organization. You might say, “Interruptions make people feel disrespected and not listened to; the team thinks you’re not considering their perspective or ideas.”
- Request: Make a specific request, or coach your employee on a go-forward strategy. An example might be, “Instead of interrupting, I’d like you to make notes and then signal that you have something to say.”
If a person gets defensive when you’re giving SBIR feedback, try using the HEAR technique:
- Hear: Hear the person’s voice.
- Emotion: Recognize the emotion in their tone and body language.
- Acknowledge: Acknowledge these emotions. You might say, “I can see this is frustrating” or, “I understand this is upsetting to hear.”
- Respectful Remarks: Integrate respectful remarks to help a person open up, decrease their defensiveness, and self-generate possibilities for the next steps.
DON’T TRY TO STOP DISRESPECT WITH MORE DISRESPECT
Many of us had parents who said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” This is especially true with disrespect.
If you try to use disrespect to stop someone from being disrespectful, you’ll only escalate the problem. You can stop disrespectful behavior by keeping your cool and staying focused on being respectful.
For instance, if your employee is still struggling with interrupting coworkers during meetings, calling them out for it in the moment, in front of others, will be seen as disrespectful. Instead, make a general statement: “It’s important that we hear people out, that we get everyone’s perspective without interruption. We can always say what we need to say after others have had their say.”
After years of treating new and junior employees poorly, many organizations are finally coming to understand that respect is a key driver of productivity, partnership, and performance. By deliberately creating cultures of respect, you’ll retain your best and brightest, see your teams go the extra mile, and consistently drive positive business results even in uncertain economic times.
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