Mutual Respect: What It Is and How To Achieve It in the Workplace

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Saphia Lanier
Saphia Lanier

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Employees are willing to negotiate a variety of factors when competing for a job — but respect isn’t one of them. A report from the American Psychological Association shows 95% of workers say feeling respected at work is important to them.

Mutual respect: two hands shaking.

A company can show respect to workers in several ways, such as by respecting work-life boundaries and treating workers with dignity and integrity.

Unfortunately, promoting mutual respect isn’t a top priority in some organizations, which puts them at risk of losing talent.

Table of contents:

Mutual respect definition

Mutual respect is a reciprocal form of respect between two or more people, where everyone shows respect to the other. Each person acknowledges the value, opinions, and boundaries of the other. Unlike regular respect, mutual respect isn’t one-sided or based on hierarchy. Everyone gives and receives respect equally. 

In the workplace, mutual respect refers to the two-way respect that exists between co-workers, as well as between a manager or boss and their subordinates.

Why is mutual respect important?

By promoting mutual respect in the office, you can prevent conflicts among team members and create a positive workplace. 

Mutual respect can do the following for your business:

  • Foster a positive and inclusive work environment and encourage collaboration between team members.
  • Make employees more motivated and engaged, increasing productivity and improving performance.
  • Promote open communication and understanding, making it easier to resolve conflicts and disagreements constructively and respectfully.
  • Make workers feel valued and appreciated, leading to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.
  • Encourage employees to share their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment, boosting innovation.
  • Ensure all employees feel included and valued, regardless of their background or identity, making building a more diverse and inclusive workplace easier.
  • Improve your teams’ well-being by reducing stress, improving mental health, and increasing job satisfaction.
  • Build trust among employees and between teams and their leaders, increasing organizational loyalty and commitment.

When there’s a lack of mutual respect in the workplace, it can create hostility and isolation. How this looks in your workplace may differ from the next. For instance, some offices have a mix of people from various backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences. Without mutual respect, issues will arise, and cooperation will suffer.

For example, let’s say most of your team is one religion, and several people are from another. The minority team members show respect for everyone else’s holidays, traditions, and beliefs, but the majority team doesn’t return the same sentiment. 

This causes the smaller group to feel discriminated against and unworthy, hurting the dynamic in the workplace. In some cases, it can lead to conflicts or increased employee turnover. 

The benefits of mutual respect far outweigh the costs of promoting it in your organization. But if you’re not sure where to begin, here are some methods you can use to improve mutual respect in your company.

Strategies for improving mutual respect in the workplace

It doesn’t matter if your teams are in-house or remote. Having a strategy to foster mutual respect is vital if you want to keep employees happy and productive. 

Make open communication more than just a catchphrase

Employers often throw around the phrase ‘open communication” as a skill when hiring employees. Then, after onboarding new hires, there’s no follow-through to ensure they communicate openly and allow others to do the same. 

This is especially important for team leaders because they’re responsible for fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up. You can start by encouraging your employees to participate in group meetings and share their opinions and concerns. 

Turn your leaders into examples

Leading by example is an ideal approach to promoting mutual respect because it shows — instead of tells — employees how to behave. 

Sometimes, workers will make mistakes that offend others on their team, so you need leaders to identify and address these incidents. Having leaders that can set an example, mediate issues when they arise, and monitor and correct their teams’ interactions will bring your company closer to having a respectful work culture. 

Create a diverse and inclusive workplace

Building a work environment with like-minded folks can be fine. But not if it means shutting out people from different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. It’s easy for teams to become hive minds when there’s no one there to challenge their thoughts respectfully. 

By adding a diverse workforce and fostering inclusivity, you give your teams a chance to practice mutual respect — and might even boost your employees’ creative capacities as well. 

Recognize people and teams that show mutual respect

Another way to set an example for your teams is to acknowledge workers who demonstrate mutual respect. For example, you might publicly praise the way that two employees handled a disagreement without letting their emotions get the better of them. Or you might do the same for someone who always exhibited mutual respect, becoming a model for others to emulate.

Provide training and education about mutual respect

It’s not enough to just ask employees to show mutual respect. Offering resources to educate them about what mutual respect looks like in various scenarios and situations will better prepare them to handle different interactions.

Training can be workshops, online courses, or one-on-one mentoring. Make it mandatory for everyone to attend to create a foundation for all employees. 

Ask employees for feedback and suggestions 

Collecting feedback from employees offers two things to your business: 1) recommendations to make improvements and 2) a chance to learn if there are concerns or issues flying under your radar. 

Use the feedback to identify underlying issues and address them. Then, continue to make improvements to your policies and enforcement.

To help employees open up, use tools like anonymous online surveys so they feel comfortable to speak their mind.

Common challenges leading to a lack of mutual respect in the workplace (and how to address them)

Even with your best efforts, you may still encounter issues establishing and growing mutual respect in your workplace. A way around this is to be aware of the potential roadblocks and how to counter them. 

Here are some you may deal with in the future:

  • Lack of awareness: Some employees are unaware of what’s offensive to other groups of people — so show them by educating them on the different cultures you employ. 
  • Communication breakdown: Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts, undermining mutual respect. Encourage open and transparent communication, provide communication skills training, and establish clear channels for feedback and dialogue.
  • Bias and discrimination: Prejudices and biases can hinder mutual respect, creating a hostile work environment. Combat it by promoting diversity and inclusion, implementing anti-discrimination policies, and fostering a culture of acceptance and respect for all individuals.
  • Power dynamics: Power imbalances can lead to disrespectful behavior and mistreatment between leaders and employees. Address this by promoting fair and equitable practices, and providing leadership training on respectful management.
  • Lack of accountability: Allowing disrespectful behavior to go unaddressed can normalize and perpetuate a culture of disrespect. Establish clear policies and procedures for reporting and addressing disrespectful behavior, and hold individuals accountable for their actions.
  • Resistance to change: Some employees may resist efforts to promote mutual respect due to personal biases or fear of change. Address this by emphasizing the benefits of a respectful work environment, providing support and resources for individuals to adapt, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
  • High stress levels: Stress can negatively impact communication and behavior, leading to a breakdown of mutual respect. Address this by promoting work-life balance, providing stress management resources, and fostering a supportive and empathetic work culture.

Mutual respect examples

Mutual respect comes in different forms in the workplace. Here are 10 examples of what it may look like in your organization:

  • Active listening: Employees actively listen to their colleagues, giving them their full attention and showing respect for their ideas and perspectives.
  • Valuing diverse opinions: Team members appreciate and seek out different viewpoints, recognizing that diverse perspectives can lead to better decision-making and innovation.
  • Constructive communication: Employees communicate openly and honestly, sharing information and ideas in a respectful and constructive manner.
  • Empathy and understanding: Colleagues show empathy toward one another, seeking to understand each other’s experiences, challenges, and emotions.
  • Collaboration and cooperation: Team members work together, supporting and helping each other to achieve common goals, rather than competing or undermining one another.
  • Recognition and appreciation: Employees acknowledge and appreciate the contributions and efforts of their colleagues, expressing gratitude and recognition for their work.
  • Conflict resolution: Employees address conflicts respectfully and constructively, seeking solutions through open dialogue and compromise.
  • Respect for boundaries: Colleagues respect each other’s personal space, time, and boundaries, ensuring everyone feels comfortable and safe in the workplace.
  • Equal opportunities: Employees are treated fairly and given equal opportunities for growth, advancement, and recognition, regardless of their background or identity.
  • Support and encouragement: Team members provide support and encouragement to one another, offering help, guidance, and motivation when needed, fostering a positive and uplifting work environment.

A workplace with mutual respect is something every company should strive to achieve. Without it, you risk hurting your employees’ morale and tarnishing your brand’s reputation as an employer. When this happens, issues with finding good talent and high employee turnover may ensue. With the tips above, you can potentially prevent these problems and improve your company’s culture.

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