When tensions flow into the workplace, there’s only one fix

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Society today is fraught with tensions born of the pandemic, politics, inequality and more as people struggle to protect themselves and their families. That strain is flowing into the workplace, where we are seeing new and numerous behavioral issues. People who had been stable, strong workers are now frazzled.
Unfortunately, this societal landscape isn’t going to change any time soon. As business owners, we can’t control what’s going on in the world. But there is one very simple and straightforward panacea to combat these tensions in the workplace. It’s respect.
This is not to be confused with the “proper candor” in the workplace famously touted by capitalist titan Jack Welch. This is more elemental. Basic respect or consideration for one another in the workplace is crucial, and it doesn’t happen by accident.
First and foremost, respect starts at the top. Business leaders must make respect a part of their culture and model that respect. This means showing respect in interactions with other leaders, subordinate staff, vendors — with everyone. If the top person doesn’t do it, you won’t get anyone else to do it.
So, besides modeling respect, what can you do? Commit to it. It’s almost less about what you’re going to do about it and more about the commitment to it. And that never goes away. Make it a priority for everyone, including your managers, with continual training. Create team pods where people are able to talk together, aside from leadership.
This is a place to take the temperature of the workplace in terms of respect. What issues are they seeing? Does anything need to be addressed? Communicating is critically important, as is setting expectations.
At some companies, the employee pool is demanding corporate activism around things such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ equality or the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. Lack of action is deemed as disrespect.
Recently a small developer of productivity software announced new policies banning discussion of political issues at work, prompting more than a dozen employees to quit, with many making statements on social media. It seems that a grassroots effort among employees to address inequalities was responded to with a “no talk of politics” mandate, which didn’t get at the heart of what employees were feeling.
This is where communication with employees could have better shaped the corporate response. The intentions of the mandate may have been to avoid issues and promote a more respectful environment. But without communication, it was simply not respectful of what employees were feeling. Respect is key.
From the moment someone walks into your organization, that aura of respect should be clear. You can’t excuse a rude employee by saying, “That’s just the way he/she is. They’ve been here forever.” No longer. Respect must be paramount. It is the cornerstone of what I call the trifecta of workplace must-haves.

  1. Respect. Without it, problems flourish. It must be a constant expectation.
  2. Setting expectations. If your people don’t know what you want them to do, they’re not going to do it.
  3. Communication. If your organization cannot communicate, you’re doomed.

It’s not complex stuff — it’s simply about making a commitment to being respectful and living that commitment. For now, the heightened societal strains continue, and employees will continue to carry those concerns with them. Respect is a simple yet effective way to lessen tensions in the workplace.

How do you create respect? Set the example.

Mark D’Agostino is President of ConnectedHR