Respect can take many forms in the workplace, and each employee defines it through their own cultural lens and work experiences. For some, respect means having empathy for others, regardless of whether they are your subordinates, coworkers, or superiors. For others, respect is a safe and open environment where employees support one another.

And, sadly, some feel respect is a matter of authority, reserved solely for people in positions of power.

A vast majority of workplace discrimination claims stem from people feeling disrespected. This is not always the stated reason, but when you explore the underlying issues that led to the conflict in the first place, the situation typically boils down to an employee feeling disrespected by a manager, coworker, corporate policy, or combination of those factors. Often, the employee who files a claim or requests mediation will ask for compensation or to have the offender(s) terminated or reassigned. Through the mediation process, however, it is often discovered the employee really wants to feel respected and appreciated at work.

Prevent Workplace Conflict by Building a Respectful Culture

If most workplace disputes stem from disrespectful managers, coworkers, or corporate policies, what can HR professionals do to promote respectful environments and head off discrimination claims before they start?

While HR reps should not be the sole creators and keepers of workplace respect, they are in the position to support the creation of respectful cultures.

For example, HR professionals are often the ones who must take the first steps to convince company executives of the importance of fostering respectful cultures. Once they have earned executive support, HR pros can focus on drafting the company policies that will support a respectful workplace.

When it comes to shaping respectful cultures, HR pros should start by establishing early intervention conflict resolution policies that offer employees a confidential way to voice their concerns and opinions. When an employee feels disrespected, they should be able to express that and work toward an acceptable resolution without fearing retaliation.

An early intervention conflict resolution policy should include a minimum of two possible methods through which employees can pursue resolutions. One option might be an anonymous survey. These are most effective when they ask employees to share both their main concerns and their suggested solutions. This helps employees focus on solving problems, rather than just venting about them. Another option could be a facilitated meeting with an HR professional or impartial mediator.

When early intervention becomes part of the culture, employees will feel they have a safe way to express their concerns and be heard. As a result, employees will be less likely to file discrimination lawsuits, quit, or create unnecessary workplace conflicts. Not only will you have a more respectful culture at work, but your company will also spend less on costly legal matters.

In addition to early intervention mediation policies, employees at all levels should be trained in respectful work environment behaviors. Conflict resolution classes should be mandatory, with separate classes designed specifically for managers and executives. Conflict resolution skills are rarely taught in school, but they can have a highly positive impact on employee turnover rates and productivity while combatting violent behavior and potential sources of lawsuits.

HR professionals, too, should attend conflict resolution training. That way, they can better assist managers, executives, and employees with their issues and concerns. Both the HR and management teams must become resources to help employees address their workplace problems. Only then can the culture become more open and respectful.

Of course, HR cannot create a respectful workplace on its own. Management must fully adopt the initiatives, and employees must do their part in embracing the cultural shift. Policies and training are only effective when employees feel they are sincere and not just symbolic.

Now more than ever, respectful workplace environments are imperative. HR professionals should feel empowered to lead this movement.

Sheryle S. Woodruff is the owner of Conflict Management Associates, Inc., and a volunteer director for the Greater Orlando Society for Human Resource Management.

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