Imagine a world where everyone looked forward to going to work, and came home at the end of their working day feeling good about how they had spent their time, and how they were treated.
Work doesn’t just put food on the table and a roof over our heads. It’s central to our sense of identity, meaning and purpose, achievement, and belonging. It’s important to us to feel that what we do makes good use of our skills and abilities, that our work matters, that our efforts are appreciated, and that we are accepted and valued by the people with whom we work – in short, that our workplace is respectful.
When Respect is Missing
Yet many people dread their jobs because of demoralizing interactions that they face there every day. For them, work has become a place where they are made to feel worthless, unwelcome, incompetent, ashamed, or unsafe. Over time, this eats away at a person’s sense of well-being, and the damage that it does, not only at work, but in the private and community arenas of a person’s life, too, can be lasting.
When this happens, the workplace, too, is damaged. Productivity and creativity are among the first casualties. Lack of trust and low morale creep in. Presenteeism will probably enter the picture: while people are at work, their minds will be elsewhere.
Missed opportunities, errors, accidents, and conflict will abound. Absenteeism, sick leave, stress leave, and long term disability leave are likely to increase. Word will leak out that this is an unhappy place to work, and both clients and prospective employees may decide to look elsewhere.
Naming the Problem
Many terms are used to describe what is happening in such a workplace: abuse, bullying, counterproductive workplace behavior, discrimination, harassment, incivility, intimidation, mobbing, victimization, and violence, to name just a few. There is still considerable controversy within this field of study about what terminology best describes different situations, they all have their place in understanding what happens when respect is missing. It remains a challenge to label these behaviors in a way that accurately describes the full spectrum of people’s experiences.
It has been our focus here to reflect the broadest possible range of disrespectful and destructive conduct which can occur in workplaces, and not our intent either to overstate or to trivialize the behaviors that fall at either end of the spectrum. We hope that constructive discussion will result.
Whichever form of the problem is evident, a universal theme in such workplaces is lack of respect. If our eventual goal is to establish respectful workplaces, then the first step is increased awareness. Until we recognize a problem, we can’t address it.