Dignity in the Workplace

In her book, “The Price of Incivility,” Christine Porath shares statistics that suggest a lack of sensitivity in workplaces affects the owners and leaders of a business and the employees as well. When asked to define incivility, Porath noted that most individuals think of the word as meaning rudeness or disrespect. She added that insensitivity was most often in the eyes of the beholder. It occurs when the person who experiences it interprets it as disrespectful.

According to Porath’s research, in the years between 1998 and 2011, the rate of workers who stated they were treated uncivilly within the past week was 50%. Some of the causes for the uptick in insensitivity during that time included:

• Time pressures that preclude the act of being respectful
• Work stress
• Stress, in general
• The fact that Incivility is contagious and can affect even witnesses

The result, says the author, is that workers, executive leaders, and customers are more likely to be “on edge” and respond in an uncivil manner or to start the incivility themselves. Some employees may experience rudeness from their boss and take it out on customers. Other customers who witness the incivility are then affected. An employee may take the insensitivity out on another employee, and on it goes. In the end, the company, the company’s bottom line, the employee, the customer, and, eventually, commitment to the organization decline.

Dignity in the Workplace

A Harvard Business Review article written by Monique Valcour, titled “The Power of Dignity in the Workplace,” showed how employees could flourish on the job when treated with dignity. In response to being managed in this way, workers increased their self-respect, self-worth, and their respect for their fellow employees and their employers. In sociologist Randy Hodson’s book, Dignity at Work, he reports on his comprehensive study of offering employees a dignified work environment. The methods used to achieve the actions necessary to create this type of atmosphere were:

• Showing trust
• Recognizing employees’ contributions
• Granting autonomy
• Building employees’ sense of ownership
• Flexibility

The results of these actions were:

• Increased employee self-worth
• Improved employee self-respect
• Renewed respect for others

A Diverse Society

The following much-quoted definition of diversity explains the situation well.

Diversity is the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values, and beliefs as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact. (Howard, 1999)

Because of our diversity as a nation, individuals must come to terms with the fact that:

• Everyone has different filters.
• Individuals’ backgrounds vary.
• Perceptions of others are changeable.

Blind Spots

It is not unusual for leaders, employees, and staff to be unaware of certain biases they carry with them, according to Warren Krompf, president of The Krompf Group LLC. For example, asks Krompf:

• Do you have blind spots about people who are different from yourself?
• Are you comfortable working with others who are much different from yourself?
• Would you become upset if someone treated you or your family in the same way you treat your co-workers?

Respectful Workplace Training

The iterations of what has been called, in recent years, “sensitivity training,” have evolved. After a few years, it became known as multicultural training, then diversity training, and later inclusivity training. In 2014, Melanie Sklarz, writing for Legacy Business Cultures coined the phrase “Respectful Workplace Training.” The goals of this training include:

• Assisting individuals in recognizing how respect looks and feels
• Identifying how the brain reacts to disrespect
• Understanding how attitudes affect workplaces
• Offering specific tools for changing disrespectful behaviors
• Providing a blueprint for designing a respectful workplace

There are no easy answers or quick solutions for getting rid of long-held biases or embedded negative workplace issues. But, over time, any business that makes an effort to educate, support, and understand their workers will benefit from this type of training. It was Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, who said:

All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.