In the modern workplace, a respectful workplace culture isn’t just a cherry on top of a job role. If the work culture isn’t healthy and respectful, it could mean organizations lose their best employees and lose out on the best candidates. People don’t just want a respectful workplace culture, they EXPECT it. It’s a necessity for a high-performing workplace.
The issue, however, is that many organizations don’t realize the importance of creating and maintaining a positive culture. They also don’t understand the strong role leaders play in making that culture a reality. By empowering leaders to facilitate respect in the workplace, organizations can improve productivity and employee experience, and also protect businesses from legal issues and allegations.
Our Guest: Labor, employment, and human-rights lawyer Marli Rusen
On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Marli Rusen: labor, employment, and human-rights lawyer, mediator, arbitrator, author, speaker, and organizational consultant. Using her knowledge of workplace dynamics and law, Marli helps organizations create productive and healthy work environments. She reviews, analyzes, and helps resolve serious workplace issues, like misconduct allegations, employee disclosure, mental health discussions, etc.
Because of her extensive experience over the last 25 years, I wanted to get her take on how legal and societal expectations around respectful workplace culture have changed over time. According to Marli, in the last five years, a respectful culture has become a must-have at any workplace.
“Respectful workplace culture and conduct used to be an afterthought or a ‘nice-to-have,’ but has now turned into an expectation on the part of employees. And it’s now a legal requirement on the part of the courts,” Marli says. “It’s a core expectation in the employment world, and leaders should take notice of this.”
Why should they take notice? Marli says there are several reasons. 1) If an organization doesn’t take respectful conduct seriously, high-performing employees will look elsewhere. 2) If an employee sees that leaders are taking part in or tolerating misconduct, they may take legal action against them. And 3) organizations are putting themselves at risk in the “court of public opinion,” because employees can take them to task on social media. Leaders are key in preventing catastrophes and keeping employees happy.
“Leaders have a greater responsibility in maintaining a respectful workplace culture because they have greater authority. They have the power and therefore have the responsibility to exercise that to build and sustain a respectful workplace,” Marli says.
Walk The Talk: How Leaders Can Maintain a Respectful Workplace Culture
So what can leaders do to make sure they’re holding up their end of the bargain for employees? How can they best utilize their power for the good of the organization? According to Marli, they need to consider the three M’s of leadership.
“The first M is MODEL. Leaders need to model respect. Walk the talk. Show how they expect people on their teams to behave. The second M is MONITOR. Leaders need to get out there and engage and interact with employees to make sure they’re treating each other well,” Marli says. “And finally, the third M is MITIGATE. Leaders are the face of organizations, so they have to mitigate risks for other leaders. If they see something amiss at an organization, they need to speak up and help others.”
As companies add policies to ensure a respectful workplace, they have to be careful that once the policies are written, there are plans to take action in the face of a violation. There can’t be a culture of avoidance at work, otherwise, there is no point in creating policies at all.
“In some workplace cultures, there’s a fear of holding people accountable because doing so will seem disrespectful. There is a belief that they need to make people feel good and not give critical feedback,” Marli says. “But once there’s been an objective review and allegations are confirmed, there’s an obligation to take action. Organizations must demonstrate through measured consequences that they take these issues seriously.”