I’ve been a regular blog contributor for Legacy Business Cultures since 2009. While I have never personally met either Melanie Sklarz or Paul Meshanko, I consider them colleagues and friends. I see us as “respect collaborators,” sharing a core belief in the “transformational” power of respect to create both individual and organizational health and success.
A couple of months ago Melanie sent me a copy of The Respect Effect, Paul Meshanko’s new book. I read it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is an accessible, engaging and thoughtful book about a subject I remain passionately interested in. Here’s what I found most interesting and compelling.
The sub-heading of The Respect Effect is “Leveraging Emotions, Culture & Neuroscience to Build a Better Business.” Neuroscience is a topic we are hearing more and more about these days. It is a subject that I, like many of you I am certain, find quite fascinating.
Neuroscience is a field of study that looks at how the brain functions and influences behaviour. The Neuroleadership movement is intended to help individuals and organizations fulfill their potential through better understanding how the human brain functions at individual, team and systemic levels.
In the introduction of The Respect Effect, Paul Meshanko asks the reader to consider “Why Focus on Respect.” The first two reasons cited, the bottom line cost of disrespect, and the case for social justice, are familiar to most of us. The third reason he cites is biology. Now that was news to me. Given that I have been focusing on this topic for over 20 years now, I am thinking that this might be news to you as well.
What I learned is that neuroscience has taught us that “each of our brains is profoundly influenced by how we’re treated by others…. When we’re treated with respect, our brains literally light up and perform at the highest levels at which they’re capable.” On the other hand “When we’re treated with disrespect, the higher thought processes in our brains go dormant. Hijacked by our primitive survival wiring, we become diminished assets to our employers and their organizations.”
Meshanko explores this theme throughout book and it makes for fascinating and enlightening reading. He describes how our brain, ‘the world’s most sophisticated survival computer ever developed,’ responds when we are on the receiving end of disrespect. Our brains react just as the brains of our ancestors did when confronted by a sabre toothed tiger or a woolly mammoth – we go right into fight or flight mode. Why? Because disrespectful, power based behaviours like bullying and harassment cause us to feel unsafe. Our brains are wired to respond and protect us when we feel threatened.
As Meshanko explains our brains are so powerfully programmed to protect us from danger that when we perceive a threat all of our non-essential thinking functions become dormant. “This means that all of our higher-order brain capabilities, such as problem solving, reasoning, evaluating alternatives, planning, socializing and empathizing are subordinated to protecting ourselves in the presence of perceived threats.” It’s not like we even have a choice. When we work in a disrespectful environment, our brains work to keep us safe. As a result, we spend increasing amounts of time at work operating in that primitive flight or fight mode.
One of the statistics I cite in Chapter 6 of Road to Respect is that individuals who are targeted by harassment and bullying spend up to 50% of their time at work dealing with the effects of disrespect. While I understood that disrespectful behaviour was the reason for that incredible drop in productivity, until I read The Respect Effect, I didn’t fully understand the “why” of that statistic. Now I know that it is because our brain prevents us from being able to focus on work when the environment we work in feels unsafe to us.
Conversely, Meshanko goes on to argue, when we feel safe at work our higher – level thought processes are dominant. When we feel safe we are able to focus on work and be fully productive. To experience what Meshanko terms “The Respect Effect” organizations need to go one step further. We need to create work environments where employees feel valued and appreciated, where each employee appreciates how what she/he does contributes to the overall success of the business. In that kind of environment the brain supports us to achieve superior level of productivity.
Creating a respectful workplace culture where employees felt valued, esteemed and connected to the overall success of the organizational was a commonality I discovered in my research on Employers of Choice. The other commonality of those companies is their ongoing, sustainable profitability and success. When I wrote Road to Respect I purposefully looked for companies that could correlate their success to their decisions to create a truly respectful workplace culture. Now I have powerful new insights into the correlation between respect and profitability.
In Part 1 of his book (Part 1 is entitled The Road to Respect – don’t you love that sub-title?) Meshanko present evidence to establish that respect matters because it translates into significant organizational advantages including: higher job satisfaction and employee engagement, improved physical and emotional health of associates, improved ability to attract and retain talented employees, improved information flow and organizational learning, improved customer satisfaction, and higher organizational productivity, profitability and resilience.
As Meshenko writes “There are numerous examples of companies who have made great progress in their pursuit of respect with healthier bottom lines to show for it.”
From my perspective the only question that bears consideration at this point is the final one posed by Meshanko in The Respect Effect:
What’s holding you back from joining them?