• Respect starts at the top

Respectful Workplace Culture Starts at the Top

By | 2017-01-13T13:41:53+00:00 January 20th, 2015|Categories: Our Favorite Posts, Respectful Workplace|Tags: , , |10 Comments

Editor’s note: this post was originally published June 11, 2008.

A company’s culture is one of its most important assets. Culture plays a role in helping to attract the best talent and it is absolutely vital to engaging, developing and retaining that talent. And while no single culture is best for all organizations (or even functions within an organization), there is one cultural variable that is universally beneficial.


An environment of respect provides an emotional safety net that frees people up to do their work without having to expend energy watching their backs and protecting themselves from the potentially harmful words and actions of managers and co-workers.

When people feel emotionally safe, they’re more creative, more focused, more open to new approaches, more supportive of company objectives, and usually more willing to go the extra mile to help get there. There is no downside to a respectful workplace atmosphere.

So how do you get there?

While supporting and maintaining a culture of respect is everyone’s job, it must start at the top. CEOs, COOs and VPs, listen up!

Mission, vision, values and policies that describe respect can be important communication vehicles, but they are meaningless without behavioral congruity. The attitudes and behaviors of senior leaders are where the rubber meets the road. If you really value respect, you have to precisely describe (and communicate) what it looks like and then hold yourselves 100% accountable for role modeling it.

When there are transgressions (which there will be since we’re all human), they need to be admitted and apologized for immediately. No one gets a “pass” because of rank or special talent. Only with the highest commitment to accountability at all levels can any organization truly begin reap the benefits of a respectful workplace.

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About the Author:

Paul Meshanko
Paul Meshanko is an author, speaker and business leader with over 20 years of experience in corporate training and culture change. As a presenter, he has captivated over a quarter million leaders and business professionals on five continents. His company, Legacy Business Cultures, is a global provider of organizational survey and training services. Paul holds a BSBA from The Ohio State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace College.


  1. Sue Thomas June 12, 2008 at 6:57 am

    100% correct! Respect must start at the top of the organization and be role modeled. Discussing with the organization what “respect” means to the company is critical and important for employees to understand how to behave within the culture. Linking the desired cultural behaviors to performance reviews and providing ongoing feedback will reinforce the importance of the behaviors.

  2. Sue Thomas June 12, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Strong Leadership is a critical factor to a respectful workplace. If a leader talks about people negatively, ignores suggestions from employees or brushes off their comments as unimportant, or uses profanity in the workplace (yes, I’ve heard it and seen it all from leaders) they are not creating a respectful workplace. Just the opposite! The behavior they personall use is the behavior that will become acceptable in the organization.

  3. Todd June 12, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Great article. I will pass this along to my management.

  4. Ken LeBlanc June 12, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Being able to understand the needs of others is a big result of diversity. having the tolerance to know that one way is not always the only way. Listening, understanding and respect of others is a big part of being a mature manager in my company.

  5. Ruth Ramos June 12, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Leaders must understand they they cast a shadow among their direct reports. I would ask leaders “what does your shadow say about you?”

    I would also add that it’s usually middle-management that gets lost in the respect/diversity/inclusivity culture. In my experience, it seems that the upper tiers of management “get it”, the more entry-level employees also get it, but it’s the middle-managers who sometimes mess it up for the rest of us! So, my question is how do we get middle-manager on board, since their shadow is usually more widespread and they hold much of the power and influence in an organization?

  6. Tony B June 13, 2008 at 2:32 am

    This goes back to cultivating a high performance culture, no matter what company you work. If leadership is willing to walk the talk, then developing a respectful workplace mindset with leadership at all levels is paramount to building and sustaining performance, productivity and overall employee effectiveness…because…bottom line: can an org in and of itself do anything or is it the people working who actually accomplish anything? I would strongly argue it is the people in an org who get the work done. Orgs can’t do that without cultivating a culture of respect.

  7. Ann C. June 13, 2008 at 7:15 am

    Respect is a cornerstone to allowing everyone the accountability and responsibility to do their job (i.e. empowerment). If an organization lacks respect it typically is also missing trust in the employees and support to be successful. Not only will this respect cultivate current employees’ success but it will also attract those high talent new employees to a culture in which they would can to thrive.

  8. Ned Parks June 15, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    There is no question respect must start at the top. The real question is, “what is respect?”

    Two weeks ago while conducting a workshop in Manhattan we began discussing a case study of disrespect in the workplace. A lady in the group began to discuss how she would routinely tell co-workers to put away the newspaper they were reading if there was a picture of a certain politician and she found it disrespectful.

    So is that disrespectful?


  9. Chetan Borkhetaria June 17, 2008 at 9:16 am

    I find this concept fascinating! – And generally misunderstood, so I’m energized by the thoughts and ideas above!

    I’d like to share two thoughts related to diversity and also the idea of ‘too much respect’.

    First, I’d like to build on Ken LeBlanc’s point that respect and diversity are related. I want to push it a bit further and say that the best cultures don’t just tolerate diversity – they actually value and appreciate it. They seek it out, and when they find it they learn from it and celebrate it. Diversity is nothing to fear; rather it just requires that we have more flexibility in dealing with things and people who are different from us and that which we are used to. And diversity is far deeper than what we can see (race, gender, age, etc.). It includes different ways of thinking, different backgrounds, different experiences, and the like.

    Second, have you ever seen a culture that has too much respect? Before you giggle, think about it. If everyone says “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” excessively, is that still a positive culture? Or could it imply that everyone is afraid of being disrespectful to their coworkers? It raises Ned Parks’ question above about “what is respect?”. Doesn’t it have to do with making sure that everyone feels valued by everyone else? And that no one has malicious intentions? Respect is also, at least partially about manging people’s perceptions. We can be full of respect, but that means nothing if someone FEELS disrespected; it’s about being aware of others’ feelings and making sure that they feel your respect.


  10. Jay Remer September 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    This is as clear as a bell! Much the same way that children learn acceptable behavior from their parents, so too do employees learn what is acceptable behavior within a company from their leaders. Of course as Chetan adroitly sates things, respect is a two way street. However, we have little control over another person’s perceptions. Intention is critical; delivery is critical; common sense will usually prevail where respect is present.

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