Not too long ago I came across a blog post – My Passion for Great Workplaces Comes from Hellish Boss Experience – that resonated with me. Kevin Kennemer of the People Group, LLC wrote a deeply personal account about how he got into the business of championing great workplaces. It got me to thinking about my own story, and how I ended up promoting respectful workplaces.

It’s a similar story to Kevin’s, whose own story begins with working for a “hellish boss” early in his career. As a young employee, I had my own share of working woes.

I began my career in Washington, DC working as an educator in a small museum. I was only in my position for 7 months, when I was suddenly laid off due to budget cuts. To pay my bills, while I looked for a new position, I worked as a temp in a variety of office settings, mostly in the non-profit sector.

During that time, 9/11 hit not only the nation but literally the nation’s capital. After that my job search slowed as the country mourned. I ended up temping for a much longer time than I had anticipated. It was during that time that I learned about respect in the workplace.

As a temporary staff member I was often treated very poorly, probably largely due to the bad reputation that temps have as being irresponsible. But unlike the stereotypical temporary worker, I arrived on time, took orders from senior staff, and did my work promptly every day. Despite that I still endured some of the most disrespectful treatment of my working career.

I remember a time working as a receptionist for an international women’s health organization. I had been there almost a month and was somewhat friendly with the other staff members. One afternoon, a shipment of office supplies was delivered and I heard the male office manager, who was receiving it, exclaim to the delivery person, “I’d like to do that!” referring to me!

Another time as an executive assistant for a female VP of a large government agency, I was often left alone all day in the office with no work. The VP was often out of the office, but never bothered to let me know, so I would wait half the day for her to arrive and give me an assignment. When she did arrive, she usually sent me to retrieve obscure files on various companies. One time, I confused one of the names she mentioned and brought the wrong file. She and her staff ended up laughing at me instead of simply correcting me.

When I finally found a full-time position in my chosen field, the first thing I swore to do was to treat everyone I came into contact with respect. Why? Because for the entire year that I was a temp, I saw what it was like to be disrespected, and I vowed never to treat anyone like that.

Sadly, I had to be disrespected in order to learn the importance of respect in the workplace. Looking back, it was a tough lesson to learn, but I am glad I did.  So similar to Kevin Kennemer’s question:

How have you learned about respect in the workplace?