Respectful Workplace Training: Everything You Need to Know

Introduction - The Respectful Workplace

A workplace characterized by trust and the respectful treatment of employees at every level provides powerful support for job satisfaction and employee engagement. In turn, engaged employees are those most likely to contribute the discretionary effort needed to drive high performance at both the individual and organizational levels.

Beyond enhanced business performance and greater employee engagement, organizations that focus on building a culture of respect typically enjoy stronger collaborative capabilities, heightened creativity and innovation, better retention rates, greater ability to attract top talent, and report higher levels of overall workforce well-being.

7 Key Elements of Respectful Workplaces

Respectful workplaces offer safe environments that strive to be free of such negative behaviors as harassment, bullying, bias, discrimination, incivility and even violence. They are built on seven key elements:

1. Expressing Regard for Others

Regard for others means genuinely caring about their perspectives, their strengths, and the challenges they face. It means fair and dignified treatment for all, by colleagues and leaders, alike.

In a respectful workplace, an atmosphere in which people show no regard for others is not tolerated. This concept is central to building trust, and it calls for commitments from everyone to conduct themselves respectfully, to act with integrity, and to be accountable for their conduct and performance.

Respectful workplace training helps organizations develop their cultures by breaking the larger, sometimes abstract concept of respect into behaviors that are more easily recognized, such as:

  • Acknowledging that every person brings unique perspective and knowledge
  • Releasing the belief that one’s way is always right; learning to control the Rebuttal Brain (automatically forming critical or negative thoughts about what others are saying)
  • Acting in ways that build people up versus tearing them down (e.g. refusing to participate in gossip)
  • Adopting a look-out-for-one-another mindset (e.g., following safety protocols)

2. Eliminating Bias and Discrimination

Bias involves favoring (or disliking) something—a person, way of behaving, opinion, group, etc.—over another. It’s a form of prejudice or a specific inclination for or against that particular thing or idea.

In the workplace, bias can be expressed in many ways. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says that “most people have some type of hidden bias” that can surface at work, causing employees to experience discrimination on the job that can erode “productivity and engagement” and adversely impact “morale, motivation, commitment and desire to advance” in an organization.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws related to discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and genetic information. Such discrimination can be expressed in workplaces in ways that range from subtle (disparaging remarks, offensive jokes) to blatant (exclusion from meetings, pay inequities, career limitations, job loss).

For today’s organizations, unconscious bias training is a key strategy to ensure that people understand what bias is and the damage it can cause in the workplace. Increasingly, teaching people to identify their hidden biases& and showing them how to challenge or reframe them is a fundamental element of building respect and inclusion.

Discrimination in any form demoralizes individuals and leaves an organization vulnerable to potential litigation. Because managers are involved in various aspects of talent acquisition and talent management, it is particularly important that they receive advanced training on the prevention of bias and discrimination. Otherwise, they could create talent risk by failing to apply fair and equal treatment to all when it comes to hiring, firing, promoting, and assigning tasks.

3. Preventing Harassment and Bullying

Harassment, according to the EEOC, is “unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability or genetic information (including family medical history)³.” The offensive behavior is deemed unlawful when employees must endure it in order to remain employed, or when the conduct is so harsh and pervasive that it creates “a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

Many different behaviors have the potential of becoming harassment, including racial slurs or insults, gender-based stereotypes, religious intolerance, improper treatment of people with disabilities, inappropriate comments and offensive jokes.

Sexual Harassment is a particularly pervasive and harmful type of harassment that requires comprehensive prevention training.

Bullying is abusive conduct in the workplace that occurs over time and causes harm to the victim. Workplace bullying may consist of verbal abuse, threats, humiliation or other forms of intimidation that can damage the health of those targeted and interfere with their ability to perform their jobs. The mistreatment may be perpetrated by one or more people, and may target one or more individuals.

Whether the harassing or bullying behavior is perpetrated by someone driven by power and intimidation (who knows exactly what they’re doing) or someone who is clueless or even well-intentioned, the toll that harassment takes on the target must be stopped.

Preventing workplace harassment and bullying calls for a zero-tolerance policy by employers, and it begins with workplace harassment prevention training that is mandatory for everyone. Learning to recognize inappropriate behaviors, and developing the confidence to speak up for oneself and for co-workers are important aspects of harassment and discrimination training. Tools – such as assessments that identify bullying tendencies, encourage people to be upstanders  (not bystanders); and other harassment information assets – reinforce harassment prevention training and support respectful workplace environments.

4. Ensuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)

In business organizations, diversity describes a workforce that embodies differences across a variety of characteristics. Diverse employees represent varied age groups, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, economic and educational levels, abilities, and other attributes.

Why is workforce diversity important to organizations? The rich tapestry of perspectives and capabilities that diverse employees bring to work offers many benefits. Those individuals can contribute unique knowledge and understanding of the groups they represent, which aids enterprises in refining existing products and services and developing new ones. Greater levels of creativity and innovation are associated with diverse workforces, along with improvements in employee engagement, retention, and problem-solving. 

The presence of a diverse workforce can contribute to organizations’ reputations, too, strengthening employer and product branding, supporting customer satisfaction, and bolstering competitive advantage.

Inclusion is a term linked to diversity. It is the sense of feeling welcome and comfortable, of belonging. Inclusive companies let all employees know they are valued and respected. In turn, that sense of inclusion is communicated through the ways that leaders, employees, teams, and other organizational stakeholders interact and collaborate.

To illustrate the difference between diversity and inclusion, DE&I expert Verna Myers coined an often-quoted observation: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Another key term to understand is equity, which speaks to fair treatment for everyone and an emphasis on revealing and abolishing unfair barriers and inequities.

In respectful workplaces, employers understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion don’t just happen. People must learn how to overcome their natural tendencies toward bias, and they often need both instruction and purposeful practice to do so. That’s why DE&I training is an integral element in development for employees and leaders, alike.

In some cases, effective diversity training is a must-do for organizations to help guard against the risk of potential legal actions that arise when diverse employees experience discrimination because of their age, gender, intellectual ability, sexual orientation, or other traits. Inclusion training enables workers to build the insights and skills they need to develop and express genuine appreciation, value and respect for their colleagues.

5. Emphasizing Open and Respectful Communication

Whether verbal, non-verbal, or written, communication is the means by which people exchange information. At work, communication creates employee/co-worker and employee/leader connections, builds relationships with customers, imparts knowledge required for job performance, and ensures that everyone understands the organization’s mission and values. Open, honest and thoughtful communication provides the foundation for respectful interaction, making it a core capability in respectful workplace cultures.

Unfortunately, today’s organizations suffer from a serious gap in soft skills, including—perhaps, especially—communication. New hires arrive in workplaces with little understanding of the impact their words, written or spoken, can have on others. That gap shifts responsibility to employers to teach such fundamental concepts as thinking before speaking and filtering words and actions. For those employers, communication skills training has become a critical imperative.

Effective interpersonal skills training isn’t only about speaking and writing well. Good communication requires active listening and the ability to recognize the non-verbal signals that expressions and body language convey. Empathy plays a part, as does objectivity, trust, conflict resolution, and the ability to build rapport. The capabilities needed to interact respectfully in the workplace demand top-quality communication skills training that aligns with organizational culture to drive positive behavior change.

6. Committing to Ethics and Integrity

Defining ethics as “the values an organization demonstrates in its goals, policies and practices,” SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) says that ethics “are the heart of any workplace culture and [determine] the quality of experience in an organization.” Ethics also influence business success: SHRM reports that companies with highly ethical cultures significantly outperform competitors, and that such organizations achieve greater employee satisfaction and commitment, lower turnover, reduced legal risk, and attract high-potential talent.

In respectful workplaces, ethics and integrity (acting in accordance with personal values) are core drivers of behavior. Individuals who act with integrity are reliable, trustworthy, apply ethics to guide their decision-making, honor their promises, perform their assigned work, and respect their co-workers, their leaders, and their employers. Part of that respect involves having colleagues’ backs and speaking out about observed discrimination, misbehavior, or inappropriate conduct.

Effective ethics and integrity training programs teach employees to take responsibility, to speak up about poor behavior, to analyze ethical dilemmas, and to apply values in making decisions. Some ethics training content includes personal assessments that help individuals gauge their commitments to values-based decision-making.

For organizations, training in ethics and integrity offers opportunities to reinforce and discuss company values, explore potential ethical dilemmas or decisions that might arise on the job, and reiterate expectations about business practices and employee conduct.

7. Providing Safe Work Environments

Well-being in the workplace is such an important topic that employee health and safety is mandated and enforced by multiple agencies of the United States government. Laws charge employers with providing workplaces that are free of known safety and health hazards, and give employees the right to report violations without fear of retaliation. Safety at work can cover a lot of topics and issues, varying significantly from one industry to the next.

At its most basic level, workplace safety training is about preventing workforce injuries and deaths. Training can also help organizations reduce lost time due to illness and injuries, reduce legal risks and worker’s compensation claims, improve morale and employee confidence, help workers develop a safety mindset, and enhance company culture.

It is incumbent upon employers to take action to prevent (and respond to) the growing threat of violence in the workplace. From verbal abuse, threats, and physical assaults to active-shooter situations, “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite” constitutes workplace violence, according to OSHA (the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Whether overseen by organizations’ human resources, learning, or safety/security professionals, workplace violence prevention and response training puts the emphasis on awareness, recognition of potentially dangerous behaviors, and empowers employees and leaders to take or to respond to immediate threats.

How Respectful Workplace Training Benefits Organizations and Individuals (and Helps Them Avoid Risks)

There will always be behavioral and conduct issues in the world’s workplaces. But imagine how much more likely it will be that those workplaces embody respect when purposeful organizational policies and  effective training replace negative behaviors like bullying, discrimination, and harassment with respectful actions and attitudes.

Businesses and their employees stand to gain multiple benefits (and avoid risks) when organizations provide respectful workplace training and hold everyone accountable for the behaviors that contribute to positive work culture. Some of the most commonly cited benefits (and risks) include:

  • Improved employee retention (decreased turnover). Retaining existing employees is a cost-saver for organizations, a must-do in tight talent markets, and contributes to lower levels of disruption in business operations.

Risk avoided: Some sources estimate U.S. businesses are losing up to a trillion dollars every year due to employee voluntary turnover.

  • Higher levels of employee engagement. Providing a respectful work environment allows workers to feel safe and valued—creating an atmosphere that nurtures engagement. 

Risk avoided: The cost of disengagement. Each year, the estimated loss to the U.S. economy from employee disengagement is as much as $350 billion. FurtherGallup research found 37% more absenteeism and 15% lower productivity in organizations where workers are disengaged.

  • Enhanced productivity and performance. Organizations that demonstrate respect through a culture centered on communication, accountability and care see a 4x increase in revenue growth.

Risk avoided: Without a culture of respect, increased employee output and higher-caliber performance are less likely to be achieved. Still, less than 50% of U.S. employees say they work in a positive culture.

  • Greater employee job satisfaction and well-being. In respectful workplaces, employees report higher levels of satisfaction with their work and are likely to experience less job-related stress.

Risk avoided: Research into workplace disrespect found that 78% of employees said their commitment to the organization declined due to workplace incivility, with 12% claiming to have left their job due to uncivil treatment.”

  • More effective collaboration, communication, and knowledge-sharing. When colleagues make commitments to act courteously and with civility, and take pains to communicate openly and honestly, they ensure the circumstances work groups need to succeed.

Risk avoided: Research notes that employees who experience incivility on the job are “three times less likely to help someone else, and their willingness to share drops by more than 50%.” 

  • Support for a positive work culture. Respectful company cultures encourage excellence across all aspects of the business and build workplaces where employees desire, and have the resources and support needed, to contribute their best efforts.

Risk avoided: In addition to adverse effects on employees and business performance, SHRM research puts the five-year cost of toxic workplace cultures for U.S. employers at $223 billion.

The preceding list highlights some of the most-sought benefits associated with respectful workplaces, but it is by no means complete. Companies and individuals may gain in many other ways when organizations leverage effective respectful workplace training to help leaders and employees build the skills and perspectives that sustain positive company cultures.

Making the Business Case for Respectful Workplace Training

Convincing leaders with budget approval that respectful workplace training is not just a good idea, but also a sound investment in the business relies on the language of business—numbers.

Whether making the case for unconscious bias training, harassment prevention training, diversity and inclusion training, or any other development intervention designed to support a respectful workplace, metrics must demonstrate business-critical factors that are affected by workplace culture.

HR and Learning and Development (L&D) professionals use both internal and external data to make the case.

Common Types of Internal Metrics for Business Cases

When seeking funding and leadership support for respectful workplace training, HR and L&D professionals should be prepared to answer such general questions as these:

  • What will the training cost (in money and time)? 
  • What kind of return on that investment is expected?
  • How many people need/will receive the training?
  • How will the training move the needle on key performance indicators (KPIs) for the organization? 

KPIs and measures of interest that might demonstrate the return on investment include these and other relevant metrics:

  • Revenues/Cost reductions
  • Productivity/output
  • Organizational/individual performance    
  • Turnover rates/retention rates    
  • Legal actions filed
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Employee engagement
  • Culture change/reinforcement
  • Talent attraction/acquisition
  • Safety/security measures

How will the training affect employee behaviors and attitudes? Some measures that reflect behavioral changes might include:

  • Individual performance levels/ratings
  • Job satisfaction/loyalty
  • Employees’ stress levels
  • Productivity levels
  • Quality of work
  • Communication effectiveness
  • Collaborative effectiveness/teamwork
  • Professional development (new knowledge/skills)

Presenting figures for at least some of the metrics noted will help strengthen the business case for training in harassment prevention, diversity and inclusion, and the other core aspects of respectful workplaces. However, HR and L&D must take into account the unique needs of the organization when determining relevant measures.

In fact, the specific figures needed to secure support for respectful workplace training often vary from one organization to the next, shifting with business goals, imperatives, compliance requirements, and other driving factors. For instance, an organization plagued by potential legal claims because of on-the-job incidents of harassment will want to closely track the number of actions and potential financial and talent risks they could cause. In a company in which turnover among high-potential female talent has spiked due to lack of career-advancement opportunities, metrics that track talent mobility by gender, high-potential turnover, and percentages of women in succession pipelines will be relevant metrics.

External Statistics and Research Can Strengthen Business Cases

In addition to the internal numbers collected from the metrics already described, relevant statistical information available from credible outside sources can further strengthen the case for respectful workplace training. These may include industry benchmarks, insights into the perspectives of business leaders and employees, and figures tracked by government agencies, media outlets, and industry or professional organizations.

External data addresses a wide variety of considerations. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government entity responsible for enforcing many of the laws related to workplace discrimination and harassment (i.e., markers of workplace disrespect), tracks job-related data on minorities and women, employment discrimination actions nationwide, multiple topics related to diversity, and more.14

Other federal entities (such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the U.S. Department of Labor) and state agencies collect data reflecting activity in workplace considerations related to their specific missions.

Professional associations like SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) and ATD (the Association for Talent Development) sponsor research and track statistical information related to workplace respect, providing rich resources for building the business case for this type of training. Additionally, industry publications, general and business media, and organizations across every area of interest related to workplace respect provide helpful insights as well. 

For assistance in evaluating credible sources of information, an online checklist is available from the University of Maryland Global Campus Library.17

Additional Considerations When Building and Sustaining Respectful Workplaces

Establishing and nurturing respectful workplaces in organizations demands intentional actions and support from a variety of sources. Organizations committed to creating this type of workplace should evaluate whether or not the following areas are aligned with the overarching goal of valuing all people and treating them fairly: 

  • Company culture 
  • Talent policies (such as diversity and inclusion, non-discrimination, succession, internal mobility, etc.)
  • Benefits programs
  • Compensation practices
  • Organizational values

Respectful Workplace Tools & How-Tos

Respectful workplaces don’t just happen. Positive culture change requires careful planning and execution to establish and evolve core elements.

For HR, Learning and Development, or other professionals charged with building a culture of respect, a smart first step is self-education. A quick-start overview can be gained by reviewing a resource such as Atana's Respectful Workplace ebook which gathers topic information, how-tos and data at your fingertips.

Other resources to consider include those listed below.

Atana Respectful Workplace ebookAtana Respectful Workplace ebook

Video-based courses can be among the most effective additions to any respectful workplace training resources. Most courses provide practical ideas for building a diverse and inclusive workplace, and overcoming bullying and harassment. Some include bite-sized visual examples of such techniques as blind auditions that can be used to combat gender bias in hiring and tactics like bystander intervention which empower and equip people to stand up for others.

Engaging training like this helps organizations begin to implement plans for building trust, emphasizing fairness, and expressing value for the skills and perspectives every employee brings to work.

Infographics offer another quick-reference visual tool to enhance knowledge about issues related to workplace respect —bias, diversity, harassment, and bullying—graphically putting definitions and key statistics front and center. In many instances, infographics also serve as point-of-need job aids, providing employees with reminders about the steps to respectful communication or other relevant topics.

Hands-on interactive tools ensure that experiential learning becomes a part of respectful workplace training, too. Online quizzes and assessments are entertaining and illuminating methods individuals can use to identify hidden biases or other issues in a private and safe setting – an ideal first step toward training to address unfairness, prejudice or discrimination.

Respectful Workplaces in the Future

When it comes to the workplace of the future, visions and predictions abound, suggesting that much will change. A few years ago, thought leaders suggested there would be far fewer offices as technologies enabled people to work more flexibly and remotely (options that were accelerated unexpectedly by the COVID-19 pandemic).

Others speculated that in an age of increased automation, businesses would find their competitive advantages more and more rooted in the cultures they create and embody, and in the people they employ to accomplish their missions. Increasingly, business leaders are seeing those predictions borne out.

A CEO specializing in workforce motivation sums up the future of respectful workplace this way: "The responsibility to provide a work environment where every employee feels included falls on the organization. Ultimately, companies that put employees first, recognize and appreciate them as their greatest assets, and foster humanity to allow for an individual to remain fulfilled in their current job, will reap the greatest benefits."

Regardless of the specific changes that reshape the business world, the desire for a respectful workplace will remain constant. Whether executing their duties today, five years from now, or a decade or more into the future, people want to work for organizations where they can be authentic, valued, appreciated for their diversity, and perform their jobs in an atmosphere of safety, camaraderie and mutual regard.

Culture and Training are Vital

Preparing for a future workplace where respect is emphasized begins with establishing that kind of environment and company culture today. Leveraging best practices and tools to train employees and leaders at all organizational levels is critical to ensure that everyone thinks and talks about the key elements of respectful workplaces in the same way.

For HR and L&D, it is important to pay close attention to the metrics associated with respectful workplaces and to monitor the broader indicators of change and evolution within organizations, such as business performance, workforce shifts, and leadership turnover.

As changes occur in workplaces over time, having the values and practices in place that create a culture of respect will help organizations sustain it. Then, ensuring a respectful future becomes a matter of adapting an already established culture to fit whatever new shape an organization’s workplace takes on.

For example, if a company’s evolution reduces its need for physical office spaces and results in an increasingly remote and dispersed workforce (as many firms have seen happen since the onset of the pandemic), practices that drive respect must shift, too. In a largely virtual workplace, rifts can form between people in the office and those working elsewhere; getting to know co-workers becomes more difficult (leaving room for unintentional slights or offenses). Perpetuating the culture relies on:

  • a focus on inclusion (including being mindful of where people are working so they aren’t left out of key meetings due to time zone issues, etc.)
  • masterful communication and people skills applied to instill respect in meetings, team interactions and performance conversations that take place virtually instead of face-to-face
  • use of print, visual, and audio media to reinforce consistent messaging by other-than-face-to-face communication

Adaptation to organizational changes requires transformations in training, too. The always-on approach that is already happening as training professionals shift development from discreet events to a steady stream of learning will continue to gain momentum. Online and mobile respectful workplace training are, and will be, leveraged, too, as scalable delivery mechanisms for reaching distant and dispersed employees.

Recommended Training 

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A 9x award-winner, How Was Your Day? is foundational respectful workplace training known for tackling today's crucial DEI and harassment prevention topics in non-threatening ways. Employee and Manager Courses.

Atana Insights, our proprietary analytics engine, amplifies the impact of How Was Your Day? by turning course engagement into data, data into insights, and insights into actionable next steps that improve key performance indicators directly tied to culture change and ROI.  Request a demo of our Atana Insights dashboard.