Workplace Respect: Owed vs Earned

“A respectful workplace brings enormous benefits to organizations, but efforts to provide one often fall short. That’s partly because leaders have an incomplete understanding of respect.” (Rogers, 2018, p.64).

Research by Rogers (2018) suggests that employees value two distinct types of respect:

  • Owed respect:
    • Is accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organisation; it meets the universal need to feel included.
    • It is signalled by civility and an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the group is inherently valuable.
    • In environments with too little owed respect, we typically see Tayloristic over-monitoring and micromanagement, incivility and abuse of power, and a sense that employees are interchangeable.
  • Earned respect:
    • Recognizss individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviours.
    • It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and, particularly in knowledge work settings, affirms that each employee has unique strengths and talents.
    • Earned respect meets the need to be valued for doing good work.
    • Stealing credit for others’ success and failing to recognise employees’ achievements are signs that it is lacking.

Leaders need to understand that there needs to be a balance of the two types of respect. Two contrasting examples make the point:

  1. Workplaces with lots of owed respect but little earned respect can make individual achievement a low priority for employees, because they perceive that everyone will be treated the same regardless of performance. That could be the right mix for settings in which goals need to be accomplished as a team, but it risks reducing motivation and accountability.
  2. Workplaces with low owed respect but high earned respect can encourage excessive competition among employees. This can hinder employees from sharing critical knowledge about their successes and failures, and it often promotes cutthroat, zero-sum behaviour.

Employees who feel respected are (on average):

  • More satisfied with their jobs;
  • More loyal to the company;
  • Perform better; and
  • More creative.

Those who feel a lack of respect can inflict damage and reduce their effort.

Rogers identifies seen changes that leaders can implement:

  1. Establish a baseline of owed respect.
  2. Know how to convey respect in your particular workplace.
  3. Recognise that respect has ripple effects.
  4. Customise the amount of earned respect you convey.
  5. Think of respect as infinite.
  6. See earned respect as a time saver, not a time waster.
  7. Know when efforts to convey respect backfire.

“Finding the right people for the right jobs and coordinating day-to-day operations are a manager’s solemn duty. As my research shows, however, the responsibilities don’t end there: Managers must also build a workplace of respect that allows employees—and, as a result, their companies—to become the best possible versions of themselves.” (Rogers, 2018, p.70).


Rogers, K. (2018) Do Your Employees Fee Respected? Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018, pp.63-71.


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