Respect – A Word Exercise

By Gabriel Callaghan.

I start with a dictionary definition of respect, one of which we will evaluate as ‘having due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others’. This is something lacking in society, and even in Durham. 

One recent social media post by a student was telling people to ‘lighten up’ about people breaking social distancing laws, and that they’re not bothered. A recent Palatinate poll found that up to 45% of Durham students were not following the rules. Many University staff live in rural communities outside of Durham City with an elderly population, and many of them have caring responsibilities, or even health conditions. Their roles are essential to the functioning of the University, e.g catering. To ignore the needs of a section of the University community is disrespectful, it does not respect the wishes of others to work in a safe atmosphere. 

Respect is lacking at all levels of society, from worker to senior director.

Recently, the Durham Commission on Values, Respect and Behaviour published a report. Some significant issues were found. 30% of students and 18% of staff stated that they had experienced some form of bullying/harassment, with accusations of repeat offenders not being tackled, and of some people acting with impunity. If you allow bullying managers to stay in an organisation, they’re going to demoralise your staff, reduce productivity, increase sickness rates, and ultimately lead to legal claims for constructive dismissal. Bullying managers destroy the dignity of co-workers. In my opinion, the consequences of bullying and disrespectful managers can be fatal, as I believe happened in the East Kent Hospitals Trust, and Stafford Hospital. Respect is lacking at all levels of society, from worker to senior director. There is not a barrier of seniority as to when the duty to respect others does not apply, as some senior managers view themselves as exempt from being respectful.

Of course, the actions of someone bullying/harassing are the free choice of the person committing the acts. However, company culture has a significant impact on denying people the opportunity to bully and disrespect others. French and Raven produced a paper concerning the five sources of power. One of these styles is ‘coercive/referent power’ which is defined as the ability to punish another for not meeting requirements, in essence managing by fear. An example of this would be in seeking promotions, someone is denied a job for making a complaint of poor treatment, or humiliating a worker infront of other staff for no good reason. Sometimes, these styles involve threats of losing a job, and bogus disciplinary procedures which are abused. This is dangerous to the company culture, and managers with such a style surround themselves with other people who they can manipulate so the culture propagates.

A positive culture is one where the culture is defined from the top to bottom, and it’s actively promoted as opposed to a word exercise. With a positive culture, disrespectful bosses will become immediately apparent and isolated. However, a positive culture is not only limited to preventing harm. It’s about allowing people to have a meaningful existence. Hertzberg defines hygiene and motivating factors. The hygiene factors, such as relationships and working conditions, what we would conventionally call respect are only enough to prevent dissatisfaction, they do not lead to a motivated person. The motivating factors such as advancement and trust lead to motivation. If a manager does not respect the abilities of their team by delegating tasks and challenging teams, they act with self-actualisation as their primary concern. This concern does not recognise the needs of others.

Therefore, it is my submission that respect is not solely the dictionary definition. For too long, organisations have taken a reactive damage limitation approach to respect, rather than proactively identifying practises which lead to disrespect. The dictionary definition of ‘having due regard’ implies that no specific duty is necessary, as long as we don’t actively do something disrespectful, which I find insufficient. Respect should not only involve meeting the basic human rights of a person to be free from harassment, but to make a person valued in an organisation. 

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