Respect … in the Workplace?

Recently I talked with a supervisor about the challenges she was having in keeping harmony among some of her employees. I asked her about some details, and she immediately described how divisions exist among some of the coworkers. As a result, there has been bullying, mobbing and complete lack of any respect. She further explained that the causes of these divisions usually stem from cultural, ideological, and generational differences. As we talked, I couldn’t help but see how all this was difficult and draining for her

There is a lot of talk these days about diversity. And while most of us naturally tend to hang around people with whom we are likeminded, the workplace doesn’t always afford us this opportunity. The workplace is where a unique mix of people have to get along in a structured environment. They are told that their company’s goals and policies should unite them… but more often they do not. Why? The workplace calls for people to personally interact, yet they do not know how to respond because of their differences.

God revealed in his Word two very important and practical truths that will help us in our dealing with people who are different from us and who can be difficult. The first one is directed toward the individual. We are told to “Respect or honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17). Some may think this means keeping quiet or saying as little as possible. Respect is not about my having to give in and consent to other opinions or to what everyone says. Rather, a respectful person knows when to say “no” and also knows how to disagree in a cordial way.

Respect is an interesting concept. It is not something we should demand from people. Rather it should be reciprocal. We earn respect by how we treat each other. Healthy relationships at work, in marriage, or among friends cannot be built without mutual respect. One major component of a healthy and productive work environment is mutual respect among employees. The idea behind the word respect is our valuing something or someone. I once saw an old beat up wooden piece of furniture at an antique auction sold for thousands of dollars. Its value was established by what people were willing to pay for it. In the same way, we show our respect in the way we value each other.

There is also a parallel truth that God directs toward those who have authority over others that supports respect. People in these positions should not show partiality by giving special privileges to certain people or groups. When management, supervisors, or leads show preferential treatment by making policy that favors a few, or when they overlook one person’s failures while at the same time disciplining others for the same violation, they are creating divisions that foster animosity among employees. One important way respect is modeled by leaders is by their striving to be fair to all and partial to none. (Ephesians 6:8-9; James 2:1).

For the Christian, the idea of respecting another person goes to a higher level. The Christian faith teaches that the intrinsic value of all people is based on the fact that he or she is created in the image of God, and that they are the ones for whom Christ died. In regards to personal relationship among people, a distinctive characteristic of a Christian is that he or she has learned to show respect to all, even to those who don’t want it nor will return it.

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.’”Acts 10:34