Does Your Workplace Drag You Down?

The missing piece could be respect

Posted May 27, 2016

//], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: By rrafson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

R-E-S-P-E-C-T” soul singer Aretha Franklin belted out in the sixties, and it’s a vital element in our workplaces today.

Leading corporations such as Bayer, Ben and Jerry’s, and Microsoft include respect in their mission statements or list it as a core organizational value (Ramarajan, Barsade, & Burack, 2008). But how many corporations actually respect their employees on a regular basis?

Decades of research from Goffman (1959) to recent research in positive psychology (Gilbert et al, 2008) have found that respect from those around us reinforces our sense of self and that the lack of respect can be devastating, undermining our mental and physical health.

Do you feel respected at work? Research has linked the lack of respect with emotional exhaustion and burnout (Ramarajan et al, 2008) A 2008 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology has shown that nurses who reported feeling respected at work experienced far less emotional exhaustion than those who did not, and that an intervention to increase employee respect resulted in a significant decrease in emotional exhaustion (Ramarajan et al, 2008).

Why? In an environment of respect we feel safe, supported, able to trust the people around us. More relaxed and confident, we experience the “broaden and build” effect of positive emotions, becoming  more resourceful, creative, and capable. (Fredrickson, 2001).

By contrast, a disrespectful environment puts us in a state of chronic stress, resulting in increasing insecurity, anxiety, self-criticism, and depression (Gilbert et al, 2008).

How to promote greater respect? In an example of positive psychology at work, Ramarajan and colleagues (2008) set up an intervention that encouraged:

  • Greater personal control: changing hierarchical top-down management to community teams empowered to set and implement their own policies.
  • Careful listening: acknowledging and valuing different points of view.
  • Inclusive decision-making: involving all the staff in each unit in decisions from doctors and nurses to nursing assistants, social workers, doctors, and recreation therapists.

Sixteen months later, the intervention employees reported significantly higher respect and satisfaction, and less emotional exhaustion and negative feelings, even though their organization was going through an unsettling period of change.

What about you? Can you apply this positive psychology research to promote greater respect in your workplace?


Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Gilbert, P. McEwan, K., Mitra, R., Franks, L., Richter, A, & Rockliff, H. (2008). Feeling safe and content: A specific affect regulation system? Relationship to depression, anxiety, stress, and self-criticism. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 182-191.

Goffman, E. (1959). Presentation of self in everyday life.  New York, NY: Overlook Press.

Ramarajan, L. Barsade, S. G., & Burack, O. R. (2008). The influence of organizational respect on emotional exhaustion in the human services. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 4-18.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

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