Anyone who toils away for 40, 60 or 80 hours each week—spending more waking hours at work than at home—understands the profound importance of healthy, productive workplace relationships. And at the core of those relationships is respect. Study after study confirms that employees who feel valued and respected will be more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stick around. At the same time, recent research that Olivia Gamber and I conducted suggests that one of the most important factors to employees is having a boss they respect and trust.

respectSo, respect cuts both ways. Employees want it for themselves and they want to feel it toward those who lead them. Smart leaders can leverage this very human need and in the process enhance employee engagement and satisfaction while delivering powerful business outcomes.

What matters most to employees sounds a little bit like the old Aretha Franklin song: RESPECT.

Removing Roadblocks – People come to work ready to make a difference. They generally have high energy and the intention to do good work. But, then they encounter barriers, impediments and issues that thwart their best efforts. When these issues are within the control of the organization or supervisor, it’s hard for employees not to take it personally. When leaders remove roadblocks, they demonstrate respect for the time and talent of employees—and they are better able to contribute to organizational results.

Expectations – Establishing realistic expectations, doable deadlines and appropriate accountabilities all build strong partnerships and set people up for success. These things also demonstrate your respect for your employees, their work processes and their professionalism.

Self-esteem – People with high self-confidence and self-esteem perform better and in a more self-directed way their lower-esteemed colleagues. So, there’s something in it for leaders to take steps to consciously build confidence. And frequently it’s more about eliminating rather than adding things to their managerial repertoire. For instance, avoiding negative comments, public criticism, and dismissive language goes a long way toward telegraphing respect. So does listening without judgment or interruption.

Praise – Acknowledgement, appreciation and recognition are powerful motivators. They also reflect respect and build trust. But this doesn’t mean that we should leave fake-positive fairy dust in our wake. Effective leaders understand that constructive criticism, feedback and even corrective action all produce better results when appropriately balanced with recognition of legitimate strengths, effort and results.

Engagement – One of the most common pet peeves of employees I speak with is being excluded from conversations and decisions that intimately affect their work. It’s one of the quickest ways to erase buy-in, undermine respectful relationships and create a disengaged workforce.

Communication – If information is power, then withholding it is nothing short of disempowering. Employees understand that some things cannot be shared; but they also understand that some things can. And when leaders choose not to pass along the information that employees need, it undermines trust, sub-optimizes effort, and is frequently interpreted as a fundamental lack of respect.

Time – Employees crave quality time with their managers. And leaders who carve out that time as a show of respect are richly rewarded with enhanced trust, two-way communication, and commitment on the part of those who report to them.

Managers who want to build strong teams capable of delivering strong results can take meaningful steps forward with just one word: RESPECT.

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