RESPECT . . . what does it mean to you?

"Respectful Workplace": a term that can conjure up any number of emotions, depending on your perspective and your situation.

As a person working in the Winnipeg Health Region your involvement in creating a respectful workplace is very important.

"Creating a respectful workplace isn't about confrontation or playing the blame or name game," explains John Van Massenhoven, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for the Winnipeg Health Region. "You don't call somebody a bully to stop them from bullying. You need to have them understand the affects of their behaviour and the potential consequences of their behaviour."

The thrust behind creating a Respectful Workplace Policy in the Winnipeg Health Region goes far beyond meeting legal requirements for safety and human rights issues, says Van Massenhoven. Rather, it ensures staff a safe environment where people can focus their energy on doing their job or providing excellent patient care.

If you work in an environment where respect is already a priority, you'll feel a source of comfort and pride in the fact that you have a safe, healthy environment in which to work.

If you work in an environment where you feel respect is a lofty ideal and not a concept that's given much thought, you may feel a respectful workplace is unattainable.

However, we all have a part to play in creating a respectful workplace. This is not an option, but a necessity in today's working environment.

The Winnipeg Health Region has launched a campaign that includes an educational component so that people can understand the importance of a respectful workplace and the contribution it makes to safety, health, the ability to do one's job and ultimately job satisfaction and employee retention.

A key message of this campaign is that each individual has a role to play in creating a respectful workplace. It starts with our actions, our choice of words, our body language.

As 'care givers' we need to both accept responsibility for how our actions and words impact other people. Whether the intention is to hurt or offend someone, is not the issue. What's important is the way the other person feels about our actions or communications.

We want everyone who enters our facilities to be treated with respect, regardless of whether they're delivering care or receiving it. We want our teams to treat each other professionally, while they do their work, and we expect people to do their part to create an environment where we can be safe and thrive.

Discussions to Have About Respectful Workplace

It starts with a shift in thinking. What does respect in the workplace mean? What are tangible examples of how respect could be made more of a priority?

Here's a list of things that could happen in the workplace for your discussions. In reading them, keep in mind:

  • Are they respectful?
  • Would you consider them to be a part of a respectful workplace?
  • Would you accept or welcome this kind of behaviour in your workplace?  

1. You're walking through a door that will slam shut if it's not held open. Do you hold the door open? For women? For just men?

Talking points: Asking this question will bring you different results because everyone has a different answer to it. Some people insist they prefer having the door held open or it's rude. To others, it doesn't matter. What's important? Everyone's individual answer to the question. Asking the question in the first place can provide interesting insight to your co-workers and how they prefer to be treated.

2. You're in a meeting. You are in the middle of expressing a thought when you're interrupted by someone who hogs the floor.

Talking points: Rude? Maybe. Bad management? Perhaps. It's not the kindest way to behave in a meeting. If talking about this example made you hot under the collar, perhaps it's time to think about treating each other a little more kindly.

3. You worked collaboratively on a tough project with several members of your team. You're pleased with the end result. At the next meeting, you choose to thank them publicly for their contribution because you know that without them, you couldn't have done it.

Talking points: It's not an expectation to recognize people but it sure feels good when it happens, doesn't it? You may want to discuss simple ways you can recognize the contributions your colleagues make.

4. It may sound silly. Someone asked you to do something and forgot to say please. It rubbed you the wrong way.

Talking points: One of the biggest things people say is that they're too busy to be nice. They don't have time to be kind. We understand that in certain situations - emergency surgery, under an extreme deadline - the please may be implied. The truth of the matter is that, busy or not, it's important for us to consider how our actions, our choice of words and our body language impact the people we work with. There may be times we can make better choices and communicate more effectively - and more kindly - with the people we work with and serve.

5. You expressed an idea at a brainstorming meeting and your co-worker rolled their eyes and dramatically sighed.

Talking points: Unless there was something in your co-worker's eye, a gesture like this creates a working environment where people aren't willing to bring forth ideas because there is fear they'll be ridiculed. Not every idea is one that can be pursued - not should it - but the important thing is creating an environment where people can safely present new ideas. If your team isn't fostering an environment of safety, discuss ways you can change that.

6. There's that one co-worker who is old school. They refuse to speak with you like you're an equal because you're a woman. They claim your ideas as their own and rarely give you credit.

Talking points: It may seem surprising but occasionally you'll cross paths with someone who doesn't recognize, realize or believe that we're equals, regardless of our sex, age, religion or belief. Dealing respectfully with this type of scenario may be challenging. How would you handle it? Would you speak to the person? Would you ask for help in approaching this person? Does how frequently you deal with this person have an impact? And if the shoe were on the other foot, how would you want the situation to be dealt with?

7. Another racy email? There's a co-worker who insists on sending questionable emails to you at work. It makes you uncomfortable. Should you say something?

Talking points: If it's making you feel uncomfortable, you can address the person face to face and simply ask them not to forward emails to you. Explaining that you receive so many you find it overwhelming and are trying to reduce the number of emails you receive may be one way to approach it. If you are receiving emails that make you uncomfortable, it's your responsibility to speak up and say something about that.

8. You've made a request of your boss several times and nothing's happened. Did he forget? Do you need to follow up?

Talking points: Sometimes people just forget. Ask your boss again if he had a chance to consider what you've asked. If he's swamped, send an email or request time with him when things are a bit slower so you can chat further. It may be an accidental oversight. Then again, he may be thinking about what you had asked and trying to find an answer.

9. You got back from a meeting and saw someone berating someone in front of a number of people for something they forgot. You aren't aware of what caused it but you stop and ask if there's something you can do to help calm the situation.

Talking points: It feels lousy to watch someone else treat someone unkindly. Would you step in if you saw a potentially harmful situation like this? What would you say? What would the right thing to say be? How would it feel if you walked past a situation like this? Would you ask someone else to intervene? Who and why?

10. You're perpetually late to appointments. You try to be on time. Something always happens so that you're at least 15 minutes behind. People have started to plan for the delay.

Talking points: Is it disrespectful to be perpetually late? Does your time management (or lack thereof) create a disrespectful workplace because of the impact it has on other people? We're all late occasionally. Is habitual lateness a matter of respect? How and why?

11. You're in the middle of an emergent crisis. Time is of the essence. Someone makes a boneheaded move. You lose your cool and snap at them.

Talking points: How does it feel when someone loses their cool and snaps at you? Apologize as soon as possible, accept responsibility for losing your cool and make it right. Under stress or not, boneheaded move or not, being rude isn't respectful behaviour because it makes people feel lousy. No one likes to feel lousy.

12. You walk into the break room and conversation comes to a halt before the people around the table switch languages. You feel awkward but get your coffee and leave without sitting down like you planned to.

Talking points: We've all had conversations where we want privacy. Break rooms and lunch rooms aren't necessarily the best place for those conversations. If you want privacy, find some and have those conversations there. Is this kind of behaviour disrespectful or just rude? Is there an expectation we conduct ourselves respectfully while we're taking a break? What's professional in this instance? And how would you feel if you walked in on this scenario? How would you want things to be handled?

13. You had a run-in with your co-worker about something silly because it was an off day. You read her scathing posting on Facebook and it hurt your feelings.

Talking points: The internet has created a whole new host of potential issues. It's not enough to know you upset your co-worker but depending on who that is, you may have that idea reinforced on a blog, through Facebook or on Twitter. Using the internet to express how you feel about your co-workers isn't the strongest choice and it can hurt people's feelings. What's appropriate to share using this medium? What's too much? What wouldn't you want certain people reading and would be mortified if they did? How much sharing is too much sharing?

14. Oh my goodness. Is that the time? You're scheduled to be at a different facility in 10 minutes and it takes 20 to get there and find parking. You call them before leaving to let them know you're running behind schedule.

Talking points: It happens. Occasionally we all run late for any number of reasons. It's nice when you can let people know if you're running late because it shows respect for their time. You can also offer them the opportunity to reschedule at that time. Is it disrespectful if you don't call before you show up? No. Just consider how you would want the situation to be handled if the shoe was on the other foot. What would you like to have happen in that scenario? How would you like things to be handled?

15. You were in the middle of something and someone interrupted your train of thought. When they get huffy, you stop, explain that you were interrupted and need a moment to wrap your head around what they were saying. "Let's start again. What was it you needed?" you ask.

Talking points: It may be a difficult thought to wrap our head around but it is possible to communicate kindly with each other. Yes, we get stressed. Yes, we get interrupted when we don't anticipate that. In spite of that, being rude to each other isn't going to help us get the job done any faster and it doesn't help us create an environment of safety.

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