Show me respect, not just the money

by | Jan 31, 2012 | Blog | 2 comments

“Treat employees as if they’re volunteers” is a popular business maxim.

It’s a sound principle. After all, many employees—especially knowledge workers—have discretion on how they spend their time, energy and commitment. If you can appeal to their passion, listen to their ideas and concerns and recognize them, you improve your chances of connecting with them and influencing them to take action, including changing their behavior.

And if you’re a project manager rather than a boss, this principle can be very compelling. You probably have more carrots at your disposal than sticks to inspire the individuals on your team and others to adopt the changes you need.

Yet putting this principle into action is another matter. That’s where the road to good intentions is paved with hell.

This past week alone, I’ve noticed that the life of the volunteer is hardly joyful, especially around the issue of respect. Yes, we’re talking WIIFM (what’s in it for me), which is especially critical for those volunteering their time, investing energy and incurring opportunity costs.

For example, let’s talk scheduling. In one of my professional associations, I asked the committee chair if the committee members were still going to meet since we hadn’t received any confirmation the day before a scheduled conference call. The committee chair replied a few minutes later via email that she was out of town so we couldn’t convene. She requested that we meet by phone the following week.

Not very respectful, as I and others had been saving the date. Just because the committee chair can’t manage her schedule doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be inconvenienced.

Next, let’s talk being visible and valued. At a contentious planning council meeting of a health care group, several members pointed out that they were not being respected. The concerns ran the gamut from being ignored by the meeting chair to being put down by other members. Bravo for them to speak up about their concerns, as the Silent Sugarcoated Moose® advocates.

We volunteers and employees like to be respected. Respecting us entails:

  1. Acknowledging our presence.
  2. Asking for our opinions.
  3. Listening to what we say.
  4. Thanking us for our contributions.
  5. Using our time wisely.
  6. Tolerating our differences.
  7. Appreciating us for what we bring to the group of our own accord.

When we feel respected, we believe we are a valued member of the group. It’s worth our time, effort and energy to belong and take part. And we’ll continue to give of ourselves.

Otherwise, even if we feel the passion for the organization’s mission, if we’re not respected, we shut down, pull back or drop out. That’s just what disengaged employees do. Why bang our heads?

In my change work for clients, as we start to involve employees in the change initiative, we strive to make sure we have created a meaningful role for them to play. And we make sure we respect them and their contributions.

How do you show respect?





  1. Jeff Hajek


    I like that volunteer philosophy. The flip side of that coin, though, is that employees should act as though they were interviewing for their job every day. Think how great companies would be if both groups followed those principles…

    Nice post.
    Jeff Hajek

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Jeff, thanks for your comment. Yes, the work world would be a different place if we all followed those principles!

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