In 2018, Georgetown University polled 20,000 employees worldwide, asking respondents to rank positive leadership traits in order of importance. The No. 1 attribute was not clear communication, a strong work ethic or empathy, important as those are. Instead, employees put respect at the top of the list.

Any business that does not promote an environment of mutual respect is simply asking for employee turnover. A consistent lack of appreciation and common courtesy is sure to keep your HR team busy managing a revolving door of new hires and disgruntled exits. Word will get around quick, as it always does, and will do serious damage to your brand’s reputation.

As with any other business priority, instilling a shared value of respect starts at the top. Leadership must consistently demonstrate what it looks like to show respect across the org chart. A key component of the process, as Aretha Franklin famously suggested, is to “find out what it means” to your workers. In addition to gaining clarity on how different people perceive and receive respect, there are a few steps you can take to foster a respectful atmosphere.

1. Choose Your Words Carefully

Catch your employees doing things right. Praise lavishly in public, and critique sparingly in private. Try not to go overboard on either side of that equation, but don’t be slow to share well-earned kudos.

Set the example of what it looks like to have a positive disposition and show gratitude for a job well done. By leading in this way, you invite others to chime in with words of praise and encouragement as well.

Constructive criticism is often necessary for growth and improvement, but too much of it can be debilitating. You also want to be on guard against any signs of micromanagement in your leadership style. Micromanagers send a silent message that they do not trust their employees, even if they mean well.

With the increase in remote work, your opportunities to speak with employees will be more limited, so take advantage of the chances you’re given. Focus on employee praise during virtual meetings and use online communication channels to send positive messages every once in a while.

2. Make Soft Skills a Priority

I’d much rather hire someone with obvious soft skills—emotional intelligence, self-control, adaptability—than a candidate with superior qualifications who runs roughshod over others. Maintaining respect in the workplace becomes exponentially simpler if you filter out selfish, immature people on the front end.

Scanning any applicant’s digital footprint (especially their social media feeds) is one simple way to assess the degree of respect they show to others. Having more than one set of eyes on an applicant as they interview is another.

Any commitment to mutual respect needs to be reinforced primarily through thousands of small, daily interactions. However, you’ll also want to budget time and resources for soft skills development throughout the year, whether that takes the form of seminars or informal book studies. Don’t wait for problems fueled by bias, hasty assumptions or miscommunication to crop up.

3. Resist All Forms of Exclusion

Keep an eye on cliques forming within your workplace. When employees begin to segregate themselves based on job description, seniority or any other criteria, it can quickly give rise to an erosion of trust. Should a rift develop between two entrenched friend groups, untangling its destructive effects will be that much more difficult.

If appropriate to your setting, consider holding brief, informal morning meetings to improve communication. The intelligent use of project management software can also help employees gain a better understanding of how each member of the team contributes to a shared objective. Whatever you can do to break down silos will help foster mutual respect.

Another time-tested mechanism for promoting employee bonds across workgroups is to host occasional activities for your team outside of regular work hours. These events work best when they are both fun and optional. Whether it’s a meal, sporting event, or game night, the idea is to schedule opportunities for interaction that people truly want to attend.

4. Clearly Articulate Zero Tolerance for Harassment

Few things torpedo workplace respect faster than unaddressed harassment. Studies have shown that approximately 60% of workplace misconduct goes unreported. The most common reasons for underreporting are fear of not being believed, threat of retribution at the hands of an abuser, or the belief that management doesn’t truly care. Any workplace that does not take a firm stand against all forms of employee harassment represents a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Every one of your employees needs to be 100% certain that management not only forbids abuse as a matter of settled policy, but also has effective methods for dealing with it when it does occur. Where abuse is verified, consequences need to be swift and severe. Clear information regarding an employee’s rights and company-specific procedures for confidential reporting of harassment should be posted in high-visibility locations.

5. Get Transparent

Cultivating an atmosphere of respect will necessarily include an emphasis on transparency. Personally, I find it difficult to respect someone who keeps a lot of secrets, and the same dynamic is at play on the macro level in the workplace. By promoting openness and clear communication, you earn respect by demonstrating trust.

Start by making company information more readily accessible to employees. Everyone should know where to look when they need details about a specific project or company initiative. Enhanced access to information makes employees feel respected because it enables them to be more autonomous, work without micromanagement, and take ownership of their performance.

When you prioritize respect as a company value, you may be surprised by how quickly your team grows stronger and overall performance improves. Employees who feel respected are more likely to pass it on to others and less likely to engage in negative behaviors.

Author: John Hall     Originally Posted in Forbes