Respect: A lesson in caring leadership and retention

by | Sep 15, 2020 | Coaching, Leadership, Retention

I was talking with a good friend last week. He’s worked at his company for a little over five years now. He likes the people he works with in the various departments at the company and even likes the work. As he was saying both of those things, it still seemed something was bothering him.  I pressed on for more details. His response was “management creates a toxic work environment.” Toxic is a fairly strong word.  Again, I pushed him for more. He then described his daily work environment in great detail. I didn’t say anything; I just listened. When he stopped for air, I said to him, “that sounds really tough. Are you looking for another job?” He thought for a minute and said that if COVID had not come along, he, and his co-workers would all be looking for new jobs.

Whoa. A sad state of affairs at this place. I asked what bothered him the most. He responded right away and said two things.  I pushed him to pick the most important factor to him.  He was silent for a minute, and finally said, “The lack of respect.” Well, respect can mean different things to different people. I asked him what respect meant to him.  Here’s what he said.

“It means showing up on time, or close to on time. It’s staying late with your team to show your support; or showing up on weekends when your team has to work the weekend. It’s knowing that your manager has your back, and will help you when you need it. Respect is showing you’re approachable, and that you are willing to address staff’s questions. It’s picking up minor tasks when your team is slammed, and not loading one more thing onto an already full plate in the middle of a deadline. Respect means treating people like humans: making eye contact, greeting people, and saying ‘thank you’ for a job well done.” And none of these things were happening in my friend’s workplace. 

Now to me, all of the elements of respect my friend outlined are pretty standard and go with the territory of leading your people. It’s disheartening that so much of this was absent in my friend’s work day. From the perspective of a leader, what’s worse is that so many people are warming the bench at the place; keeping their heads down, and collecting their paycheck until it becomes viable to jump ship. When the conditions are right for so many to leave, the company mayl be left with an enormous talent drain that few companies can weather. As a leader, this situation sounds depressing, right?

If you’re reading this as a leader of people, sit in reflection and ask yourself how you are showing up for your folks.  What does respect mean to you? What does it look like to your teams?  Do you know what it looks like to them, or do you think you know? Are you showing your teams you respect and appreciate them?  Everyone talks so much about retention.  There are articles written about it ad nauseum. Yet, it’s not rocket science.  As my friend said, it sounds stupid (it doesn’t) but it’s these little things that make a big difference (he’s right).

If you’re realizing some of these basics are missing from your leadership, take heart.  You can turn it around.  Three simple things:

  1. If you are in an in-person office setting, greet your employees in the morning.  If you are virtual, send your team greetings by email or text. Check in during the day.  Out of sight does not have to mean out of mind. Make them feel important and valued.
  2. Lead by example. If your team is burning the midnight oil or showing up on weekends because the overtime is necessary, show up with them. Even if you can’t help with the actual work, be there for moral support.  Buy the coffee and donuts, or lunch.  If in a virtual environment, call them after hours or on the weekend if you know they are working on a deadline.  Check in.  See how they are doing. Ask how you can help them. Offer your support and encouragement. Slogging away at a task is sometimes easier when you know you have company, even if virtual.
  3. Say thank you for a job well done, or a solid effort. It’s simple, it’s effective and, no, it’s not going to make your people “soft.” It might, however, cultivate respect which builds trust. And that’s a victory for any leader.  And it shows up on the P/L.  More about that in another post…

Photo credit: Clay Banks via

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Nancy Jacoby,

Nancy is a registered nurse, recovering hospital administrator and ICF certified coach and consultant. She leads individuals, teams and organizations in growth, development and process improvement to yield sustained change and desired outcomes. 

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Nancy Jacoby, RN, MBA, MHSA, FACHE, ACC  |  212.779.2049  |  Connect on LinkedIn

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