Posted 10-10-2012

A respectful workplace -where employees are treated with dignity and fairness – sure sounds like a good idea. But did you know that there is scientific proof that respect leads directly to business success?

Through use of MRIs and other tests, neuroscientists and psychologists have been able to observe and measure what happens in the living human brain under a variety of circumstances. That work has shown that being treated disrespectfully lights up the same regions of the brain as physical pain, and has also demonstrated that fairness stimulates the brain’s reward centers, just like seeing someone you love or having a really good meal.

As noted in Paul Meshanko’s 2012 book, The Respect Effect, brain researchers have found that when a manager treats employees respectfully by showing interest, support, and offering genuine praise, the employee’s brain levels of serotonin rise. Serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter, opens the worker’s mind to new ideas, and stimulates the desire to do what the manager wants. On the other hand, if the manager is dismissive, the employee’s cortisol level rises. Cortisol, another hormone, is released in response to stress. It prepares the body to survive an immediate threat, and closes the brain off to new ideas, forming memories, and willingness to help others.

Social scientists have found that a harassing or bullying environment damages not only the targets or victims, but also their co-workers. Not surprisingly, a 2012 study done by the University of British Columbia showed that employees who were bullied reported a greater desire to quit their jobs than those who did not. What was a surprise was the finding that co-workers who witnessed bullying or listened to colleagues talk about such incidents reported wanting to quit in even greater numbers.

Similarly, a 2007 study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that workers who observed incivility and sexual harassment directed toward women had lowered job satisfaction, burnout, lower commitment, and higher turnover, especially if they thought the employer did not stop the mistreatment. These negative effects applied equally to women and men.

What this means to you:

Scientists now know that harassment and disrespectful treatment harms not only the targets, but also the bystanders, and, by extension, the entire workplace. A respectful workplace leads to higher job satisfaction, increased learning, improved information flow and better productivity and resilience.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.