08/15/2013 09:27 am ET Updated Oct 15, 2013

Respect Works


If I say 'respect' what comes to your mind? Maybe Aretha Franklin? If I say 'working mom' what comes to mind? Maybe the memories of your own mother working to put food on the table, or Marissa Mayer in the executive suite at Yahoo's HQ? If I say 'humane workplace,' how many of you think of lazy people cutting out of work and not pulling their weight?

What do I mean by a 'humane workplace'? I think it means something very different for each and every one of us. One definition that comes to mind is a workplace that offers 'respect.'

Google happens to be one of the most successful companies on the planet. Have you been to their campus? Have you seen the dogs in cubicles, 'on-site' dry cleaning etc. Have you heard about the 20 percent of time that each engineer gets to devote to their own personal research project? Did you know that Google Maps, Google Glasses and a whole lot more innovations -- come directly from such projects? Google is not alone in proving that a great workplace can create a profit, build a hard working community, and carry the slogan "Don't Be Evil.'

This is just one example. There are plenty of great companies that turn a profit, while offering a 'desirable' workplace.

'Sally' is a working mother. She has three small children at home under the age of 11. She was born in the Midwest and grew up in an average middle class home. She holds a great marketing role at a sizable retail company. She lands in the office by 9 a.m. each morning. And by that time, she has already put three hours of time into her life and family. She knows the meaning of hard work.

At work she is known for her dedication and creativity. But because her kid's day care shuts down at 5 p.m., either she or her husband has to leave the office at 4 p.m. sharp every day.

"I know people are looking at me as I run out of the office at 4 p.m. Even the people who know I do great work, and know my personal situation; I know there are comments like '9-5', or people just rolling their eyes when I leave." Sally is made to feel that for all the hard work and long hours, she just isn't good enough. She has to do more because she is a working mom.

"Sometimes it's other employees more than it is my manager. My manager is actually pretty decent. She knows that at 8:30 p.m. every week day and often weekends, I am back at the kitchen table, laptop open, working for another two or three hours."

Sally's version of a humane workplace isn't an 'in-office' expensive day care, or for her to work less hours for the same pay. She simply wants the respect from her workplace that she is as hardworking and valuable as anyone else.

'Peter' is the first college grad in his family, where his grandparents were immigrants to California from the Philippines. He is a 'late twenties' engineer and self-professed geek. He has been working for almost six years now and has made his way up the career ladder from a junior engineer to a mid-level position, he has a lot to contribute but feels that the large technology company he works for doesn't offer their employees a voice when it comes to innovation or new projects.

"I know I could go to work for a start-up where I would probably get a lot more independence. But I have to believe that you shouldn't have to work at a start-up to be able to contribute beyond the strict confines of your 'title'. I just wish people in management would listen and recognize that just because you don't have a Director title or are under the age of 35 doesn't mean you don't have something more to offer."

Peter knows he has the option to leave, but he is dedicated and truly enjoys working with his teammates. He simply wants to be heard and feel valued.

'Bob,' a senior executive with over three decades of sales management experience, left a million dollar role at one global software company for a similar role at a competitor. He was to run a significant global division.

"I got there with over thirty years of experience, and they wouldn't even let me run the division without running everything by the CEO. The culture was totally different, and at my stage in life -- I am not going to stick around to be micro-managed." The management style at Bob's new gig didn't offer him the respect he was looking for.

For women working in the cooperatives in Kenya, safety and clean water at work are the criteria for a 'humane' workplace. Putting our concerns into the 'petty' category it may seem. But there is nothing petty about different people needing different things. These issues are broad and complex.

If we don't try -- not only to drive performance in our teams, but to also understand our employees and what they value, then we risk losing good people. When we lose good people, we waste time and money replacing them. The solutions are as complex as the issues.

Why do we care? Technology will continue to redefine the workplace and people will increasingly have more options than just being an employee. The most important competitive advantage a company has are the skills and performance of its people. If you don't have the ability to attract and retain those valuable assets -- then your ability to turn a P.R.O.F.I.T will be at risk.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T -- find out what it means to me, or to your employee. And if you don't know, try asking.