Is Your Organization Contributing to Employee Disengagement with Institutional Disrespect?

Lately I’ve been hearing more about employees disengaging at work due to a condition they describe as “institutional disrespect.”  This occurs when new or newly-assigned managers, with upper management’s complicit support (or feigned ignorance?), make decisions with little regard for organizational protocol. For example, the manager who automatically sides with a group of employees in departmental disputes without fully investigating the situation as prescribed in HR policy. Or a supervisor who reverses a customer service rep’s appropriate handling of a customer problem without consulting the employee to explain the change. The result of continually undermining employees’ efforts, particularly when they’re performing according to company standards, is increased employee frustration and disengagement.

Most employees will give new managers the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of their tenure. But when a manager continues to dismiss company policies and procedures, employees begin to wonder: “Are the higher-ups blind to this boss’s performance? Or is management trying to make our work difficult as a way to get rid of us?”  Such speculation plants the seeds of discontent as employees can’t fully engage when they don’t feel respected by the very people they work for.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T …  find out what it means to me” 

Employee engagement and retention specialist, Dr. Paul Marciano describes how respect can best be applied in the workplace:

  • Recognition – thanking employees, acknowledging their contributions
  • Empowerment – providing the necessary training and tools employees need
  • Supportive feedback – giving employee feedback that’s positive and corrective
  • Partnering – fostering a collaborative workplace
  • Expectation setting – establishing clear goals and accountability
  • Consideration – demonstrating courtesy, kindness and empathy
  • Trust – demonstrating faith in employees’ skills and abilities, supporting their decisions.

Employees in organizations that practice institutional disrespect find little evidence of true partnering, consideration and trust.

“Employee engagement depends upon the extent to which individuals respect their organization and its leadership, and feel respected.”  Dr. Paul Marciano


2 replies on “Is Your Organization Contributing to Employee Disengagement with Institutional Disrespect?”

Zane, thanks for sharing your thoughts based on your experience with start-ups and older organizations. I appreciate your optimism; it’s what keeps us and our colleagues going – to help prevent or minimize institutional disrespect and dysfunction and, as you so aptly say, “to succeed and grow without losing our health.”


Love this post.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few days … mulling over how all the excitement and buzz and openness and passion of a startup deteriorates over time into a culture as you describe in that first paragraph.

It’s so common, the exception gets bandied about Inc. and Fast Company and Twitter … look it’s possible!

The topic and your question and employees, all deserve a more thorough reply. But time and tide …

Here’s the synopsis. Organizational Culture, Institutional Disrespect … it starts and ends with the self-respect each person carries. By self-respect I mean integrity, openness, honesty, accountability, humility.

The challenge for the individual is the challenge for the organization. How do we succeed and grow without losing our health – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. All the things that form our core values, our self.

There’s the cliche’ kicked around about children and how quick they learn and well they communicate and share. Then the adults get in the way, too often.

Businesses are the same, with startups like children who know no limits, know only passion and energy and possibility and room for all with plenty of places to contribute talents and strengths.

Then … what. Virtues are pushed aside for vanities. Fatigue sets in, there’s no energy to listen or change or be accountable. Rules are set to offset that loss. People are hired to enforce the rules. Then the conversations shift towards the rule-makers … then you have them making their own rules. Silos are built, cults of personalities arise. And you have that culture you describe.

Entropy sets in as sources of energy and growth are stifled. It happens to people, it’s called gettin’ old. It happens to institutions – See Congress.

Riffing wide-open here, the added stress of our all-work, always-on, culture with no time to rest, rejuvenate or even eat a decent meal only hastens the pace of this decline. The pace of change, the stress on businesses only encourages … dysfunction.

The slippery slope of the first compromises, quick fixes, yeah let’s do this this one time … two times … It’s the same in our personal lives.

Again, the challenge isn’t to succeed, the challenge is to succeed and grow without losing our health – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. All the things that form our core values, our self. How we do that is the source of your great posts with your insights and solutions and all that we tweet and discuss and rant and rave about. We keep doing that … we keep spreading the message, one conversation at a time. It’s like passing the flame from one candle to another to light a dark house. We’ll get there.

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