x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Personal touch still so important for workplace morale

Respect towards colleagues should be the norm in the workplace, regardless of rank, role, or nationality.

In many companies, video conferences have replaced the need for in-person meetings. Porter Novelli / Via Bloomberg News
In many companies, video conferences have replaced the need for in-person meetings. Porter Novelli / Via Bloomberg News

Two of the most common complaints I hear from my friends in the workforce are:"I don't feel respected by my manager. He dumps work on me 10 minutes before it's time to leave when I have had nothing to do all day" and the classic "I don't feel that I'm appreciated."

Respect towards colleagues should be the norm in the workplace, regardless of rank, role, or nationality. However, as companies become more global, virtual and diverse, my assumption can break down unless the issue is specifically addressed.

Let us rewind to the not-so-distant past. The majority of work was conducted either face-to-face or through real-time meetings either at the office or at the clients' headquarters. Employees were able to put faces to the names. These personal interactions allowed employees to get to know each other and build mutual respect. They also built a basic degree of courtesy.

But for many people today, video conferences, emails and teleconferences have replaced the need for in-person meetings, as they save time and money and accelerate the work process.

In the organisation that I work for, there are numerous employees I have never met because they operate at our different offices in Dubai and abroad. We communicate mainly via email. Also, because of the nature of our investment-related work, employees travel abroad to conduct meetings, leaving their departments and offices behind as ghost towns.

The result of this is most of our work is conducted impersonally, which may mean there is less pressure to be polite and pleasant, as one would be face to face.

Research led by Sara Konrath of the University of Michigan on 14,000 students found empathy towards others in the United States had declined by almost 40 per cent since 1980. The research assumes that is because of changes in lifestyles, fewer face-to-face interactions and more communicating through digital media instead.

In addition, many managers are reporting a breakdown of respect between colleagues. A friend of mine who is in a managerial position is always frustrated with her employees who do not update or communicate with each other about their work. "The lack of communication between the team kills me and is so unprofessional," she complains.

Common complaints include managers not responding to important emails and phone calls, urgent requests for information without regardfor what it will take to get it done and an employee who stayed back for hours to ensure the completion of an important task but received no thanks or appreciation.

These examples may sound common and non-threatening but in the long run they could be. The continuation of these "common" behaviours will eventually create a toxic, depressing environment that impedes productivity. Employees will soon feel demotivated and less engaged. We all know an employee depressed by the work environment often does not feel motivated to do anything any more.

The good thing is preventing a breakdown of respect and courtesy can be achieved with simple actions:

Managers should conduct meetings with their team, including remote members, to discuss the behaviour expected of them at the workplace.

Have an open dialogue with employees from time to time and ask them if there were instances when they did not feel respected. Then discuss the proper action that needs to be taken.

Managers should also point out to employees they should respectfully push back bad behaviours as they occur. Many employees overreact in the heat of the moment.

However, if they learn to point out disturbing behaviour to their colleagues respectfully, it will probably prevent the same action from happening again.

We all want to work in an environment in which our colleagues and managers respect us and appreciate our work. Nowadays though, we might have to ask for it.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati fashion designer and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai