Everything (r)evolves around respect

Respecting other members of the hospital team – the key to successful HR development

A variety of projects at hospitals show that fostering respect amongst team members can have a positive influence on companies and employees. The concentration on respectful behavior in HR development gives companies the opportunity to focus resources and still achieve a lot. Birger Dreher looked at this issue as part of his master’s thesis at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship at Steinbeis University Berlin. For his project, he developed an HR development strategy aimed at having a positive and specific influence on autonomous “processes of socialization” in working groups.

Respect is a variable that is connected to many other key variables of business management. Reinforcing respectful behavior brings about several benefits, including improvements in employee loyalty and appeal, staff satisfaction, the ability of an organization to change, image enhancements, lower absenteeism, etc.

Tackling issues of respect therefore has a strong impact. But what does respect actually mean? What do people working in hospitals mean by respect, and how does respect manifest itself in the organization? What drivers or hurdles exist in such organizations with a tangible influence on respectful teamwork? What methods, tools and strategies can be used to enhance mutual respect within the company and how does one nurture such a culture (in the long term)? These were the issues Birger Dreher looked at in his master’s thesis, which was based on an analysis of literature and the evaluation of six qualitative interviews with doctors and care workers at different levels of the hierarchy.

Initially, respect is an attitude, a person’s ability to see other as equals and acknowledge their values and personal nature. When dealing with colleagues or co-workers, this attitude is reflected in certain situations by the way people observe certain manners. One generally has to consider the fact that people often revert to different behavioral patterns which are dictated by the situation. People often experience a great deal of stress in modern hospital environments – with organizational pressures, heavy workloads and vastly differing tasks. How each individual deals with stress, depends on the nature of the person. So when people react to stress, they revert to certain behavioral patterns that they have developed at different stages of the “socialization process.” Behavioral patterns are a technique for organizing how one deals with situations. People revert to a particular pattern of competences they have acquired in the course of their life in order to react appropriately to a given situation. Respectful behavior taps into a variety of personal competences (integrity, self-respect, value-neutrality, authenticity, helpfulness), social communication skills (ability to communicate, team skills, cooperative skills) and action-based skills (initiative, ability to cope with pressure).

People don’t always manage to engage these skills when things become difficult. Conveying respect can be interfered with by organizational and socio-cultural influences. So situations can arise in which it is difficult to communicate one’s respect for someone and people are pushed to the limit (e.g. under stress, or when faced with sociocultural differences).

Attitudes and competences are formed when things “get under your skin”. People process the reaction to their behavior and by that they take on the normative expectations of their social environment. Under such circumstances, shared values, rules and standards become adopted and develop into attitudes and competences. A specific consequence of this kind of socialization process is that certain ways of dealing with a situation become “normal” or are acted out “without thinking”. Values, rules and standards of respectful behavior can be (and should be) important in the process.

However, the continual socialization process can take place in sub-contexts, such as a ward or hospital department. As a result, people learn competitive or divergent behaviors. To shape this process, Birger Dreher designed a concept for an HR development strategy aimed at influencing autonomous socialization processes in work groups in a positive and targeted manner.

Implementation of this strategy involves two important building blocks, a workshop and training. The respect workshop is targeted at staff and managers. Its aim is to examine ethical and normative fundamentals in respecting team members and challenge the meaning of respect when dealing with others. Based on the discussion and thoughts about the nature of everyday work, ways to behave respectfully to others were defined and translated to actual, everyday situations. At the end of the workshop, next steps and possible actions were looked at and discussed with managers and staff with the support of a moderator.

The training only takes place once a foundation has been laid in the workshop by reaching consensus on the meaning of respect. So each training session is different and takes into account the areas people work in, different processes, interfaces within the organization and the actual make-up of the group. Every training course on respect involves different challenges in different companies. During the training sessions, a selection of situations are chosen, some successful, some involving poor communication or collaboration, and usually the group works on these issues in several rounds. Re-enacting actual situations from everyday work, while drawing on a variety of coaching techniques, adds emotion to the experience. The combination of new insights and emotions allows people to learn alternative courses of action in the long term. All sessions are pitched as an invitation to experience known situations in a new light. The aim is to strengthen people’s ability to interact respectfully with others and develop ways to foster mutual respect.

Birger Dreher’s thesis showed that cultural change in companies takes time. Improving people’s respect for one another at work is not a short-term project. Staff and managers have to be reminded, on a repeated basis, how important respect is in everyday situations. To establish fundamental ethical standards and select suitable mechanisms, this process has to be included in strategic management processes. Specific actions can then be planned. Finally, success can be measured with surveys on respect or more informal analytical tools.


Patricia Mezger
School of International Business and Entrepreneurship Steinbeis University Berlin (Berlin/Herrenberg)

Birger Dreher
The European Institute for Healthcare Research and Social Economy

The HR development strategy basically covers four key areas:

  1. Jointly establishing a concept of ethical norms governing respectful collaboration.
  2. Instruments that use dramatic situations in selected settings to train people on respectful behavior.
  3. Close consideration of situations that result in failure, but also success drivers. This is particularly important in areas relating to organizational influences (management, division of labor).
  4. Consideration of time factors in HR development strategies.

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