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Inviting respect into the facility

March 24, 2010
by Susan D. Gilster and Jennifer L. Dalessandro
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In a previous column, we addressed staff satisfaction—and what staff members really want. ‘Respect’ and ‘appreciation’ are tops on the list. Sadly, for decades, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and other healthcare workers in assisted living and long-term care have reported that respect is lacking in their workplace. These healthcare employees simply ask for respect; respect for what they know, what they give, and what they do. Yet, employees indicate they do not receive respect from administration, managers, physicians, and sometimes even those they serve—the residents and families. How can such a foundational element of what individual’s should receive in their working lives be so difficult to obtain/achieve? Respecting another human being is not hard—it does not require a special skill and costs nothing except a little consideration and time.

Respect is defined as “a feeling or attitude of admiration and deference toward somebody or something.” It is to “show consideration or thoughtfulness in relationship to somebody or something.” It is admiration, valuing, having a high regard or opinion of another. (Encarta dictionary English North America)

Respectful behavior towards another person means that you value and care about them, acknowledge their knowledge and skills and are open to their ideas and perspectives. It demonstrates that you appreciate them as a colleague, value their gifts, talents, and their unique contributions to the organization regardless of their position.


While we spend a great deal of effort in assisted living and long-term care ensuring that employees respect residents and families, we spend little time on the need for residents and families to respect staff.

Creating a respectful environment begins with establishing respect as an expectation for all who live, work, and visit in the facility. It involves talking about respect as a group with all staff in all departments. Using examples of respectful and disrespectful situations helps the staff in understanding the expectations, what behavior and approach is desired, and what will not be tolerated. Discuss it routinely and any time the staff seem to have lost their commitment to respect. Should you encounter a situation in which respect is lacking, use the incident as a story to be told and an opportunity for teaching. There is no need to identify parties, but facilitate a discussion of the situation as it occurred, outcomes, the feelings involved, and how it might be handled in a more respectful way.

Employees, regardless of their department, position, shift or role, are to be held to the same standards. They must be respectful of their colleagues on all shifts and those who work in other departments. All too often staff in different departments or those on different shifts are unkind, not helpful, and complain about others. This behavior can be stopped if the organizational expectation is equal respect for all. Don’t allow it—demand respect. If staff is unwilling to work with others in a respectful fashion, then they have a choice to change their behavior or leave.

And, while we spend a great deal of effort in assisted living and long-term care ensuring that employees respect residents and families, we spend little time on the need for residents and families to respect staff. This is equally important. You cannot allow a cognitively intact resident to consistently be cruel and disrespectful to a member of the staff. Similarly, it is not appropriate to allow family members and visitors to be consistently disrespectful towards staff either. Should residents and families show disrespect toward an employee, it is critical that it be investigated and addressed.

First, get the facts. Then if indeed a situation has occurred, a meeting with the resident and/or family should be scheduled to discuss the expectation for a respectful approach towards all who work in the facility. Regardless of a resident or family concern or complaint, it is unacceptable to be disrespectful towards staff. Even if staff members have made a poor decision or an error, a family who will not cooperate must be addressed. This action also sends a very powerful message to the staff—showing that they are valued by an organization who believes that they deserve respect from residents and families, as well.

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