The Power of Dignity in the Workplace

Source: Monique Valcour, Harvard Business Review, HBR Blog Network, April 28, 2014

Imagine that you’ve been working in your job for a while. You enjoy your work, know how to do it well, and take pride in the results you produce. And then one day things change. Perhaps a new boss is hired from the outside, who doesn’t talk to you or your colleagues in sufficient depth to understand what works well and what challenges you face. When you offer suggestions about how to improve performance, she ignores them. New policies and procedures are introduced — perhaps ones the boss applied in a different context or read about in a business school case. But they subvert the control and autonomy you have enjoyed in the past. They weaken opportunities for you to apply your expertise and rob you of the investment you’ve made in your work. Your ability to produce value for the organization is diminished — and so is your morale.

The situation above illustrates one of the most common themes in my executive students’ reports of the worst experiences they’ve had with leaders. Leaders who undermine employee autonomy are corrosive because they undermine the dignity of work. This is a serious issue, because dignity is fundamental to well-being and to human and organizational thriving. And since many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, work is a major source of dignity in our lives.

Not many people would argue with this. Yet few managers receive any guidance on how to uphold dignity in their workplaces on a daily basis…..