The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions’s Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace report offered insightful guidance to employers on how to create a workplace free of harassment, stating,

“Employers should foster an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated, and in which respect and civility are promoted.” 

United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I totally agree. 

As an employment attorney, I see employment situations at their best and their worst.  I like to think of the employment relationship as a marriage—they can start off great, but without proper care, the employment relationship can erode.   

What successful marriages can teach us about successful employment relationships.

In the vein of thinking of employment relationships like a marriage, I started thinking about what creates successful marriages.  As fate would have it, I was one day listening to a podcast, discussing Mark Manson’s research on successful marriages.  Surveying 1,500 married couples, he learned the following:

As I scanned through the hundreds of responses I received, I began to notice an interesting trend: People who had been through divorces almost always talked about communication being the most important part of making things work. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts…

But I noticed that the thing people with happy marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect.

Mark Manson

The the couples that had been married for over twenty years said that respect was the key to their successful marriage!  When I learned of this statistic, wow, did I have a Eureka moment?! So, I thought, “if respect is at the center of successful marriages, employment relationships would likely be more successful and last longer if all employees felt respected at work.” Aha, there it was!  Respect is the key to successful employment relationships.

It’s no wonder that conducting a key word search of publicly filed employment discrimination cases will render countless results with plaintiffs using the word “disrespected” to describe their feelings towards the employer who they felt harmed them in the workplace.   Feeling disrespected is often at the core of workplace disputes. 

Defining workplace respect.

So, let’s take this concept one step further.  What does respect at work truly mean? Have you ever personally defined this concept? If you’re a manager, have you ever asked those reporting to you what respect at work meant to them? Have you ever articulated what workplace respect means to you?   

Defining this ambiguous term is difficult but critical to building inclusive workplaces.  With the diversity of race, age, genders, experience, religion, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, family status, educational status, and other identities represented in the workplace, it is short-sighted for employers to fail to do a deep dive into how their diverse workforce exhibits and displays “respect.” 

For organizations who are struggling to build a more positive workplace culture, I encourage you to ask your colleagues the very simple question, “what does workplace respect mean to you?”


  • Ms. Childress is the managing attorney and founder of the Childress Firm PLLC, an employment law firm based in Washington, D.C. Ms. Childress holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government and African American Studies from the University of Virginia and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law. Ms. Childress graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with High Distinction from the University of Virginia in 2007. After law school, Ms. Childress served as a federal judicial law clerk in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Ms. Childress has served as an associate at two global law firms and as an attorney for the United States Department of Justice. Ms. Childress represents clients in all aspects of employment law. Ms. Childress has litigated retaliation, discrimination, sexual harassment, non-competition, trade secret, unfair labor practice, and whistleblower cases before various tribunals. In addition to being an attorney, Ms. Childress is the creator and author of the Juris P. Prudence children's book collection, featuring fictional 11-year-old lawyer, Juris P. Prudence. Ms. Childress has held leadership roles in the National Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and the Washington Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. She has been the recipient of several honors, including the National Bar Association’s 2018 Young Lawyer of the Year Award, the Washington Bar Association’s 2017-2018 Young Lawyer of the Year Award, the National Bar Association’s 40 under 40 Best Advocates Award, the Kim Keenan Leadership & Advocacy Award, the Greater Washington Area Chapter of the National Bar Association’s Rising Star Award, and recognition by the National Black Lawyers as one of the top 100 black attorneys. Ms. Childress has been featured in numerous publications, including Forbes, Essence, the Huffington Post, Success, and Entrepreneur.