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Survey Report

Workplace Dignity Survey

Building a culture of dignity to engage employees and accelerate growth

Future of Work|Inkludering og mangfold|Talent|Total Rewards
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February 5, 2020

Workplace dignity is a key part of a healthy work environment. Employers are realizing that it is linked to lower stress, improved wellbeing, higher engagement, productivity and business performance.
95%
of organizations say a culture of dignity is an important driver of employee wellbeing

Workplace dignity is a key component of a healthy work environment. A culture of dignity promotes self-respect, pride and self-worth, influences an organization’s ability to foster wellbeing, and drives productivity and sustainable business results. While over 80% of employers (i.e., senior leader respondents) believe that employees are treated with dignity and respect at their organization regardless of their job, role or level, only 65% of employees feel the same. To bridge this gap, employers must understand the scope of the challenge and the levers that will help them build a culture of dignity.

Initiatives aimed at building and maintaining such a culture may fall short if approached through too narrow a lens. A broad definition of workplace dignity encompasses three dimensions:

  1. Dignity at work. Employees are treated with respect in an environment free from marginalization (e.g., discrimination, harassment, exclusion, bullying). They feel a sense of psychological safety in their ability to be themselves, voice concerns and be heard. A culture of dignity enables organizations to attract and retain diverse talent. It is foundational for inclusion. And it helps address work-related stress at one of its sources.

  2. Dignity in work. Employees find meaning and purpose in their work and understand how it contributes to the organization’s broader goals. They take pride in what they do because it is valued, and they see a future where they will continue to be valued even as jobs are redefined with technological advances and other changes, and where employers prioritize reskilling and career-long learning.

  3. Dignity from work. Employees feel respected because they are paid what they are worth, can sustain a suitable standard of living, are confident in their benefits to provide the security they need to provide for themselves and their dependents, and have the wellbeing to thrive now and in the future.

These dimensions help organizations better understand the range of priorities needed to build and sustain a culture of dignity.

Why workplace dignity matters

Almost three-quarters of employers (70%) recognize that workplace dignity is important to their current success. And nearly all (94%) say that workplace dignity will be important to their success over the next three years (Figure 1).

The importance of a culture of dignity is expected to soar, survey participants said: in the coming three years (94%) compared with over the last three years (70%).
Figure 1. To what extent has a culture of dignity been (and will be) important to your organization’s success?

This is because a culture of dignity translates to bottom-line gains through higher productivity and greater work engagement – keys to creating an innovative and more collaborative work environment. In all, dignity can have a significant impact on many key talent metrics, including employee wellbeing, the ability to attract and retain talent, and inclusion and diversity (I&D) – foundational elements of today’s employee experience (Figure 2).

Participants said a culture of dignity drives: talent attraction and retention, and employee wellbeing (95% for both); work engagement (94%); business performance (93%); employee productivity (91%); and minimizing litigation risk (88%).
Figure 2. A culture of dignity is an important driver of:

Companies that say they have a culture of dignity tend to have higher Net Promoter Scores — that is, their leaders and employees are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work based on its company culture. But most employers fall short when it comes to this key metric. Roughly 32% of employers are promoters and would strongly recommend their company as a place to work based on the company culture, while 17% are detractors and unlikely to do so. This yields a Net Promoter Score of +15, and while a positive score, there still exists a significant opportunity for employers to improve their culture. This is particularly evident when examining employees’ attitudes about their company’s culture. In fact, there are an equal number of detractors as promoters (32%) for a Net Promoter Score of 0. Workplace dignity is an important factor in closing the gap between employers’ and employees’ views, and goes a long way to improving overall company culture.

How well do employee views on workplace dignity align with those of employers?

Significant gaps exist between employee and employer perspectives in key areas:

  • Only half of employees agree that senior leaders at their organization have a sincere interest in their wellbeing, compared with 86% of employers who agreed.
  • Only half of employees (51%) say their organization encourages them to speak up, versus 79% of employers.
  • Less than half of employees (46%) believe that their organization currently makes it possible for employees to have a healthy integration of work and personal life, while 65% of employers hold this view.
  • Sixty percent of employees believe that when they do a good job, people in their organization will recognize those contributions, versus 77% of employers.

Identifying the barriers

Employers cite a range of barriers to developing a culture of dignity.

  • A lack of diversity. One in three employers (34%) report that their organization lacks the desired levels of balance and representation among gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status and/or other employee demographics, as well as diversity of thought.

  • Lack of leader accountability/abuse of power. More than a quarter (26%) of organizations indicate that employees are not held accountable for their actions — in some cases, possibly due to their role or level in the organization.

  • Exclusion. Almost a fifth (19%) of companies report that leaders and/or other employees isolate some employees, and bias in the organization contributes to this issue.

  • Discrimination, bullying and harassment. In the aggregate, fewer than 10% of organizations cite discrimination, bullying and harassment as barriers to workplace dignity. Given that these are the areas where employers indicate they’ve taken the most action in the past three years, this figure suggests that employers believe their efforts may be delivering results.

Taking action

Nearly nine in 10 employers (87%) are ready to take action to build a culture of dignity over the next three years, up from 59% in the previous three years. The following levers can help organizations realize this goal through elements of their employee value proposition that target dignity at, in and from work.

  1. 01

    Drive a culture of dignity from the top

    Creating a culture of dignity starts with leadership and a willingness to overcome organizational challenges to drive change. Historical organizational culture is the most commonly cited challenge to promoting a culture of dignity, followed by lack of accountability – that is, no one is specifically accountable for the lack of results in this area. Presently, most employers agree that a combination of the HR and I&D functions have the primary responsibility for decision making around workplace dignity; senior leadership has a supporting role.

  2. 02

    Implement comprehensive training 

    Many organizations are missing opportunities to deliver training and communication — another barrier to building a culture of dignity. For instance, only slightly more than half of employers (52%) provide training in workplace bullying and unconscious bias — and even fewer focus on behaviors associated with abuse of power (38%) and building individual resilience (22%). In addition, fewer than half (44%) provide communication on how the talent value proposition supports dignity at, in and from work (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Around which of the following topics do you provide training and communication?

  1. 03

    Shift to high-impact Total Rewards

    The focus on dignity extends to all elements of Total Rewards including pay, benefits, career and wellbeing. Relevant high-impact actions include:

    • Pay programs that are fair, transparent, and performance-based.
    • Inclusive benefits that provide security, choice and personalization; do not discriminate against any particular group(s); and meet employee needs throughout their career lifecycle.
    • Enabled careers centered on reskilling and development, especially for demographic groups who face potential job displacement.
    • A wellbeing approach that engages talent and addresses the need of the whole person through a focus on the physical, financial, emotional and social aspects of wellbeing. This goes beyond offering more programs, and includes leadership demonstrating greater interest and advocacy in employee wellbeing.
  2. 04

    Focus on reskilling

    As the nature of work changes, skills and skill requirements will change accordingly. To ensure a culture of dignity that withstands this transformation, employers can adopt an aggressive approach to reskilling by focusing on the following:

    • Prioritization. Only 59% of organizations have made learning and growth a priority over the past three years.
    • Process. Fewer than half (42%) report they have a good process for continuous learning.
    • Programs. Only 16% report they have programs in place to reskill any employees impacted by automation, offshoring or use of nonemployee talent.
  3. 05

    Measure progress

    Organizations use various means to track or measure progress in building and maintaining a culture of dignity. Four- fifths of employers track formal complaints from employees. Over three-fifths examine exit interviews (72%), and track undesirable turnover (67%) and legal actions (65%). Yet overcoming employee reluctance to report workplace issues can still be a challenge. The opportunity also exists to do a better job of assessing culture and efforts to create greater psychological safety. At present, 91% of organizations have prioritized building psychological safety over the next three years, yet only 20% of organizations use culture diagnostics to understand the current state.

    Organizations that track more dignity-related topics to get a broader measure of the success of their efforts in building a culture of dignity are more likely to achieve higher Net Promoter Scores.

  4. 06

    Make a culture of dignity part of ESG initiatives

    As more companies are providing qualitative and quantitative information about their organization’s performance in the areas of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments, they are incorporating building a culture of dignity into their human capital strategy.

    In the next three years, nearly three in five employers (57%) will make a culture of dignity a part of their organization’s sustainability and ESG investment commitments, up from 37% over the past three years.

    Unleashing the power of workplace dignity

    For the sake of purpose, profit or both, a greater focus on dignity can create impact across multiple stakeholders.

    With an understanding of the key dimensions of dignity at, in and from work, employers can set priorities and shape strategies to overcome key barriers and close the gap between employer and employee perceptions about workplace dignity. Through greater leadership support and accountability, targeted training and communication, focused Total Rewards reskilling and the right metrics, employers have the power to reduce abuse of power, discrimination, bullying and harassment. By building a culture of dignity, employees will feel respected, empowered and less likely to leave. And, as a result, they will likely be more productive contribute to better organizational performance.


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About the survey

The Workplace Dignity Survey was conducted by Willis Towers Watson in collaboration with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights for the purpose of measuring the perspectives of senior leaders engaged in aspects of building sustainable human capital strategies and healthy company cultures while improving organizational performance. Respondents included executives from 129 large and midsize U.S. companies representing 1.4 million employees across a wide range of industries.

Figures that cite employee perspectives are based on Willis Towers Watson’s 2019/2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Study, a survey of over 40,000 employees across 27 markets, including 8,000 employees in the U.S.

About Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to achieve Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, the organization advocates for key human rights issues, pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure lasting change, it fosters a social-good approach to business and investment, and educates millions of students on human rights and social justice.

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