Aretha sings about it. We all talk about it. How much does self-respect affect your workplace decisions?

Joni realizes that it would help volunteer recruitment to schedule some of the volunteer trainings on weekends. Making that decision requires her boss’s approval – but her boss is always so busy and Joni hates to interrupt her. Joni feels caught between respecting the needs of her volunteers and respecting the needs of her boss.

Kristy has worked 10 hour days ever since her program’s budget got cut and she lost her volunteer coordinator. She’s exhausted and finds herself up at night trying to plan all the things that need to get done the following day. But Kristi hesitates to mention her situation to her supervisor – she doesn’t want to seem like she’s not pulling her weight in a tough situation.

Pat has a volunteer who is rude to the clients on a regular basis – there have been numerous complaints. She knows she needs to talk with the volunteer but she keeps putting it off because difficult conversations are uncomfortable for her.

From these examples you may think that this post is about setting limits or dealing with conflict.  And it is about those things. But first it’s an exploration of respect.

Why Respect?

Respect has been on my mind ever since I served on a CCVA committee to revise the Professional Ethics in Volunteer Administration statement

It was a great committee because we got to take a deep dive into concepts that we know are important but rarely consider in any detail – things like trust, accountability, and fairness.

My task force assignment was to revise the current language around the principle of Respect: what it means in our work, which values relate to it.

And because ethics is all about how we conduct ourselves in the world, my proposed revision has been very outward-oriented to reflect how respect plays out in our dealings with volunteers, clients, co-workers, and other stakeholders.

The more I think about respect, though, the more I realize that there is one more person to bring into the conversation: ourselves.

When we include self-respect as an ethical value, then we are able to meet the needs of our community while also setting standards that honor our own abilities, feelings, and humanity. Respect for others and self-respect become two sides of the same coin.

I think about my time as a volunteer manager and realize that self-respect was often the driver behind my professional growth – through small acts like requiring volunteers to attend an info session before applying to save time weeding through unqualified applicants– and through larger steps, like obtaining the CVA credential to expand my competencies.

Self-Respect as a Signal

Sometimes the first clue that self-respect plays into a decision comes when something is not right.  If you are feeling stressed or conflicted, you may want to ask if you are respecting your own needs within the situation.

Here are three simple questions to help bring some clarity.

  1. Is your inner voice telling you that something is off?

Pat’s inner voice may remind her that respect for her own actions means talking with the rude volunteer, because she does not deserve the unrelenting dread that comes with avoiding a difficult conversation.

  1. What would self-respect look like in this situation?

For Kristi, self-respect may be the recognition that her work load is unsustainable and that she needs to talk with her supervisor about what can be realistically accomplished by one person.

  1. What is the next best thing you could do to demonstrate respect for others and yourself?

In Joni’s case, she needs to assert herself and ask for time on her boss’s calendar to approve the new training schedule.

I have noticed with my clients that it’s self-respect that brings them into coaching.  These individuals recognize that they are capable of accomplishing much more for themselves and their programs if they invest in a process that supports progress and aligns with their goals. When we take our professional development seriously – from setting limits at work to building our skills, we are taking action that’s ethical – and growth-oriented.


Need some tools to demonstrate respect and advocate for your program? My Six Principles of Buy-In will help ensure that your voice gets heard. Email me for the handout and worksheet.  – Elisa