top of page

Talking Respect with Colin Beattie: Workplace Change, One Interaction at a Time

For more than two decades, Colin Beattie has dedicated himself to one-on-one leadership coaching as the CEO of The People Spot in Australia. When in-person sessions were upended by the pandemic, he took a digital cue from his business podcast, LeaderShip of Fools, and created The People Spot app, which provides concise lessons in people skills for navigating workplace challenges

Australia’s Respect at Work Act of 2022 requires employers to be proactive in eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Here, Beattie offers his views on the value of respect in workplace relationships and interactions.  

Why is respect in life and the workplace so important?

The respect and dignity we show to others throughout our lives and careers is potentially our greatest contribution. Respect for others doesn’t have to be grandiose or exaggerated; it’s the smaller human moments that matter: Do people accept your choices, even if they don’t make the same choices? Do people treat you differently when your career is stalled as they did when it is flying? Do you judge people too quickly for what is actually superficial?Maybe the greatest respect is the respect we show ourselves. Do we live out and work to our purpose? Do we say no enough? How many times do we compromise our values just to meet others’ expectations? Without respect, we unleash selfish actions. We choose to leave behind others who can’t keep up. We don’t learn from people who are different from us. We stay safe and we live a smaller life.

Why is it so hard for people to be respectful at work?

Respect requires self-respect first. It borders on impossible to show genuine respect to others when or if you find it hard to respect yourself. So many people at work experience forms of self-loathing: “I’m not good enough.” “Others know more than me.” “My opinion doesn’t matter.”In my experience as a coach and change expert, mostly it happens because people struggle with emotions at work.

One example is resistance to change. Resistance to change is both a normal and healthy part of any process. But the reality and the theory are different. Hearing resistance, a manager experiences it as criticism. The person expressing it doesn’t get heard. Emotions like anger, hurt, and resentment dominate. A small moment can spiral quickly. What was meant to be a question about the nature of the change turns into a broken relationship and a damaged career.

Respect also takes time and organizations equate time to money. There is not an obvious economic value of respect. 

Will the new Respect at Work law in Australia make a difference?

I genuinely hope so. Respect at Work originated from some toxic behaviors and incidents occurring at our highest levels of government. Its intent is to create safe and respectful workplaces across our nation. It goes beyond physical safety and emphasizes what people need to be emotionally and mentally well at work.

I think the answer will be known in three to five years when it goes beyond just an act of compliance.

The talent shortage will compel Australian organizations to see the economic impact. Many companies are at genuine risk of losing talent or not being able to meet demands in critical areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and big data. They have traditionally relied on industries that required sweat and hard labor like mining and agriculture. Yet even those industries need engineers and high-end innovation. If we continue to disrespect gender, race, neurodiversity, and even age, the labor shortage will hit the bottom line. Rightly or wrongly, economics always wins out.

DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is under fire in the U.S., but seems to be taking hold in Australia. Why the difference?

Australia is a follower of the United States. Not always a fast follower, but definitely a follower. Our population is relatively small. We are essentially a tenth of the size of the United States in population. 

I have often thought we are a lucky and welcoming country with a dark heart and secrets that we like to keep secret. Australia has a very troubled relationship with its indigenous people. Aboriginal Australians are part of the oldest known civilization on earth. Reconciliation and genuine respect are still years away. Only this week, a major effort to ensure all gender-based pay differences were transparent was published. Australia’s average gender pay gap is 21.7%. For every $1 a man makes, women earn 78 cents (the difference adds up to slightly more than $26,000 a year, according to the report).

The dichotomy is that we are an island nation built on giving people opportunities, including periods of significant migration. We like to believe we value fairness and respect. Yet, dig a little deeper and you find racism, misogyny, and outdated practices.One of The People Spot’s goals is “to shine a light on the most hidden parts of your organization, by giving everyone a torch.”

Where are you still disappointed and where is there a place for optimism in Australia?

I am disappointed that our country, with a high quality of living, abundant natural resources, and smart and dedicated people, cannot lead the way. In Australia, it’s typical to “keep your head down,” “get on with it,” and “don’t make a fuss.”  Unfortunately, this means that we don’t celebrate bold leadership and entrepreneurship. And it also means that dark secrets remain hidden.

Yet I am incredibly optimistic. Generational change is revealing people with a greater willingness to stand up for others. In my 25 years of practice, I have yet to meet a person who wanted to be disrespectful and treat others poorly. Instead, cultures and systems incentivize actions that disadvantage people. Systemic change and unbiased tools like those offered by Alphy and The People Spot are the future. It is a genuinely exciting time to be working in a place like Australia, leading and learning from the rest of the world. 

Carolyne Zinko is the editorial director and AI editor at Alphy.

Reflect AI by Alphy is an AI communication compliance solution that detects and flags language that is harmful, unlawful, and unethical in digital communication. Alphy was founded to reduce the risk of litigation from harmful and discriminatory communication while helping employees communicate more effectively.

Alphy is partnering with Symmetra Global to bring Reflect AI to companies across Australia.


bottom of page