How to Thrive and Gain Respect in Your First Job

Respect in the Workplace
Earning respect in the workplace is a give-and-take process. Ask good questions, look for good times to speak up, be patient, listen and learn.

Many UConn seniors and new graduates are focused on landing that first full-time job. And once the job starts, there are many new and exciting experiences. Colleagues want you to feel welcome, and take the time to show you how things get done.

Before long, though, the honeymoon period ends and a new challenge sets in. You don’t just want your colleagues to welcome you – you want them to respect the value that you can add in the workplace. UConn helped you learn the skills you need to do your job, but it is only after graduation that you realize you have to showcase your abilities too. How do you do that?

Earning respect is a give-and-take process. You have to give respect to others if you want them to respect you – and then you have to recognize when good opportunities arise to showcase your unique abilities and perspective.

Here are four ways to make sure you are involved in both ends of the bargain:

  1. Ask good questions. Nobody has all the answers. Do you respect people who pretend they do? Know-it-all posturing usually comes across as immature, arrogant, or both. As a new employee, you probably won’t fall into this trap because you won’t feel like you have all the answers. Even so, you can earn respect by asking good questions long before you feel ready to provide answers. Recognize the opportunity to ask, “What if we did it this way?” and see where things go. A more experienced colleague might come up with an answer – and you’ll get credit for starting the conversation.
  2. Look for good times to speak up. Early in your career, it is hard to know whether you have a good idea or not. Maybe your fresh perspective yields an insight that others have missed. On the other hand, maybe your idea has been tried before and rejected because it does not work. It takes a while to know the difference, but you’ll never earn respect if you never offer new ideas. Rather than trying to analyze the value of your own idea, size up the situation instead. Work group sessions or private meetings with your supervisor are usually good times to try out new ideas – people will appreciate any good insights you have, and if you propose something they consider naive, they can take the time to explain why. Conversely, a formal meeting with a client or the CEO is usually a bad time to share an idea that you have not previously vetted with more seasoned colleagues.
  3. Be patient. High school and college might have seemed like forever, but they were only four years each – with new classes to take every semester like clockwork. Careers last 40 years or more, and jobs rarely come with a promotion every year. Work feedback may become so sparse that you miss getting all the grades you hated as a student. Your first job might not turn out to be as perfect as it seemed during the interviews. Keep building the basic skills that you want to use throughout your career, and eventually the opportunity to use them will come along. Unless you are a professional athlete, you will have plenty of time to keep accomplishing your career objectives after you turn 30. Just as work-life balance is important, so is achieving a balanced perspective between the present and the future.
  4. Listen and learn. You may hear people make sweeping generalizations about “Millennials.” People forget that the general aspirations of young professionals are remarkably similar over the years, and consistently misunderstood by those who have graduated into later stages of life. Recall that Generation X colleagues were described as “slackers” when they entered the workforce and Baby Boomers were called “hippies.” Let your actions speak louder than words. It does not have to be your obligation to vocally defend your generation – which only reinforces the false premise that Millennials are different – and instead you can listen and learn which preconceptions you need to prove wrong to show that you fit in.

All of these paths involve give-and-take. It feels risky to ask a question, speak up in a meeting, wait for a promotion, or let unfair comments go unchallenged. Nevertheless, the potential rewards are greater. By taking some of these perceived risks, you also create your own opportunities to earn respect in the workplace over time.


David Souder

David Souder
Associate Professor of Management
David Souder is an associate professor of management at the University of Connecticut School of Business and the academic director of the Executive MBA program. He researches long-term investments, organization design, and sustainability. Before becoming a professor, David worked as a radio announcer, strategy consultant, and financial officer for a non-profit start-up. He still plays and coaches basketball when time permits. View posts.