The Law of Reciprocity

Third in a series on the culture of engagement.

A work environment where people feel respected and valued regardless of who they are, where they come from, their role or their viewpoints is important to create an engaged workplace culture. I equate this for its simplicity and directness to The Golden Rule. Some have expressed the idea as a Christian religious value that has no place in a public university. However, every major world religion has a version of the Golden Rule, and it is ubiquitous in positive cultures, ensuring all associated with any enterprise have equal opportunities. However, as each expresses their ideas and beliefs, they should demonstrate public virtue in recognizing the values and beliefs of others.

William Arruda, writing for Forbes, says creating respect and belonging in any work culture involves a multifaceted approach that includes leadership commitment, policy development, training, open communication and ongoing evaluation. The initiative must start from the top. Leaders should demonstrate, through their actions and words, that respect and treating all with civility are core values of the organization. The development and communication of clear policies that outline what is expected regarding respectful behavior are important but are not a substitute for virtuous interaction between people.

Virtue can be clearly defined, but discussing virtue in contemporary society is difficult, according to Catholic Women in Business. Even using the concept of virtuous behavior and treatment will cause consternation. People will ask,” Whose virtue, under what circumstances, enforced how…?” Here is a start. One individual or group should not demean or debase another individual or group to further any agenda in any workplace public or private. A positive view of workplace virtue should foster a discrimination-free work environment that rejects harassment of any type and provides equal opportunities for anyone.

Promoting open communication and encouraging an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns has value, according to a study by Axios HQ. Fostering a working environment that recognizes accomplishment and achievement, rather than group membership, provides the chance for anyone to be successful by criteria that are responsive to all. This includes a comprehensive effort when hiring to consider people from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to further the organizational mission, goals and objectives. A work environment accommodating different needs and styles is an important and logical extension of the Golden Rule or the Law of Reciprocity.

Holding self and other individuals accountable when they do not meet the standards of respect and civility is important and should be integrated into performance reviews and recognition programs.

Regularly seeking feedback from all on the civility of the workplace and being open to making improvements in response to the expressed needs is a form of accountability in an organization. This should naturally lead to involvement in the decision-making processes, ensure a variety of perspectives are considered and valued and foster shared governance in University environments. The concept of shared governance is important in universities and valued in other settings of diverse enterprises. For example, David Rosowsky, writing in Forbes, says, “Shared governance is a cornerstone of American higher education. In fact, faculty shared governance has been called the second longest standing system of institutional shared governance in the world, second only to the Church.” And it’s not just the church and the university. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing published an analysis of shared governance to increase the quality of patient care, telegraphing the same logic in churches and universities. Toyota uses a set of principles called The Toyota Way that starts with the simple concept of “Respect for People.” It is not a stretch to call the Toyota Way the Golden Rule on wheels.

Engagement and involvement in the extended community that the enterprise serves encourages and supports respectful, virtuous, work cultures. Such action helps to reinforce human commitments both internally and externally.

At West Texas A&M University, we believe in integrating strategies of any version of a law of reciprocity that values treating people with dignity and civility toward a more respectful and powerful work culture. Such a culture benefits not only our faculty, students, staff and the constituents we serve but also improves overall performance and reputation.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

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