Development and Validation of a Respectful Workplace Climate Scale

People working on construction site

A partnership between Dr. Huang’s Safety Climate Lab and state agencies supports the development of a new tool to measure respectful climates in construction workplaces.

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature directed the State’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to develop plans to increase workforce diversity on state-funded public works projects. Shortly thereafter, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) received a similar mandate requiring the agency to diversify the workforce on highway construction projects. In the intervening years, both agencies have made considerable efforts to diversify Oregon’s historically white and male construction labor force.

While those efforts have yielded some good results, bullying and harassment are still prevalent on construction job sites. As a result, attrition levels among women and minority employees in construction remain high. Nevertheless, the State’s goal of diversifying the workforce on public projects continues to be aspirational.

Emily (Yueng-hsiang) Huang
Professor Emily (Yueng-hsiang) Huang

Data shows that workplaces that adopt respectful workplace practices are more likely to retain women and members of the BIPOC community. However, one challenge identified by BOLI is the lack of a tool to evaluate construction companies’ progress in creating respectful workplace cultures. To develop such a tool, BOLI and ODOT have partnered with the OHSU Safety Climate Lab at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences. Professor Emily (Yueng-hsiang) Huang, an organizational psychologist with nearly 20 years of experience studying and developing surveys to measure workplace safety climates, leads the Safety Climate Lab.

According to Dr. Huang, an organization’s behavioral norms and core values are subjective and difficult to measure. Luckily, employees form perceptions about their work environments created by these norms and values. These perceptions can be easily measured with specialized tools and are the basis for different workplace climates.

With support from ODOT and BOLI, the Safety Climate Lab is working to develop a new organizational survey that measures respectful workplace climates. The survey will determine employees’ shared perceptions of their organization’s policies, procedures, and practices related to the value the organization places on building a respectful workplace. According to Dr. Huang, this includes a workplace environment that focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion, addresses harassment and discrimination, and emphasizes fairness, interpersonal civility, and respectful treatment.

Cassandra Chelvin, MS, Research Associate
Cassandra Chelvin, MS, Research Associate

When deployed, the Respectful Workplace Climate Scale will help state agencies and construction companies evaluate an organization’s current respectful workplace status, identify areas needing improvement, and validate the effects of interventions designed to build respectful workplaces. The tool utilizes a three-level model to investigate employees’ perceptions of top management, direct supervisors, and coworkers, accompanied by additional questions regarding employees’ personal workplace experiences.

“It’s critical to see through the employees’ eyes whether the companies they work for have respectful workplace cultures and climates,” Dr. Huang said.

Since 2007, efforts to improve workplace diversity in public projects have spread from the State to the regional level, with county and municipal agencies, privately-owned general contractors, and labor organizations taking action. In the Metro region, the Regional Workforce Equity Agreement is a coordinated effort to diversify the construction workforce. Using tools like the Respectful Workplace Climate Scale developed by Dr. Huang and the research team in the Safety Climate Lab, public, private, and labor organizations will have the resources needed to assess respectful workplace climates and move forward on actions to increase workforce diversity with invaluable data guiding the way.

Learn more about Dr. Huang’s work: