There’s a quote by Theadore Roosevelt that’s worth reading often. He said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” When you think about the employees in your organization, consider that each of them is seeking this “best prize” of life. All of us want to work hard at work worth doing, and beyond that, we want to feel recognized, valued, and appreciated for that work.
The way your company values employees is critical to their long term success. Creating an environment where employees are valued, appreciated, and celebrated will increase productivity, reduce turnover, and create a culture where people feel like they’re winning the best prize life has to offer.
So what are you doing to help employees feel valued at work? Start with these suggestions.
How to Help Employees Feel Valued At Work
Deliver Feedback Regularly
In a Harvard Business Review study, 72% of employees responded to a survey stating that they thought their performance would improve if “their managers would provide corrective feedback.” In a study conducted by employee engagement firm Office Vibe, 65% of employees responded that they absolutely wanted more feedback. In a survey conducted by Joblist, they also found that employees, especially millennial employees, did not think annual reviews were enough. They wanted more feedback, and they wanted it more often.
So, all this data suggests that employees want more feedback, but let’s stop and think about why they might be? For many employees, they simply want to know if they’re doing a good job. Without feedback, they have no idea if they’re consistently doing something right or wrong. They have no idea if their manager is thinking about firing them, or promoting them. They have no idea if their work is helping or harming the company. This adds significant stress, worry, and unnecessary anxiety to the pressure they already feel to perform their work. Rather than keep them in the dark, we find it best to be open and honest when it comes to both positive and negative feedback.
The way you deliver this feedback is also important. Public praise can be a great way to boost the morale of an employee, but public criticism can be psychologically punishing. We find the ideal way to provide feedback is behind closed doors, in a 1-on-1 type setting, where both positive and negative feedback can be shared without public consequence or pressure.
Negative feedback can be hard to hear, even if it’s warranted and welcomed by the employee. However, this cannot be used as an excuse to side-step the feedback or deliver it in a sugar-coated way. We recommend being honest and direct, but framing the feedback as development. For example, if an employee completed an assignment that is not up-to-par, rather than belittle or berate them for unacceptable work, frame the situation as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Point out the weak points of the assignment and carefully explain why their work did not meet expectations. Be detailed so they know where they can improve for the future. Giving vague criticism so that an employee feels like they need to read your mind is unhelpful. Give the employee opportunities to ask questions or explain their thinking. By talking it through, it should be clear where your expectations and the employees expectations were misaligned. Taking the time to align these expectations will not only improve the employee’s future work, but will help them feel valued at work.
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Create Opportunities for Career Growth
Part of feeling valued at work is understanding the growth opportunities for your career. This is something we all crave. No one likes to feel idle, stalled, or constrained by their position in the company. Even if they never reach it, most human beings love to at least be shown a realistic path for growth and development. So what is your company doing to create these opportunities?
The first step, if you haven’t already done this, is create growth plans for every role in your organization. For a salesperson, they might start out as an SDR, but they should know what it takes to become a Junior Account Executive, a Senior Account Executive, and ultimately a Sales Manager. These career paths should not be a mystery. They should be established and documented so that employees have clear expectations for growth.
Some companies mistakenly keep these things a secret, or promote based on likeability or manager bias rather than on performance. Ridding your company of these biases and setting clear guidelines and expectations for promotions and career growth is one of the fastest ways you can engage employees and help them feel valued.
Another step you may take is to have managers address growth potential with their direct reports often (at least once a month). When employees see their manager take the time to have these conversations, it not only signifies to the employee that real opportunities for growth exist, but it also serves as an indicator that their manager legitimately cares about them as a person. Employees will interpret these conversations to mean that they are valued and that the company cares about what they do.
A final step you may consider is extending “stretch” assignments to employees who show particular promise. This gives high performing employees opportunities to do work beyond their normal assignments, and will give you as an employer the chance to see how they might perform if given a promotion. High performing employees are excited by new challenges. They feel trusted and valued when given important tasks. They’ll see these opportunities as evidence that their employer believes in them.
Show Gratitude and Reward Achievement
I’m sure you, and many of your employees have had an experience similar to the following:
You were assigned a difficult, challenging task that would take days or even weeks to accomplish. You didn’t have all the resources you needed, and you weren’t sure how you were going to succeed, but the project excited you, and you accepted the challenge. You dove into the work head first, and spent hours problem solving, configuring, creating, and iterating on your creation until it was perfect. As you wrapped up the assignment and submitted it to your boss, you couldn’t be more proud and you were secretly a little excited about how it’d be received by some of the higher-ups in the company. But then, a couple days go by, and no one has even said a word to you, and it doesn’t seem like anyone has noticed your work. After a week, you decide to casually ask your boss what she thought of your project, and all she says is, “it looks good” before asking you a question about a different assignment.
If you’ve ever experienced anything like the scenario above, you know what it feels like to be underappreciated. You know that sting that comes from a lack of gratitude, or even a lack of acknowledgment for the work you accomplished. This hurts. It bruises our ego. It makes us not want to work so hard in the future.
Knowing this, we should all take the pledge right now to never let our employees feel this way!
Showing gratitude and rewarding great work is an absolutely vital part of helping your employees feel valued at work. And no, we’re not asking that you gush over all the little tasks and assignments your employees complete on a daily basis.
We’re not asking you to make a big deal of every sale your Account Executive makes, or every design submitted by your Graphic Designer. We understand that every employee has a job to do, and they’re paid to do that job. But we can also be aware of situations when an employee goes above and beyond the call of duty to deliver something truly excellent. We have a responsibility to recognize the effort that goes into great work, and we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate it.
So how can you do this at your company? Here are a few thoughts:
- During weekly one-on-one meetings, specifically call out something an employee did that made a positive contribution to the business and thank them for it.
- Recognize specific employees and achievements during company-wide meetings or on company-wide Slack channels
- Talk specifically to an employee about why they were impressed with their recent work. Share details to let them know you actually care.
- Send an occasional “email of appreciation” where you tell an employee why you’re grateful to have them on your team or as part of the company.
- Reward overachievers with cash bonuses, PTO, prizes, or gift cards. Nothing says thank you like a gift!
However you decide to say thank you or reward your employees, be sure it’s done from a point of authenticity and genuine gratitude. Let them feel you care. When you do, you’ll motivate them to continue to produce great work.
Treat Them Like People
Why is it so easy to forget that our employees are just like us? You know, human beings who have lives and responsibilities away from the office. Our employees have families to care for, health issues to cope with, car problems to fix, dentist appointments to attend, and sometimes they’re just having a bad day. Yet for some reason, because they carry the label of “employee”, we might fall into the trap of thinking that from 9am-5pm, they are absolutely obligated to give us 100% of their best selves with no distractions, and no exceptions.
The reality is, we are all much happier at work when we know we’ll be treated like a person first, and an employee second. What does this mean in practice? It means that when an employee needs to leave 30 minutes early so they can make it on time to their child’s piano recital, we let them go. It means that when an employee has car trouble in the morning, and doesn’t make it to the office until 10:30am, we don’t berate them for being late. It means not forcing a sick employee to come into the office, and not preventing someone from tending to a personal emergency in the middle of the day.
Life happens to all of us. Most of our employees try their very best to plan their life around work. Every now and again, life will throw something at them that they did not anticipate. It happens to you as well. Be understanding in these situations. Put yourself in their shoes. Treat them as people first, and employees second. They will feel this. They will feel valued. They will be grateful. And they’ll become loyal employees who work hard and contribute for years to come.
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At the end of every day, your employees will go home and they might ask themselves the following question: “I only have one shot at life. Should I spend it working at [your company’s name]?” Every single one of us is seeking the “best prize that life has to offer” in the form of fulfilling work. We find it when we feel valued and appreciated.
Helping employees feel valued at work doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it really just comes down to consistently doing the four things mentioned here:
- Delivering regular feedback.
- Creating opportunities for career development and growth.
- Showing gratitude and rewarding good work.
- Treating them like people, not just employees.
As we adopt these principles and put them into practice, we’ll see an increase in productivity, a renewed sense of loyalty, and lasting improvement to company culture that will permeate every aspect of the business.
Great companies are built on the foundation of great people. Great people give companies their best when they’re valued and appreciated. Start a positive cycle today that will begin paying dividends immediately.