Psychology and research tell us that employees need a caring environment to function at their best. There are specific actions that business managers and leaders can take to help their employees feel like they matter to their organization.
- Be real and genuine about caring for the people around you. Mean it.
- Be interested in your workers, and ask them about their experience.
“How are you?” “How was your day?” “What was that (job, meeting) like?”
- Encourage employees to grow and learn. Provide support.
“You can take on that new role.” “Can I help you find resources for that job?”
- Avoid creating feelings of rejection, especially by being angry, personally critical, or threatening.
You don’t say: “You messed up that job.” “You are a problem for us.”
- Make it clear what is expected of your employees.
“Let’s discuss the outcomes needed for this job.” “Let’s go over your performance so we are clear what is expected.”
- Provide praise for good work. Informal, personal praise is essential; you can’t rely on formal programs of recognition.
“That was great.” “Thanks for your effort on that project.”
- Let them know they are valuable to the mission of the company.
“You made a real contribution on that contract.”
There are many ways to help your employees feel like they matter. Keep it simple and be creative. What matters is that you try.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
A 2010 Conference Board poll of 5000 households found that “only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987,” a long term downward trend that “could spell trouble for the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity.”
It’s fundamental: people are the key to a business’s success. You simply can’t have a successful business when employees feel dissatisfied, unappreciated, and unmotivated.
If you take a look at the Gallop research done for First Break All the Rules (1999) you see some interesting data. They developed 12 specific questions for employees and rated their companies on four business outcomes: productivity, profitability, retention, or customer satisfaction. They found that of all the questions they asked–when answered in the affirmative—correlated with companies that performed highly in at least one of those four outcomes. Those questions were:
1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the missions/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
9. Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?
You can see that at least six of the questions are directly linked to managers making their employees feel valued, cared about, or paid attention to in the work environment. This data speaks for itself. Making employees feel cared for is not just a nice thing to do; it is an essential ingredient in a successful company.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Our brains are wired for survival, so physical safety and emotional security are paramount. When employees feel threatened, they start making decisions to ensure their own job security rather than focus on the best interests of the company. They start acting defensively, blaming others, and being exceptionally careful. They are not creative or team-oriented.
The absence of very clear signs of acceptance can create anxiety. No matter how secure a person seems to be, some part of them is keeping an eye out for warnings that they are in danger of being rejected. So, if people don’t feel cared for, or valued, or important by the organization, then they are less likely to feel safe and secure and to perform well.
These are hard-wired reactions. And this is why, from my point of view, it’s just plain common sense that leaders make intentional efforts to manage some of these basic emotional responses. Making people feel valued reduces stress, allows people to engage in the work at hand, and helps them commit to the mission of the organization.
W. Edwards Deming said that it is critical to ‘drive out fear.’ Fear stirs up instinctive worries, leaving workers insecure and unable to function at their best. The most effective way we know to drive out fear is to make people feel cared for. When there aren’t concerted efforts to have the staff feel valued, fear can easily creep in. Workers need specific people, like their manager or supervisor, to show caring for them at work.
When people feel cared for they have the best shot at thinking clearly. Companies benefit. Employees can then take those kinds of creative and intellectual leaps that can make a company dramatically more successful. In an accepting culture, people take risks because they feel they won’t be rejected if they fail. Banishing fear is a prerequisite for innovation. What it takes is managers and supervisors taking the trouble to show that they care.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Great managers and leaders understand that the brain works from the bottom up, and, consequently that people operate based on instinct and emotion, as well as rational thought. The only sensible leadership strategy is to accept how people actually are and design systems that support them and maximize their healthy production. So what do people actually need?
Acceptance, coupled with nurturance, allows people to feel emotionally safe and secure in the work environment. People have a dreadful fear of rejection and abandonment. It is simply instinctively wired into people that they are only okay when they are accepted and need not fear rejection. In the workplace this is only partly about the money; it is more about their personal feelings related to the organization as translated through their manager.
When there is safety and security, people have a chance to function at their best. Without it they are anxious, distracted, and not positively attached to the mission of the organization. Providing a nurturing environment is the second key tool for the people side of business.
More about the how and why later.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
For over 20 years my clinical practice has provided Employee Assistance (E.A.P.) Programs to a number of Fortune 500 companies in the central Shenandoah Region Valley of Virginia. Many of these programs began in the early eighties and were forward looking attempts by management to address the cumulative impact of stress on their employees. They offered free counseling sessions to the employee or family member, with no questions asked about the source of stress at home or work. At the end of the intervention, employees were expected to return to work and be fully productive. If they needed more help, then they could use their health insurance and pay for treatment.
While these efforts were well intentioned and the companies were to “be commended,” the design of these programs was fundamentally flawed. The employees who benefitted most were individuals whose lives were well balanced, with limited stress and good support at work and at home. When faced with an acute stress or threat to their security, a few supportive problem-solving sessions could be very useful in returning them to their normal balanced selves.
For the majority of employees, chronic workplace stress, insecurity, lack of managerial support, or lack of work safety made them vulnerable to workplace induced problems. Lacking a basic understanding of human needs, these EAP programs were not designed effectively, despite the good intentions. Understanding how humans are designed and operate is essential for creating excellence in leadership and management. If these companies invested as much in building a human friendly work environment, they could have benefited their workers even more than the EAP programs.
Lee Hersch, PhD