Use Positive Management Strategies to Make Your Employees Feel Valued

Making employees feel they matter is critical to retention, engagement and good health.

Use Positive Management Strategies to Make Your Employees Feel Valued

Do your employees feel like they matter? In other words, do they feel valued by and connected to their managers and coworkers, and do they also feel like they advance the well-being of colleagues?

It’s a tough question to answer, for sure. But the odds are that many employees feel insignificant at work, which creates a variety of problems, including high turnover, burnout, isolation and disengagement, says Gordon Flett, Ph.D., a professor in the psychology department at York University in Toronto.

“Generally speaking, there’s a widespread mattering problem in the workplace,” says Flett, who has studied the issue for years and is the author of The Psychology of Mattering: Understanding the Human Need to Be Significant. “It’s an issue that has flown under the radar of industrial psychology. But it’s an important issue because studies consistently show that feelings of not mattering are predictive of a host of issues related to self-esteem and a sense of belonging.”

Organizations should be concerned about employees mattering because unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the workplace translates into employee turnover or, at the very least, so-called “quiet quitting” and diminished productivity, Flett says.

“There also are direct links to mental and physical health issues,” he adds. “So there’s a cost to an organization from a human resources perspective. We know from past research that if someone feels like they don’t matter, they’re more prone to stress, burnout and absenteeism.”

More Negative Effects

Furthermore, dissatisfied employees also are likely to express their discontent to colleagues, which creates an ever-burgeoning negative climate. Moreover, what Flett calls “anti-mattering” is a strong predictor of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

In addition, it can cause employees to disruptively act out to gain the attention they feel they don’t receive. In some cases, employees who feel like they’ve been unfairly isolated and marginalized might even engage in organizational sabotage, he says.

On the flip side, employees who feel like they do matter are better at withstanding things such as workplace stressors, loneliness and adversity. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Flett says. “Mattering is very protective when you feel it and very destructive when you don’t. A strong element of mattering is hope — a positive outlook about what employees can do and how things will turn out. Hopefulness is very critical.”

Good Managers Are Key

Managers often contribute to anti-mattering by purposely or inadvertently favoring certain employees. “Employees are acutely aware when someone dominates the attention of someone in a leadership position,” Flett says.

Furthermore, some managers mistakenly believe in motivating employees by ignoring them or being critical. “But they don’t understand how easily employees can take minor negative feedback or even neutral feedback and infer that they’re not important,” Flett says.

In fact, one study showed that it can take seven positive exchanges to make up for one negative interaction, he notes.

Given all this, is it possible that employees nowadays are just overly sensitive and need to toughen up? While Flett says he understands how some managers might feel that way, it’s generally not a constructive attitude. “Some employees are capable of handling criticism and others fold up at the first sign of trouble and withdraw into themselves,” he says. “Some need criticism and some need a pat on the back. But to me, toughening up is finding healthier ways to make people more resilient and adaptable. The key is having criticism come from someone who employees believe has their best interests at heart. If they have a good relationship with their managers and know their managers believe in them, they’ll respond better — not internalize comments and automatically feel they’re inadequate and incompetent.”

Making It Happen

So what can managers do to make sure employees feel they matter? For starters, they can use a tool called an Anti-Mattering Scale to determine just how many employees feel they’re not valued.

Developed a couple of years ago by Flett and other researchers at York University, the AMS poses five questions to determine employees’ level of anti-mattering feelings. Participants choose answers on a scale of one (not at all) to four (a lot).

Questions include, “How often have you been treated in a way that makes you feel like you are insignificant?” and “To what extent have you been made to feel like you are invisible?” Other such anti-mattering surveys also exist and can help employers determine if they’re meeting important mattering benchmarks, such as whether employees feel their work contributes to their company’s success, whether they receive public praise for their efforts, whether the quality of their work positively impacts their organization and so forth.

“They key is to make such surveys anonymous or employees might not tell the truth,” Flett says.

Ask Critical Questions

Furthermore, managers should make a point to take their direct reports aside and ask them if they feel they matter at work and why they do or don’t feel that way.

“You need to really listen so people feel they’re truly being seen and heard,” he says. “This could open up valuable conversations.”

Managers also can strive to allow employees to provide input into decisions, which enhances their feeling of mattering; find opportunities to tell employees they matter; explain the big-picture impact of their work; and allow them to mentor other employees.

“Knowing they’re influencing the next generation of workers can have an incredible impact,” Flett says.

Going even deeper, though, managers need to show personal interest in employees that transcends talking just about work-related issues.

“It’s not always easy and it takes time,” he says. “And the interest has to be genuine and authentic. But whatever resources you commit will pay off in terms of better engagement and productivity, as well as limiting the related costs of mental and physical health issues. The bottom line is people will feel better about themselves and subsequently will make a difference in the lives of other people. Everyone wants to know they’re making a positive difference.”


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