5 Ways to Help Your Employees Feel Valued at Work
Feeling valued and appreciated at work is something we all need in order to do our best, whether we admit it or not. As Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, put it in a Harvard Business Review article, “The struggle to feel valued is one of the most insidious and least acknowledged issues in organizations. Most employees are expected to check their feelings at the door when they get to work. But try as we might, we can’t.”
In one study published by Harvard Medical School, helping employees feel valued was shown to have a dramatic impact on their performance. Researchers randomly divided people into two fundraising groups who were both tasked with making phone calls to seek donations. The first group made these calls each day as normal; the second group got a pep talk from an executive to let them know how grateful she was for their hard work.
Any guesses on which group completed more calls?
The group of fundraisers who listened to the pep talk completed 50 percent more phone calls than the group who carried out their work normally. The only difference was a little show of appreciation.
What It Means to Feel Valued
As humans, it’s our nature to want to feel loved, cared about, accepted, supported, and included. We seek this sense of value constantly, including during office hours. Schwartz continues in his article, “To feel valued (and valuable) is almost as compelling a need as food. The more our value feels at risk, the more preoccupied we become with defending and restoring it, and the less value we’re capable of creating in the world.” He then describes one CEO who would spend hours every week writing thank-you notes to his employees because he recognized the value of helping people feel valued.
While this habit is certainly admirable, valuing employees in the workplace isn’t just about kind words or thank-you cards (verbal communication). Employers must demonstrate employees’ value with other, less tangible things such as:
- Fair base pay
- Performance pay
- Paid time off
- Work/life balance
- Meaningful work
- Job security
- Career advancement opportunities
If these foundational elements are missing, then face-to-face gratitude or handwritten notes won’t make up the difference. By focusing on the things that employees truly value, your organization sends the clear message that it cares about its people. And that message is at the heart of making employees feel appreciated.
What Happens When Employees Don’t Feel Valued?
When employees don’t feel valued at work, it can create a dangerous cycle where little to no recognition leads to tension in the workplace and disengagement. Studies show that disengagement leads to:
- 37 percent higher absenteeism
- 49 percent more workplace accidents
- 60 percent more errors and defects
Not to mention unhappiness and disengagement can bring health consequences as well, such as stress and anxiety. Research shows that workplace stress can lead to an increase of almost 50 percent in voluntary turnover. And replacing one employee can cost approximately 33 percent of their salary. Making employees feel valued plays a huge role in the health and outlook of your people and business, so it’s imperative to start making the right changes today.
Are Valued Employees More Productive?
Encouragement and recognition go a long way. According to an analysis done by Gallup, workplace recognition makes employees feel valued and motivated. This ultimately boosts individual engagement, loyalty, and productivity. When we feel supported and cared about, we feel more empowered to put our best foot forward. The workplace is a two-way street—when one side gives, the other side gives back.
How to Make Employees Feel Valued at Work
Starting with these five strategies will ensure you build a solid foundation for your organization’s employee experience, so employees will know that they really are valued (and it’s not just lip service).
#1 Develop a Compensation Strategy
The most obvious indicator of how much an organization values an employee is how much that employee is compensated. Of course, value extends beyond dollar signs alone; however, if your compensation is lagging behind the rest of the market, then your employees will feel undervalued and dissatisfied.
Your organization should do the work to understand where you fit within the job market and where employees land on the compensation scale for their positions. The best compensation plans should answer these questions:
- What talent markets do you intend to use for comparison to your organization?
- What are your organization’s competitive limits?
- Which behaviors do you want to reward with your compensation dollars?
The first question helps you set your compensation range according to the rest of your talent market. You should decide if your organization wants to lag behind the market, match the market, or lead the market when it comes to compensation—each approach carries its own pros and cons.
The second question addresses your organization’s limits in practical terms. As nice as it would be to pay that top candidate exactly what they’re asking for, you need to make sure your company can truly afford it—and not just financially. What could the impact be when Suzanne, a veteran employee, finds out that Raquel, the new hire, is making more than she is?
Finally, the third question helps you hone your compensation management strategy so you know exactly what behaviors you’re rewarding (and thus encouraging people to emulate). For example, if you raise pay based on tenure, then employees will be more motivated to stay longer.
#2 Communicate Compensation and Benefits
The benefits of a compensation management strategy only go as far as your communication skills. That is, if your employees don’t know they’re paid fairly, they usually won’t make that assumption themselves.
A few years ago, PayScale found that most people don’t actually know if they’re paid fairly or not. The report showed that 64 percent of people who were paid at market rate and 35 percent of people who were paid above market rate believed that they were underpaid. Of those employees who were paid below market rate, 82 percent still felt satisfied with their job if their employer communicated effectively about the reasons for lower compensation.
This means your plan for communicating your compensation strategy is just as important as the strategy itself. Perception plays a huge part in employee satisfaction; if your people understand why they’re paid the way they’re paid, that alleviates the stress of guessing, wondering, and assuming the worst.
#3 Provide Growth and Learning Opportunities
Another way to help employees feel valued at work is to invest in their development. This investment doesn’t have to be expensive; in fact, some of the best employee development initiatives don’t cost a dime. Here are a few ideas for helping employees learn and grow that you can get started with now:
- Peer learning groups
- Manager one-on-ones
- Stretch projects
- Dedicated learning time
- Career planning
- Internal hiring
Encourage managers to step into a coaching role for their employees by setting up regular one-on-one meetings and identifying each employee’s goals. This knowledge will help you tailor learning and development opportunities for each person. For example, you can assign Mei to lead a project if you know she wants to move into a management position eventually, or you can help Jamal set aside time to learn more about payroll if he wants to add that skill to his tool belt.
#4 Align Employee Performance and Compensation
As employees grow and develop, they will become more efficient, more skilled, more knowledgeable, and better at their job. They won’t be the same people your organization first hired, and the compensation your organization offers them should reflect that growth.
That’s why it’s important for your compensation strategy to include a plan for re-evaluating compensation and aligning it with employee performance.
Rather than basing raises on who can negotiate most effectively or who has been around the longest, you should tie compensation to performance. This will help employees understand that their future at your organization is linked to their growth and high performance as individuals.
But you shouldn’t wait for a rockstar employee to come asking for a raise before you consider the idea. Make sure your organization is proactive in rewarding top talent so they stay engaged all year long—not just when it comes time for the annual compensation conversation.
#5 Provide Meaningful Work
This last strategy for how to make employees feel valued is the least tangible, as it concerns employees’ emotional need for meaningful work. Gallup identified this as a key element of engagement; however, their research showed that only 44 percent of US employees strongly agree they can see the connection between their role and the organization’s big picture. When managers help employees understand how their work contributes to organizational goals, employees are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.
Like the fundraisers from the study at the beginning of this article, employees perform better when they see that what they’re doing day in and day out matters. And even more, that it’s appreciated.
Managers and executives can help employees make this connection by recognizing great work at every level, especially those positions that are less visible. For example, each month the BambooHR executive team hosts a company-wide meeting and invites various teams to present their wins and goals. Not only does this give greater visibility into each department, but it also sends the message that each team is a key piece of the BambooHR puzzle, from Customer Experience to IT and everything in between.
Mistakes to Avoid
As vital as it is to understand what strategies to incorporate into the workplace, it’s also important to know what to look out for as you create a culture of value and engagement. There are two things you should avoid:
1. Incentives and Rewards That Don’t Matter
Free lunches and gift cards are great and can make employees feel happy, but they won’t bring long-term benefits if these gifts don’t mean very much to them. Incentives and rewards should provide real value to the employees’ personal and professional lives. So get their feedback on activities or items could provide that kind of value. Maybe it’s an onsite gym or extra time off for community service. Use perks that matter to them.
2. Unhealthy Competition
Some employers think that fueling a competitive culture boosts engagement and recognition. What they fail to realize is this can create an environment driven by self-interest; it hinders collaboration, communication, and morale. Soon enough, this leaves employees feeling dissatisfied and undervalued. Instead, craft a culture based on teamwork and encouragement. When people help each other out, they’ll recognize the value they bring towards one another and rise up together.
Focus on healthier, more relevant ways that increase employee value without demonizing coworkers or undermining their efforts.
Valuing Employees in the Workplace
Making employees feel appreciated and valued at work can’t be a one-and-done effort. Rather, it should be an ongoing attitude and approach to how your organization operates. Both formal initiatives (like providing development opportunities) and informal initiatives (like outlining meaningful work) can help employees feel like an important part of your organization. And when people feel valued, they create value.