Why should employees feel valued at work

In this week’s “Insights from Leaders”, Norma mentioned that employees want to feel valued. Feeling valued by others is an intrinsic human desire, it is our emotional response to being praised or recognized for some ability or quality that we think is important. That last statement is an important distinction to me. I don’t feel valued if the ability or skill that is being recognized, is one that I consider trivial in the situation for e.g. if I’m recognized for my note taking in meetings, a task that is neither here nor there for me, but failed to be recognized for ensuring a seamless handover to a colleague before I go on vacation- a task which, from my perspective, required a whole lot more effort and was of more value to the organisation- I will not feel valued, in fact I may even feel condescension or insincerity instead.

Showing value is by nature communicative and according to Marian White from Lancaster University, it is “embedded in the day to day work of leadership”, meaning that it happens in our routine interactions and activities. So what are valuing behaviours? Here is what Marian found from her research.

  • Being accessible to staff, spending time with them, recognizing them as more than just resources
  • Providing constructive criticism especially to those seeking to progress and develop.
  • Singling out individual achievements and behaviours in a group setting rather than simply recognizing the group as one entity
  • Holding people accountable. She found that praise for good work was devalued (and the person as well) when poor performance was unaddressed.
  • Being provided with developmental opportunities. This says that the person has the capacity to improve.
  • Recognizing the difficulties associated with the job or their commitment in dealing with the difficulties regardless of the outcome.

Marian White further explained that the absence of recognition was more strongly felt than its presence. Similarly, failure to consult with employees was also seen as undervaluing them. This was felt in two ways, failure to value their professional experience and failure to value them as people.

One of the important points that came from her research was that valuing behaviours work hand in hand with the environment of the organisation for e.g. employees in an organisation characterized by lots of monitoring may interpret a  leader’s presence in the work space as checking up on them as opposed to spending time with them. However, seeing them during lunch times in the company’s cafeteria may not have that impact. 

Why does this even matter? It matters because, valuing employees does not simply have a feel good effect. A 2003 study conducted on behalf the Institute for Employment Studies, found that feeling valued was strongly linked to engagement. Similar to the research completed by Marian White, they found that feeling valued had several components:

  • Involvement in decision making
  • The extent to which employees feel able to voice their ideas and, managers listen to these views and value employee’s contributions
  • The opportunities employees have to develop their jobs
  • The extent to which the organisation is concerned for employees health and well being

In fact the researchers developed a model of engagement that flowed out of employees feeling valued and involved. The model is below.

Similarly in 2012, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that half of all employees who do not feel valued at work intend to look for a new job in the next year. Employees who feel valued were more likely to report better physical and mental health and had higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and motivation as compared to those who did not feel valued. They found that that factors linked to feeling undervalued at work included:

  • Few opportunities for involvement in decision making
  • Less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement
  • Fewer opportunities to use flexible work arrangements
  • Inadequate monetary compensation and non- monetary rewards

All of this to say, take some time to consider if your behaviour as a leader results in your employees feeling valued. Go a step further and objectively find out if it is, either from feedback or from conducting research among your team. Once you know your impact, you can take the steps to improve or maintain what you are currently doing.