Are You Giving Employees What They Truly Hunger For?

At a recent event on how non-profits can use social media, self-professed Twitter junkie Jessica Esch, from United Way of Greater Portland, shared her social media secret sauce for successfully engaging followers.

One of her secret sauce ingredients stood out for me because it’s a phrase, and a practice —  love and try to do — yet we never see talked about in the corporate world. This is a shame because this practice is not only a great way to engage people in the social media world, it is also a game-changing offline strategy for engaging employees.

One simple best practice

This practice can be summed up with Jessica’s admonition: 

Let people know you see them.

She talked about how she doesn’t just “talk at” others through Twitter, but actively comments about other’s tweets and acknowledges the cool things they say and do.

Rather than always being on “broadcast mode,” she spends a lot of time on “receive” mode, noticing and acknowledging what’s important to others, noticing and acknowledging the good things that they say and do. She talked about how doing that builds goodwill and creates relationships that leap from online to offline.

Give the gift of seeing

Letting others know you see them is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

Think for a moment of your own experiences of being seen. Maybe it’s in your personal life.

Maybe you have a friend or partner who truly “gets” you.” They see who you are; they understand you in all your quirky, multi-faceted uniqueness. They don’t seem perpetually perplexed by what you say. You don’t have to continually explain yourself.

They show through their comments — and casual asides — that they understand your preferences and perspectives. It’s clear that they listen and understand. Because it is clear they listen and understand, it is clear that they care. If you are lucky enough to have one or more friends like this, you know what an incredible gift “being seen” is.

Maybe you have had the gift of being seen in the workplace. Maybe you have had a colleague, a boss, or a mentor who truly knows you and clearly appreciates who you are, both as a person and as a team member.

“I appreciate” and “I care”

They see your strengths and talents. They recognize and appreciate the value you bring and the significance of your contribution.

They also see you as an individual who has a life. They show they care about you as a person and as an individual by showing a sincere interest in your life outside of work.

Maybe you are lucky enough to work in an organization that makes it a practice of seeing employees, both formally and informally. Maybe managers and leaders at all levels make it a regular practice to give simple, informal “drive by recognition.” These are quick, subtle comments made without fanfare, that let employees know “I notice,” “I appreciate,” and “I care.”

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These are simple non-time consuming comments like: “Hey Jane — loved the way you explained the technical parts of our project in the meeting. You made what is pretty complicated come out very easy to understand. Thanks and way to go!

Feeling invisible — and acting invisible

In The Soul’s Code, Jungian scholar James Hillman writes, “To be is first of all to be visible.” He then goes on to write about what a gift it is to be seen, to have who you are as an individual acknowledged and understood.

When we don’t feel seen, we feel invisible. We don’t feel like who we are and what we do matters. Far too many employees don’t feel seen and don’t feel like they matter. Because of that, far too many employees stop trying to matter. They just go through the motions.

When employees do feel like they are seen and feel like they matter, they ACT like they matter. They show initiatives; they come up with breakthrough ideas; they strive to make a difference.

Seeing this is action

Years ago, Gordon Bethune took Continental Airlines from a demoralized company with the worst turnaround time in the industry, to the best turnaround time in three months. Many of the ideas that made contributed to the remarkable turnaround came from employees on the front lines.

Front line employees offered their suggestions because Gordon Bethune bothered to ask them. He showed through his words and actions that he took their ideas seriously.

Said Bethune: “These people needed to learn they could make a difference before we could expect them to want to.” By asking for their ideas and implementing them, he communicated “I recognize how much intelligence and knowledge you have; I see how much you have to contribute. I respect what you have to offer.”

Putting this into action

  1. Share this article with your management team and use it to facilitate a discussion group. Have participants share Managerial Moments of Truth they’ve experienced in their careers where they felt “seen, cared about, and appreciated” by their manager, and the difference it made.
  2. Ask them to look for opportunities to show that they “see, care about, and appreciate” their team members.
  3. Compare stories about what they experienced when they did this, at the next meeting.
  4. If you are a manager, share this article with your own team members and let them know you want to be more mindful of these kinds of opportunities and that you will be practicing doing more of this. Both as a way to get ideas about what matters most to them and as an team-building exercise, ask them to share Managerial Moments of Truth they’ve experienced in their careers where they felt “seen, cared about, and appreciated” by their manager, and the difference it made.
  5. Follow-up individually with each team member, whether formally or as an informal chat, and ask them for input on what works best for them as far as “seeing, caring about, and appreciating.” Besides getting valuable information that will help you bring out the best in them, just the act of asking this communicates “I care.”

So what about you?

So, what do YOU do to let people know you see them, you care about them as individuals, and you value their contribution?

How about sharing your wisdom in the Comments section below. 

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 100 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.

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6 Comments on “Are You Giving Employees What They Truly Hunger For?

  1. This resonated with me – I was conducting research for my PhD and in one of my respondents answers, she sounded so alone – I identified with her (and PhD objectivity went out the window) – I mailed her back to say ‘I see you’ – using those words, because I felt she had revealed herself to me. Within minutes she mailed me back to say she had been feeling invisible at work and personally, and that that simple sentiment had made a world of difference to her.

    1. Thanks for sharing Lesley. What a great example of the big difference taking a moment to see another can make.

  2. It is always in your best interest, in life and in the workplace, to recognize others and show that you are aware of their efforts and care about how they’re doing. And just as you said, when employees know/feel they are cared about they will act that way.

    At Talentcove, we believe in giving feedback and recognition on a regular basis. By doing so, employees know what is working and what’s not and can course correct before it’s too late. But this is not only up to managers, employees should be taking responsibility when it comes to recognition (and feedback) by asking for it — this can be done by sharing progress on goals and tasks so our “wins” can be noticed (we do so through our Cove app). I discussed this more in depth on our blog: https://talentcove.com/blog/the-surprising-truth-about-seeking-recognition-at-work/

    Great article, David! Very informative and we hope more companies take more notice on how to treat their employees well.

    – Lolly

  3. Thought-provoking. There is a report by Forum relating to this, which lists 5 key employees needs. What you’re writing about would fall between “recognition” and “accomplishment”, it’s both about feeling that one can make an impact, but also about others noticing it. Technology can help here, for example, making it easier to provide real-time feedback and keep employees feeling visible and connected on a daily basis.

    1. Thanks for weighing in iRevu.

      I think “seeing” definitely includes “recognition” and “accomplishment”, and…it also encompasses demonstrating that you see that person for their individual humanity.

      Thus, it’s not just showing “You matter because of what you do or accomplish”, but “You matter as a unique human being, so of course I pay enough attention to your uniqueness to notice these particularities about you.”

      I see it as adding a bit of the human touch to the workplace that is often lacking, and…that people hunger for.

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