Your employees matter. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t hire them, trust them to do important work or keep paying them week after week. You probably assume they realize that, but according to Christine Comaford, you may inadvertently do and say things that make them feel otherwise—and it has little to do with logic.
“Mattering is one of the three most primal human needs, along with safety and belonging,” says Comaford, author of “SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together,” a New York Times bestseller. “When employees feel they don’t matter, they simply cannot function at their highest level of performance.”
So what might you be doing that makes employees feel they don’t matter? Comaford reveals six of the top offenders:
• You don’t respond to their emails. Sure, you’re busy, and your employees know that—but their response may not be rational. Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, the boss will get back to me when she has a moment, they think, She doesn’t like my idea. She doesn’t like me. I feel rejected. I don’t matter.’ Comaford says always respond: “Even if it’s just to say, ‘I need a little time to think about that, but I’ll get back to you in a day or two.’”
• You don’t give them feedback—positive or negative. When people matter to us, we want them to know they’ve done a good job. If they haven’t done a good job, we want them to know that, too, so they can improve. To an employee, silence can mean we don’t care enough to let them know either way.
• You acknowledge people only when they make mistakes. This makes them feel like a faulty cog that must be repaired to keep the company machine running smoothly. To let them know they matter, make a positive personal connection with employees as often as possible. Be specific about what you like and let them know their unique contribution makes a real difference to the company. “Better yet, make a point of praising them publicly,” says Comaford. “Social rewards are extremely powerful—far more powerful than cash rewards, in fact.”
• You don’t celebrate victories. No, just getting paid isn’t reward enough for doing a great job. When your team has an especially significant win—a huge catering event maybe, or just surviving a wild Saturday night with a short staff—make a point to do something special for the people who pulled it off.
• You inadvertently show favoritism. In many companies, there are certain team members who are perceived as “above the law” or the “in crowd.” These people tend not to be held accountable for their lack of performance, and they often get the lion’s share of raises, promotions or perks, even if they don’t deserve them. And yes, says Comaford, other employees notice. “Absolute equality may not be possible in an imperfect world, but it’s critical to aim for it,” she says.
• You burn them out. Do your employees slog away like slaves, working long hours and completing one high-stress task after another, day after day after day? Not only will they feel that you don’t care about their well-being, they’ll burn out. Comaford points out that this dynamic starts when leaders “self-sacrifice.” Even if you don’t tell employees they have to work until 8 p.m. every night, they see you do it and feel they’re expected to do so as well.
For more information about Christine Comaford, check out www.christinecomaford.com.