Whether you’re an employee or a manager, we all have good days and bad days at work. But when we’re truly unhappy at a job, we can sense it — we just can’t always pinpoint why. We say it’s our annoying coworkers, our mean boss, our inability to move up within the company — whatever it might seem like on the surface.
But I recently came across a great article from Jeff Haden on LinkedIn, “One Thing Every Employee Requires,” and he hit on exactly what it is that makes us satisfied or unsatisfied at our jobs. And for me, it definitely holds the truth.
So what is the secret? What is the one thing we all need?
We need to feel like we matter.
As a leader, providing a sense of meaning is arguably your most important role. Assign projects, no matter how small. Praise individual employees (here are nine tips for effective employee recognition) as often as you can. Extend responsibility, since implicit in responsibility is trust and regard. Help employees understand their place in a larger effort that transcends procedures, tasks, and measurable outcomes. (Here’s how.)
In past jobs, meaning was exactly what was missing for me. I didn’t feel like I mattered in the grand scheme of things — I was just the tool used to get one small section of work done. This is not at all a good feeling, and I’m sure you’ve all been there at some point. We need our managers, our coworkers, and our own minds to assure us that we matter.
If you’re a manager, are you not just telling, but showing your employees that they matter? Are you letting them take on projects, are you giving them the chance to really see their ideas play out (within reason)? If your employees seem less motivated or disgruntled, you might want to reexamine what kind of support you’re giving them. If you make everything just about you or the company’s achievements, you’re missing an opportunity to show your employees how valuable they are, as individuals contributing to the company’s success.
And if you are an employee feeling lost and without meaning, ask yourself what would help you reach that point. As I looked over my past work experiences and what made me feel the most engaged and the most proud, I found that it was those moments when I was helping someone. I felt like the work I did, the stories I told, taught the viewer or reader something knew — or maybe it just helped brighten their day. Either way, it had a meaningful outcome.
Take some time assess whether your job or your career is meeting your number one need. In turn, help those around you — above and below — realize how much they matter.