The value of feeling valued

Your call is highly valued by us… please wait for the next available colleague…’ We have all heard this or something similar when contacting call centres. Many of us will take it with a pinch of salt because our past dealings with the organisation concerned have suggested that we are not actually all that valued. We know that we feel valued as the result of actions over a period of time. Words on their own have little impact.

This has come to mind recently as we reviewed the most frequently expressed positive emotions in the Heartbeat surveys run by our clients. These have come from a range of survey types – engagement, pulse, events, consultation and one offs. The positive emotions were enthusiastic, inspired, empowered and valued. It was great that these had been selected – clearly leaders in these organisations are doing some good things. But it also got us wondering why being valued is so important, and what makes people feel it. To help answer, we spoke informally with people from the organisations concerned to find out what they thought.

You do not need to look far to see evidence as to why feeling valued is so vital within organisations. The Institute of Employment Studies in their report into ‘Drivers of Employee Engagement’ identified it as a key factor in building trust, which is turn is a vital fuel for effective leadership. Similarly, Sir Ken Robinson, the leading leadership thinker, concluded that the role of any creative leader is to ‘create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel them valued’. Many of us will be able to back this up with our own experience – when we feel valued by someone, we will be more likely to respond positively to requests for help, feel a sense of common purpose and trust that their motives are for the best.

The conversations helped us to define what we mean by ‘valued’, and in particular, how it differs from being appreciated or simply liked. The general consensus of those we spoke with was that feeling valued requires that someone demonstrates that they have seen worth in you and your contribution and regularly makes you aware of this. It’s somethings which builds over time and is therefore different from being appreciated, which can be a one-off, I expressed as a quick thanks. For people to feel truly valued, it must be reflected not just in what other people say, but also in what they do… and probably what they think. For example, being involved in a variety of tasks, given challenges to tackle, asked for opinion on issues other than those directly related to their roles, all helped create a sense of value. As in so much of leadership, what leaders say must be reinforced by what they signal in what they do.

If time is crucial for people to feel valued, it is also vital for leaders to be able to really value someone. It is a deeper response than, say, appreciating a good piece of work. It can be the thing of a moment to acknowledge an act of kindness from a stranger, but to truly value someone and what they do requires far greater familiarity and understanding over a longer period.

This reinforces the importance of regular conversations – informal as well as formal – with members of their teams. Frequent discussions build bonds and present the leader with many opportunities to see and reflect back to people the worth they give to what their teams do. Often giving people time and the opportunity to discuss what’s going on will itself create a feeling of being valued, and reassure members of the team that their leader is interested in their welfare. At an organisation level, we have found that clients who use Heartbeat for regular pulse check surveys and then respond quickly to what people say also build up a sense of being listened to and valued. It rapidly becomes part of the culture and the way that people work with each other.

We also learned that when it comes to valuing members of the team, one approach does not fit everyone. Different things make different types of people feel valued. For some it’s regular attention, praise and recognition. Others look for quality time spent with the leader and the chance to talk things through, or they may prefer the occasional small gift as a thank you. Once again, it’s crucial that leaders get to know their people and understand their preferences to help them feel really valued.

In short, ensuring people feel valued is a key driver for engagement levels. Different people respond to different things, but whatever they are, building a sense of being valued takes time, regular contact and a lot of conversation.

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