Gallup, Inc. lists the main reasons employees leave their jobs — the pursuit of career advancement, higher wages, better benefits, different company culture or job fit — although it could be argued that a few, or even most of these factors boil down to whether staffers sense their organizations value them.
After all, it is possible for careers to advance within a company, pay increases to be obtainable, and staffers to be encouraged in their own unique talents and strengths.
Maybe mattering matters the most.
There are 12 components of employee engagement listed in Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 2017. Number eight is as follows: “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”
Below, staffers who have solid occupational and professional careers comment on work environments where they felt they could make an impact, and knew they mattered.
Knowing that you matter starts within
For Sarah Zimmerman, communications coordinator at the Food Fortification Initiative, mattering is straightforward and compelling.
“My work involves getting countries to add folic acid to wheat flour, maize flour, and (or) rice to prevent birth defects like spina bifida,” she said. “I have a poster of a healthy child and the number of these birth defects prevented every year where grains are fortified. That reminds me that my work is worthwhile.”
Inga, a business office manager, looks for opportunities to help brighten the day for others, even outside of her immediate workspace.
“I work with seniors and when I can make the daily living a ‘wow moment’ with their unexpressed needs — getting coffee when their cup is empty, or turning on the fireplace because they are unable to,” she said.
Staffers also mentioned giving work projects their best skill and effort.
“In accounting, it’s about knowing that I’m meeting all deadlines accurately and with pride.” Inga added.
Graphic designer Loy Mach is the director of design and communications at Northern Nevada Regional Multiple Listing Service (NNRMLS). She sees hard work rewarded when looking over finalized projects.
“Paying close attention to our brand and holding myself to high standards in design helps us produce an excellent company image,” she said.
Andrew Daniels, a technical trainer of automation skills and processes at a large corporation is fulfilled as he discovers how his efforts are producing results for both personnel and the company.
“I feel like my work matters when I hear success stories of individuals or teams that are able to reduce and eliminate downtime,” he said. “The other thing is how excited and engaged people are when they are learning and how it makes them feel valued and empowered.”
Mike, a media, events and communications professional agrees.
“When you train employees in a process and they in turn take it and make it their own, paying it forward to others,” he said.
He also sees the atmosphere most conducive to mattering as an environment where employees feel safe to express views; belonging and contributing.
“Work is an extension of life,” he said. “When staff feel they can talk freely without approval (or disapproval), that’s comforting. People talk about good teams — that’s the basic building block.”
The certainty that you matter may need external confirmation
The internal spark of difference-making may dim with time, though, when there is little reinforcement from the employer. Acknowledgement may include financial compensation, praise, perks, and awards.
Adrienne, a project manager, believes verbal or written appreciation is best when it is specific. In addition, she acknowledges and respects her organization for the investment it makes in employees.
“I feel my work matters when my company continues to invest time, training, and recognizes everything that I accomplish, encouraging me and supporting me to grow within the company,” she said.
Mach and Zimmerman agreed that a combination of spoken praise like “Great work” or “Thank you,” and financial incentives most effectively recognize staffers for their labor and achievements.
“I see the fruit of my design endeavors when my team members come to me for help in their projects and praise for campaigns we conduct,” Mach said.
Daniels views financial reward as a key way that companies let staffers know they are appreciated and recognized for their efforts.
“I received a raise and title change at a time when very few people were within my organization — because leadership really felt like I mattered and needed to be recognized and rewarded for my hard work and impact,” he said.
Community college professor Dan Bouweraerts finds positive confirmation playing out in team activities, especially when he can voice ideas and be a part of discussions affecting work processes.
“When I see things that I’ve brought up in committees go forward and are useful,” he said.
Perks such as pay raises and a pleasant office space are not the topmost factors for him, but are important, nonetheless.
“It shows that we matter to our communities and state as a whole,” he added.
Office manager Inga said that the work environment most conducive to employees feeling valued is one where employees receive both general expressions of thanks, specifically worded praise, financial rewards, and recognition awards.
Media professional Mike, a photographer and videographer, added that the more varied ways staffers are acknowledged for their work, the better.
“Workers make a company,” he said. “They’re the lifeblood. Recognize them timely and frequently.”
Other methods that organizations can use to show staffers they matter are offering a degree of decision-making independence and providing professional development opportunities.
“My company listens to me,” Adrienne said. “They hired me for my experience and expertise. They continue to invest in me and listen to me when I make suggestions to improve processes. They may not implement everything I suggest, but they take the time to listen to me and they care about what I think.”
Individuals describe mattering with common terminology
To matter is to:
- Make a difference
- Experience that you are important
- Have an impact
- Perceive you have worth
- To be essential
- Sense that you count
- Contribute a unique skill or strength
- Feel valued for what you bring to a team
- Are irreplaceable in a certain way
Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory, the hierarchy of needs, that is taught in many undergraduate psychology courses. It places human needs into a pyramid, with physiological and safety needs at the base; belongingness and esteem in the middle; and self-actualization and fulfillment at the point.
Business strategist and Forbes contributor Christine Comaford describes the first middle level of belongingness as an environment where individuals feel equal in a tight-knit tribe, moving in a common direction toward goals. In the second middle level, she adds the term “mattering” to Maslow’s self-esteem label.
“Mattering means each of us contributes individually in a unique way,” she wrote. “We all make a difference.”
Mattering has several parts
Chester Elton, author of the best-selling book, “All In,” was interviewed in 2019 by executive coach and speaker Marshall Goldsmith, Ph.D. Elton said that when employees see they are valued, they are more engaged at work. In high performance cultures, he found that employees believe the tasks they perform matter, they know their job makes a difference, and the organization notices and acknowledges them.
“That’s how you get people all in, right,” he said in the interview. “I’ve got — ‘I know what we do and how we do it, but I know why we do it and I believe that it’s gonna make a difference no matter where I am in the organization. I can connect the dots to what I do and how it makes the world a better place.’”
In fact, for this WorkplaceStory report it was almost unanimous; all staffers surveyed except for one agreed that in the work situation where they felt most valued by their leaders, fellow employees in various departments and at different levels were generally aware of the “hows and whys” of their assigned tasks, and knew that what they did made a difference in the world.
And this is where meaningfulness comes into play.
Meaningfulness has an impact on satisfaction
“A job’s meaningfulness — a sense that the work has a broader purpose — is consistently and overwhelmingly ranked by employees as one of the most important factors driving job satisfaction,” wrote Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, reporter for the Chicago Tribune. “It’s the linchpin of qualities that make for a valuable employee: motivation, job performance and a desire to show up and stay. Meaningful work needn’t be lofty. People find meaning picking up garbage, installing windows and selling electronics — if they connect with why it matters.”
Elejalde-Ruiz interviewed DePaul University associate professor Jaclyn Jensen, who teaches in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship. Professor Jensen said in the article that research points to meaningfulness being based on five elements. Three important factors are that an individual can use a variety of skills, has an impact by helping others, and is able to see the end product of his or her efforts throughout, Elejalde-Ruiz wrote. The two other parts are being able to have some autonomy on the job and receive constructive feedback.
Glenview, Illinois-based Abt Electronics Inc. has about 1,400 employees. It scored high for meaningfulness in the Chicago Tribune’s 2017 Top Workplaces survey sponsored by the newspaper and conducted by Energage, LLC. Abt’s human resources director Bart McGuinn listed ways the company acknowledges its employees, such as letting staffers know when customers have praised them, and providing bonuses — he also noted that two of the aspects he observed when joining the company was a lack of hierarchy and the open-door availability of executives, Elejalde-Ruiz added.
Staffers can also increase their own sense of mattering
Individuals who begin to doubt whether they matter in the workplace may decide to take a self-inventory, writing down or tallying the small impacts they have made — smiling and welcoming a client, accomplishing a complex task with precision, or admiring a colleague’s work.
Leadership coach and motivational speaker Kathy Caprino lists examples of these beneficial actions on her website, such as teaching someone a skill, expressing compassion, or mentoring a new co-worker.
The self-inventory exercise she recommends will most likely show more than one positive act — it will probably reveal many.
“We matter in a lasting way because each word and each deed and action we put out into the world has huge ripple effects that extend very far, even into eternity,” Caprino wrote.
Educator Angela Maiers said in her TEDx Talk “You Matter” that one of the lessons of mattering is to trust another individual to do something that is vital to a project or effort, and to count on them.
“Depending on somebody is hard because you can always do it better yourself and you have to give up control and you have to give up trust and you have to look somebody else in the eye,” she said. “And don’t just say to them, ‘I think you are important, I think you are pretty cool, I notice something good about you.’ You have to say, ‘You are essential.’ Being important is really nice, but being essential is a game changer. Knowing somebody needs you to accomplish something significant, because the root of the word — the root of the word ‘matter’ is substance.”
Mattering, in this instance, can be a type of task added to an individual’s “to do” list.
“When I think of people who made the biggest impact in my life, it was not their expertise or accomplishments that provided me with the direction, guidance and reassurance I needed to accomplish my goals,” wrote Maiers on her blog angelamaiers.com. “It was their sincere belief in me. They let me know through their words and actions that I mattered. …Mattering is a universal human need.”
A self-directed outlook toward mattering may even begin to develop into a naturally vibrant stance — the put-together look when an individual walks tall, reflecting “I know that, absolutely and positively, I matter … and you matter.”
- Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 2017
- Marshall Goldsmith interviewing Chester Elton on his book “All In“
- “Employees want their job to matter, but meaning at work can be hard to find,” by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz in the Chicago Tribune
- “You Truly Matter In This World, But Do You Realize It?” by Kathy Caprino
- “You Matter,” by Angela Maiers