Imagine a job where your work isn’t appreciated, your effort goes unnoticed, and you could be replaced in an instant.
Not exactly a place you’d want to stay for very long, is it?
As a manager, this isn’t the type of environment you want to encourage—not if you want your employees to stick around, that is. So, one of your most important responsibilities is making your employees feel truly valued, letting them know that without them, your company, your department—and frankly, you—would be worse off.
But how do you do that on a daily basis, especially if you don’t have the decision-making power or resources of a top-level executive? During my years as a manager, I’ve found that doing these four simple things can go a long way.
1. Be Intentional with Everyday Conversations
Employees and managers alike are often ingrained with the idea that “everyone is replaceable.” But I’ve found that a big part of feeling valued occurs when employees are aware that they add something to the company that no one else can.
To effectively convey this, think about how you approach everyday conversations with your employees. When you assign a new task, for example, go beyond the basic “Here’s the contact info for your next design client,” and reiterate why you truly value someone’s work: "You did a great job designing that website last week. We have a new client who seems pretty picky, and since your work is so detail-oriented, I think you're the only one for the job."
Or, as you start giving people more challenging work, clearly acknowledge what you’re doing and why: “You really nailed your presentation during the team meeting last week, so I think you can handle a monthly client presentation with some of our big accounts.” The more you recognize your employees’ specific contributions to the team, the more irreplaceable they’ll feel.
2. Show Them that Others Need Them, Too
While recognition can serve as a great motivator, it can also become a little routine when it always comes from a direct manager.
I’m not saying that you should ever hesitate to reward your employees for a job well done, of course. But, do remember that feedback from others can pack a little more punch—and show your team that they’re not only appreciated by you, but also by clients, co-workers, and even executives.
So, pay attention when a client sends you an email to share the amazing experience she had with an employee or when someone from another department lets you know “Joy helped me find the number I need—she’s great!” Then, share it. Whether you do it privately (via a one-on-one conversation or email) or in public (on a company message board or during a team meeting), you’ll let your employees know that they're making an impact on clients and co-workers—and they’ll be reminded just how important their work is.
3. Challenge Them
Every job comes with less-than-glamorous responsibilities. But it’s important to balance out that grunt work with challenging assignments, too. When you only dole out repetitive tasks (or tasks beneath someone’s skill level), you’re conveying that you don’t really need his or her specific, individual talents. (Come on, anyone could update a client information spreadsheet!)
On the other hand, when you assign an employee a challenging task and actually put your trust in him or her to see it through, what you're saying is, “I know you’re capable of this, and I trust you to do a great job."
So, I’ve found that it’s important to consistently find new ways to challenge my employees—whether that means developing new projects specifically for their talents or just being more aware of what each person does best and assigning tasks accordingly. I also carefully select employees for the task of training new hires—giving people this responsibility conveys that you not only think they’re doing a good job in their everyday work, but that you want incoming employees to develop their same habits, skills, and attitude.
4. Recognize Them as Individuals
To boost team morale, it’s great to do something for your entire team—like catering lunch or bringing in donuts. But if you’re aiming to show your appreciation for an individual, it can easily get lost in these types of group celebrations. In one fell swoop, your top salesperson and newbie intern have just been rewarded with the same exact thing: a slice of pizza. Guess how valued your top employee is going to feel?
To truly make individual employees feel valued, it’s OK to single them out and reward them according to their accomplishments—and with something that the rest of the team won’t necessarily get. So, for example, if an employee’s gone above and beyond developing an internship program for the summer, let him or her skip out on a day of work to attend a recruiting event at a nearby college. Or, pinpoint an employee to attend a conference on your behalf. I’ve found that even simple, small gestures go a long way: If I have an employee who’s done something exceptional during the week, I’ll pull her to the side and let her leave work an hour or two early on a Friday afternoon.
Of course, you don’t want to ostracise the rest of your team—and you certainly don’t want to play favorites—so, it’s important to pay attention and actively look for opportunities to reward all the members of your team. But individually recognizing your employees for their specific achievements will spell it out, loud and clear: They really make a difference to you and the company.