The Root Of It All

I hear a lot of reasons why people are frustrated with their jobs and their manager:

Out of nowhere, she started asking me to send a weekly spreadsheet documenting all the tasks I’ve done and how much time each took.

He doesn’t speak to me unless he needs something.

He steps in and answers everyone's questions and won’t let me run the project update meetings. I’m not being recognized as an expert in what I do.

In my extremely (un)scientific research on what makes employees unhappy, what’s stood out is that all of the reasons I hear have something in common: people just want to feel needed and appreciated.

It’s the root of it all.

Not feeling appreciated creates tension. At first, the employee manages it, either by seeking feedback from someone else or shrugging it off as a phase and assuming it will change.

But this behavior isn’t sustainable and over time the tension grows.

The frustrating thing is most people feel too awkward saying “I just want to know that I’m doing a good job and you appreciate my work” so they don’t say anything at all. Instead, they let it fester. And that festering becomes a hidden message for the manager to decipher, which is scary because without exceptional emotional intelligence, most managers don’t pick up on anything being wrong until there is a resignation letter in front of them.

Of course we want the employee to advocate for themselves but a manager can’t control if that happens. So, how can we gauge if employees are feeling needed and appreciated?

Ask.

Use open-ended questions that leave room for talk about feelings (the dreaded “f” word):

·        How can I be the most helpful to you this week?

·        What’s motivated you this past week?

·        What is your biggest accomplishment this month?

·        What could I be doing differently to make sure you feel supported?

·        What can I do to help you enjoy your work more? 

To dig deeper, use follow up questions like “Could you tell me a little more about that?” or “What has that experience been like for you?” that uncover their true feelings. Watch for blinking words - what are they saying that indicates they don’t feel appreciated? It could be an illusion to not having enough resources or support for a project, or feeling unprepared to deal with an angry customer. During the conversation, also ask yourself: How would I feel if this were me?

Because that will be the most important question of all.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

I've talked to a few friends recently who either don't feel like they have friends at the office or don't want to get a new job because they don't want to struggle at building relationships. It made me think about how difficult it can be to have colleagues become friends, but it's critical to feeling a sense of belonging at work. Otherwise, who can we bounce ideas off of, vent to when we're having a hard day, or share successes with?

I have a colleague who refuses to share anything personal about herself at work. She keeps a wall up and to others it comes across as rude and unfriendly. And guess what? She feels like others don't understand her and that no one supports the work she does. Guess how often she's willing to go above and beyond for people? 

We don't have to make work colleagues our best friends (though at one job I had that and it did wonders for my engagement), but creating relationships and building a sense of belonging is critical to engagement. It's also a crucial skill for leaders (I call this interpersonal savvy), because employees need to see their boss as "real" and not just a work robot. 

If you're struggling to build relationships at work, try one of these tips: 

Ask someone out to lunch. It seems simple, but introverts rarely do this. Getting off campus to learn about someone you work with creates friendly, casual conversation. If it feels out of your comfort zone, start with someone on your team (And if you've got direct reports, then please, please start with them. Going to lunch with other colleagues and never going to lunch with direct reports sends a bad message). Then, ask someone from another department, telling them that you're trying to learn more about the business. 

Start doing informal drive-by conversations. When I am trying to establish a relationship with a colleague, I will pop over to their desk to say good morning or ask how they're doing. It doesn't have to be a long conversation, but I'm betting that the more you do this, the longer the conversations will become, because you'll discover more and more things to talk about. 

Ask questions. I'm guilty of only focusing on myself in a conversation - what I've got going on, what's not working well, what I'm doing this weekend. Flip the script and stop talking! Ask open-ended questions (people love to talk about themselves). You'll learn more about the person and they'll think you're a great conversationalist because they got to share about their life.

Ask for feedback or ideas. I've made some pretty good work friends by simply asking for feedback on a project I'm working on or getting their thoughts on a leadership topic. Using someone else's feedback builds trust and creates a support system. If you've found someone who willingly gives you feedback about your work (bonus points if they're not on your team or if you get that feedback over lunch or coffee) then you've found a friend. Trust me. 

Smile. Results-focused people rarely smile around the office. They're too focused on what's next on their task list or what went wrong in the afternoon project meeting. Looking people in the eye and smiling invites them to talk to you. My colleague who refuses to share about her personal life also rarely smiles at coworkers or makes small talk in the break room. If you have direct reports, how often are you smiling at them and inviting small talk? 

When I started working in HR I rarely did any of these things. They were learned behaviors that a mentor had to teach me and that I had to watch others doing. Now that I incorporate each of these into how I work, I have better relationships, and it makes my job easier. Try it.