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?
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.