Mattering at work is an indicator of organizational and community health and thriving. It is a universal human need that drives motivation and well-being, and we can recognize it early. When I asked my daughter, who is 7.5, to tell me when she knows she matters, she gave me two examples. The first was a school example. Her school periodically holds all-class assemblies, and as part of the assembly, the principal picks a few names at random to receive a prize. Her name was recently announced, and she was so excited. Not only did she feel recognized, but she also felt important – all the kids were asking to see what she had won. The second was a more personal example. She told me that she feels like she matters when I say “I love you” to her. She said, “Mattering feels like a connection.”

The pandemic created an opportunity for most people to reevaluate their relationship with work and how they more fully want to live their lives. Employees want and need to see the clear impact their work is having to their teams and organizations and to know they are more than just a cog in the work wheel; in short, they want to know they matter.

Lack of mattering has consequences. One of the biggest drivers of workplace disengagement and burnout is lack of recognition. In my workshops, leader after leader explained to me that their team recognition efforts ranged from nothing to codified, check-the-box programs of various types, often implemented without intentionality so at least they could feel like they were doing something. Many managers generally just struggle to make their team members feel like their contributions are noticed and valued. In a new survey I conducted with American Law Media, 44% of the nearly 900 lawyers and legal professionals who responded said lack of recognition was a source of stress, citing the frequency of being recognized by their colleagues for their work contributions as either once a month, a few times a year or less, or never.

Recognition is so important because it’s one of two key components of mattering. The first part is that you feel valued (appreciation & recognition) and the second part is that you know you’re adding value (achievement). In addition, author and researcher, Dr. Zach Mercurio, says that to cultivate mattering people need to feel noticed, important, and needed.

Mattering unlocks a potent mix of psychological and motivational fuel. When employees feel like they matter to their organization, they are:

1. More satisfied with their jobs & life
2. Are more likely to seek out leadership positions
3. Less likely to quit (and have lower rates of burnout, depression & anxiety)

In addition, they report higher relationship satisfaction, more self-compassion, and they have a greater belief in their ability to achieve their goals.

Mattering can now be measured. Ask your team to answer these questions, which target both the achievement and recognition aspects of mattering:

Answer on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

Part 1: Achievement

1. My work contributes to my organization’s success
2. The quality of my work makes a real impact on my organization
3. My work influences my organization’s functioning

Part 2: Recognition

1. My organization praises my work publicly
2. My coworkers praise my work
3. I am well-known for the quality of my work in my organization
4. My work has made me popular at my workplace

Scores above 13 for achievement and 15 for recognition are exceptionally high.

Mattering is created in your day-to-day connections with others, but general busyness and work overload tend to leave precious little time for it. Luckily, a little goes a long way. These are ways you can start to convey mattering (with many of these strategies working for families and communities also):

  • Share your belief in someone and their capabilities
  • Let someone know how you rely on them
  • Talk as a team (or a family) about lessons learned when failure and challenge happen
  • Acknowledge the effort a person put forth
  • Invest time with someone
  • Remember someone’s name
  • Say a thank you “plus.” When you say thank you, add a couple of additional sentences that describe the strengths or behaviors that you saw that generated the good outcome. Even though it’s only a sentence or two, phrasing it this way more clearly shows a person the evidence of their impact
  • Volunteer (volunteering was recently found to be one of the few activities that reliably boosts well-being at work; in addition, recent research also showed that leaders can increase meaning at work by allowing team members to build connection without instrumental work outcomes associated with the act of connecting was important, and specifically, volunteer opportunities were found to be helpful.
  • Say “Good morning!” or ask, “How are you?” Employees report that simply hearing one of these phrases from a manager or leader would be as meaningful as formal recognition.
  • Discuss growth potential and give people stretch assignments (both are indicators of value)

Mattering helps people explain why it is we wake up every day and do what we do. Mattering fuels your happiness, well-being, and ability to withstand challenging times. I believe it is the key to unlocking workplace disengagement and the profound sense of overwhelm and languishing so many people are feeling, both at work and outside of work. Your opportunity to make someone feel noticed, important, and needed is as close as your next interaction.