Recent research by Tony Schwartz and his team at The Energy Project published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that the need to feel valued is one of humanity’s most important driving factors – almost as compelling as the need for food! Apparently, “the more our value feels at risk, the more preoccupied we become with defending and restoring it, and the less value we’re capable of creating in the world”
This will come as little surprise when considering the motivation of sulky employees, but the principles also apply to the code of ‘respect’ that has come to dominate many young people’s thinking. Across many studies of the effects of stress, researchers have found that the highest rises in cortisol levels, which produce our natural "fight or flight" response, are prompted by "threats to one’s social acceptance, esteem and status."
As the best-selling author puts it, “How we’re feeling — and most especially whether or not we feel acknowledged and appreciated — influences our behaviour, consumes our energy and affects our decisions all day long, whether we’re aware of it or not. Our core emotional need is to feel valued. Without a stable sense of value, we don’t know who we are and we don’t feel safe in the world.”
People respond to all kinds of stimuli over the course of a single day, but (perhaps because we are fortunate enough not to be presented with really dangerous threats on a regular basis), if we consider what really ‘winds us up’ from day to day, it is often little things that other people have done to annoy us, real or imagined slights or the inability of those around us to recognise just how brilliant we are! These can accumulate into a dominant way of thinking which becomes self perpetuating and can obscure the appreciation that we do receive, and can spread, virus-like, throughout a team or organisation if left to develop unchecked.
Both the employer and the employees have an obligation, in my view, to create the right kind of atmosphere where appreciation, acknowledgement of a job well done and so on, flows through the organisation, and it should be two-way traffic. It’s usually up to the leaders of any organisation to create the environment where constructive feedback, support and motivation are common experiences, and it is usually up to the employees to maintain it, but everyone who is part of an organisation has a responsibility to input in a positive manner.
Think about your own behaviours – what are your triggers? What really ‘gets your goat’? Consider how much of that emotion is caused by other people and how much is really your interpretation of events or behaviours, more a reflection of your own self view than that of anyone else. How much of your frustration is ego-based and to what extent are you ‘projecting’ onto the other person? Taking a moment at times of stress to consider these points will usually result in a more level headed response, and if you can find a way to hold onto your own value without attacking that of another person the organisation as a whole will almost certainly benefit, too.
For employers though, it is clear that a little appreciation goes a long way. When was the last time you thanked a member of your staff or acknowledged the difficulties someone has overcome, or the value that they have contributed? People often think that they do this a lot more than they actually do, and one has to bear in mind that some people need more reassurance than others, (which, by the way, doesn’t actually mean that others should receive less!). Are there employees in your organisation that you have never had a conversation like that with?

More information on Tony Schwartz and The Energy Project here: