An important thing I learned upon leaving Slack: there were pockets of deep appreciation for me, everywhere.
I got the sweetest, kindest, most effusive messages of gratitude about how I’d improved the culture, how I’d helped people deepen their understanding of Diversity and Inclusion, how I’d helped them navigate their technical issues in a way that was empathetic and instructional. The messages were many and touching and I cried nearly every time I got one. How wonderful and warming it was to know that I had all this hidden support within the company. How awesome it would have been to know before I decided to leave.
For some reason people often wait until someone has “gone on” to say nice things about them. Consider funerals and wakes, where many speeches and toasts are made celebrating all the amazing and wonderful ways that person has shown up in or affected the speakers life. Many hugs are had, much crying is done, but the subject of those speeches and toasts never gets to feel how much they were valued by everyone in the room.
Similarly, in the workplace, people rarely have a party thrown for them (save the occasional standing around a funfetti cake while everyone sings) until it’s time for them to go. Only then do they get the card saying how important, valuable, and indispensable they are from their coworkers.
I hear stories echoing this often from people who have decided to move on to different companies. How their soon to be ex-coworkers tell them how valuable their work has been, how they wish the company would take more of a lead from the research they’ve done, how palpably the loss of their presence and wisdom would be felt. But they don’t hear those words until it’s too late for those words to make a difference.
The American Psychological Association found that feeling valued at work is linked to well-being and performance. According to the study, 93% of employees who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work, compared to only 33% of those who didn’t feel valued. More pressing, 50% of those who don’t feel valued in the workplace reported that they would leave the workplace in the next year.
It is clearly important for employees to know they’re valued in the workplace, but many workplaces don’t optimize for it. Employee of the week/month/quarter programs highlight exceptional in the moment employees, but don’t reach the employees who are equally as valuable but doing work behinds the scenes, quietly changing and improving the lives of their coworkers. Meanwhile, formalized feedback procedures tend to focus, infrequently, on a very narrow slice of the way an employee shows up at work. To be fair, both of the major tech companies I’ve worked at have tried to implement ways to provide less formal methods of peer feedback in the form of kudos systems. I suspect that even these methods discourage meaningful feedback as they tend to optimize for short, succinct snippets. With the standard “anecdotes are not data” applied, these methods don’t help me understand my value to my coworkers in a meaningful way. “Erica helped me solve an issue that’s been plaguing our team for weeks,” is nice, but doesn’t really land as well as “Erica is valuable to our company because she helps me understand things in a way that I’ve never considered before,” does.
I was talking with my therapist recently and she told me “I don’t want you to go, I want you to stay.” She asked me if I knew it already and I answered honestly; I didn’t. Logically it would make sense, she’s been my therapist for 2.5 years and we have a pretty strong bond, but logic and feelings don’t always show up together. I can know a thing but not feel it. In this case, I could feel her attachment to me, but not know that she wanted me to stay.
In further discussion, I learned that she was hesitant to share her feelings with me, and that many folks she sees are similarly hesitant to share their warm feelings about people. Why? Fear of rejection, or saying the wrong thing, or pushing someone away. That hit home for me. I’ve had that fear of being earnest, of sharing how I really feel. What if it’s too much? What if they run away? It took a lot of effort for me to move beyond that. Fear is a beast that is hard to tackle, that stands in the way of us showing up in the world in our best form, in many ways. It also stops us from reaching out to others at a human level, because we’re afraid our outreach won’t be met. Our fear can stop us from expressing the most important feelings we have, if we let it.
Everyone needs assurances and reassurances from time to time, both outside the workplace and in, and the people in our lives are no exception to that rule. The people in our lives need to know their value to us before they’re gone, in one way or another. If someone has made your working life better, tell them. If someone’s presence at your company is important to you, tell them. If you are grateful to someone for the work they do or the emotional labor they perform outside their work, tell them. Don’t wait for review time, let them know their value to you, today (but don’t forget to put it in their formalized reviews as well).
Make it a habit to share your gratitude, appreciation, and respect often, such that it doesn’t feel awkward or scary. Put “Value Notes” on your calendar 3 times a week so it becomes part of your routine. Make letting people know they are valued part of who you are. It could make all the difference in their world.