I mentioned to a friend the other day that I had read this great book about finding one's calling (Art of Work by Jeff Goins). We talked for a few minutes and then he said something profound: everyone wants meaning to their lives.
That sentence has replayed in my head on and off since then, and I'll take it a step further: everyone wants to matter.
Not only do they need meaning in what they do—to know their jobs matter—but they need to know that they matter too.
Years ago, when I first discovered the joys of business books, one of the first ones I read was Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow by Chip Conley. Chip was running a small boutique hotel in Silicon Valley during the post-dot com crash and while all his competitors were nearing bankruptcy, he was thriving.
His secret was his version of Maslow's hierarchy.
As you can see from Maslow's standard hierarchy of needs (above), although we all need our basic and safety needs to survive (e.g., food and shelter), we have higher needs that must be met for us to be truly happy and fulfilled. The highest such need is self-actualization.
As per Wikipedia:
As Abraham Maslow noted, the basic needs of humans must be met (e.g. food, shelter, warmth, security, sense of belongingness) before a person can achieve self-actualization—the need to be good, to be fully alive and to find meaning in life. Research shows that when people live lives that are different from their true nature and capabilities, they are less likely to be happy than those whose goals and lives match. For example, someone who has inherent potential to be a great artist or teacher may never realize his/her talents if their energy is focused on attaining the basic needs of humans.
Chip Conley was able to have a successful business despite the horrible economy since he figured out how to give his employees, his customers, and his stakeholders what they needed to be self actualized. And as he explains, this all starts with happy employees who know they matter and how they matter.
I've written about the importance of culture before and some great theories about it. I really believe that at the heart of a great culture is that every person knows they matter.
We need to know we matter, both professionally and personally, and that if we disappear, someone will mourn us. And since we spend so many hours at work, for us to be happy and productive employees—for us to be self-actualized—we need to know we matter there too.
This does not mean that as their manager you spoil them and/or let them do whatever they want. It doesn't even mean that you have to make them happy all the time. It means that you listen. It means that when they have a suggestion, you hear them out. It means that when you can tell they're not feeling well, you send them home. It means you see them as a person, and not just your cog.
So look around. Whom can you walk over to and show that they matter?