Updated: Apr 12
By Robyn Short, President & CEO, Workplace Peace Institute
Reimagining organizations by devising an innovative model that encourages productive, fulfilled, and engaged employees.
A core belief that has informed my life’s work is that we all have a deep desire to be active contributors to our communities, including our workplace communities. At Workplace Peace Institute, we define employee contribution as, “The ability to share one’s intellectual and emotional resources, skills, and talents in support of an organization’s mission and purpose.”
The ability to experience dignity – our inherent worth and value as human beings – in the workplace directly correlates to our ability to contribute fully to our organizations. It also directly correlates to our basic human needs for belonging, participation, and self-esteem. In a previous article, I identified five core attributes essential to building a workplace culture of dignity. Employee contribution is one of these five core attributes.
Research conducted by Workplace Peace Institute found that in order for employees to contribute at their highest level, they need to experience having their identity fully embraced so that they have the freedom to be fully present. They need the psychological safety to authentically self-express. Employees need to be trusted to act autonomously. And, they need a consistent and targeted feedback loop of acknowledgement to affirm that their contributions are valued. To fully explore the concept of workplace contributions, our research examined the topic through three specific engagement criteria:
Collaboration with team members
Motivation to perform at highest level
Critical thinking skills
Collaboration With Team Members
Our research found several critical aspects for optimizing collaboration with team members: acknowledgement, safety, inclusive workplace processes, experiencing the benefit of the doubt, and acceptance of identity. One research participant indicated that when her dignity need for acknowledgement is met, “it feels fair, and in those situations [she] feels really good, has more energy to put into the work and is motivated to keep going and to do more.” Another participant explained that when her need for safety is met, she feels motivated to work with her specific manager. However, when regimented processes within the broader organization are imposed on her, it minimizes her desire to collaborate outside of her immediate team. This points to the importance of designing inclusive processes in order to increase workplace collaboration. One participant shared that acknowledgement makes collaboration more comfortable, and another explained that when she is extended the benefit of the doubt this positively affects collaboration because “it reduces feelings of defensiveness.” Experiencing the trust that flows out of the benefit of the doubt helps her to operate with integrity. And she experiences questions “as curiosity as opposed to threats.” Another participant indicated that when her dignity need for acceptance of identity is met, she experiences a safe place for collaboration and “trusts that mistakes won’t be judged.” This empowers her to experience her authentic self.
Motivation to Perform at Highest Level
Fairness, acknowledgement, and acceptance of identity are all important dignity needs that shape our ability to contribute fully and authentically to the workplace. One research participant mentioned that when his need for fairness is met, he is able to be self-motivated and can work autonomously. Fairness helps him to feel trusted by his peers and manager. Another research participant echoed the same sentiment about autonomy. When his need for safety is met, he is able to experience autonomy in his work while trusting that his personal interests will be embraced. One person noted that when his need for acceptance of identity is met, it “creates happiness, increased energy, and increased motivation.” When individuals experience their identity being fully accepted and embraced, they are able to show up authentically, which provides motivation. And, according to one research participant, “acceptance of identity eliminates a lot of internal noise and frees up the space to create.” Employees feel motivated when they experience acknowledgement, recognition, and praise. Another research participant explained that having her need for fairness met helps her to be more “authentic, present, and participatory.” She is comfortable sharing and showing up with authenticity.
Critical Thinking Skills
Engaging critical thinking skills is an important aspect of contributing fully and authentically to the workplace. Our research shows that when our dignity need for acknowledgement is met, we trust that our perspectives are valued and sought after. This motivates us to expand our thinking, which leads to professional growth. Experiencing the benefit of the doubt is also critical to engaging critical thinking skills. When we experience the benefit of the doubt, this positively affects critical thinking because, as one recent participant explained, “trust that flows from it supports creativity and pushing past the charted path.” Another person explained that when she experiences the acceptance of her identity, it “fuels critical thinking because there are not insecurities taking up space in the mind.” She is able to think more introspectively.
In summary, fostering a work environment that creates space for all employees to contribute at their highest level requires that each person feels fully embraced and can be fully present. Psychological safety is the birthplace of authentic self-expression. If you want to create the conditions necessary for all employees to contribute fully and with authenticity, consider leadership training for your executive leaders and managers so they can create a workplace where all people thrive. Schedule a complimentary consultation with Workplace Peace Institute to learn more.
Dr. Robyn Short is the president and CEO of Workplace Peace Institute – an organizational systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model.