By Robyn Short, President & CEO, Workplace Peace Institute
Reimagining organizations by devising an innovative model that encourages productive, fulfilled, and engaged employees.
Dignity is our inherent worth and value as human beings. Everyone, at every level of an organization, has the inherent need to experience their worth and value as individuals and also as workplace contributors. A failure to experience dignity, leads to burnout, disengagement, and ultimately employee turnover. As the Great Resignation continues to impact organizations across the U.S., leaders must focus on creating a workplace culture of dignity.
Dignity in the Workplace Requires Targeted Feedback
An important component of creating dignity in the workplace is through consistent feedback mechanisms that convey to employees that their individual contributions are valued, and that the organization supports the individual in their personal and professional growth.
Workplace Peace Institute research found that employees experience dignity in the workplace through genuine expressions of gratitude and acknowledgment, specifically when that feedback is tailored to their individual performance and contributions. This targeted feedback increases trust, helps employees grow as professionals, builds confidence, and sustains motivation.
Prioritize Relationships Through One-on-One Meetings
In her book Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson defines love as, “The momentary upwelling of three tightly woven events: first, a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second, a synchrony between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors (i.e., feeling emotionally connected); and third, a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.” Our research found that love, by this definition, is experienced most directly in feedback that includes highly targeted expressions of gratitude and acknowledgment. In order to provide highly targeted expressions of gratitude and acknowledgment, leaders need to truly know their team members. What is affirming for one team member, may not be particularly affirming for another. Highly targeted feedback requires that leaders invest their time, interest, and emotions toward the development of authentic relationships with their colleagues.
In our study, we asked participants to describe a feedback mechanism that conveys to the that their contributions are valued, all the participants described a similar set of mechanisms. Every person in the organization we studied meets with their manager once a week for a weekly one-on-one. These meetings are opportunities for emotional check-ins as well as a check-in on projects and tasks. Growth opportunities are explored for both the manager and the direct report. This means that every individual has an opportunity to offer gratitude and acknowledgment to the manager, as well as constructive or critical feedback. The manager also has the opportunity to express the same toward the direct report. The reciprocity of this exchange demonstrates how love is showing up in the feedback mechanism. These meetings occur weekly. The research participants collectively agreed that these routinely occur and that there is no cancel culture. One-on-ones are highly valued.
Prioritize Positive Connections Through Regular Town Halls
The organization also routinely schedules town hall meetings where everyone in the organization comes together. The meetings are designed to build community, create belonging, offer opportunities for recognition, as well as to support transparency through institutional knowledge-sharing. To build community, individual and collective esteem, and transparent knowledge-sharing, a portion of the meeting is designated for each person to share how they have contributed to the organization since they last met, a goal they are setting for themselves, and an area in which they need support. This exercise builds positive connections among the team and allows each person to experience their own worth and value in relationship with one another. This exercise of sharing and asking for support is an important element of creating and sustaining trust.
The organization we studied includes a “shout-out” feedback system. Over the course of the time between meetings, every individual is presented with opportunities to write affirming messages to their colleagues — an accomplishment, contribution, success, etc. These are placed in a jar. A time is reserved at the town hall to read these out loud. A small gift, such as a coffee mug, is awarded to each person who receives a shout-out. This shout-out system is another way the organization creates a space for the sharing of positive emotions and putting these positive emotions into action by pouring into one another. The meeting includes an organizational update from the CEO regarding organizational accomplishments, challenges, upcoming projects, strategy, etc. The open and transparent sharing of knowledge builds trust. One research participants described these town hall meetings as “sacred time” and something that should not be missed. In his opinion, no one should be traveling or out of the office. Attendance is perceived as critical, not because it is demanded by the organization but rather because of the value it brings to the individual.
Prioritize Recognition Through Small Gifts and Acknowledgments
The organization we studied also offers opportunities for financial recognition through spot bonuses. This might take the form of a gift card, or it might be a bonus added on to the next paycheck. This feedback mechanism is an example of how the organization pours into the lives of employees. Spot bonuses are always random. One research participants explained that these often show up just when a person needs them most. Perhaps when workload has been stressful, or it is a high-volume time of year. She explained, “The spot bonus often comes at a time where it feels like you're almost out of the fuel in your tank. It's a very fast-paced work environment. There's always something to do. There is never really a true lull at this workplace. So oftentimes those gestures, even something as small as a thank you, or I really appreciate it when you did this in a meeting, or whatever the case may be … it comes at the right time to kind of give you that additional jumpstart to be able to work harder or more. Whatever the case may be.”
Prioritize Targeted Feedback
A 360 evaluation should also be conducted at the end of each fiscal year. This is a thorough performance evaluation that every employee participates in. And, if the employee would like a six-month evaluation, that should upon request.
We asked research participants how these feedback mechanisms make the person feel, the following statements were provided:
“I feel full of hope.”
“I feel full of motivation.”
“I feel invested back into the organization.”
“I feel motivated, positive, and value is added to life.”
“I feel great.”
“I enjoy coming to work.”
“I enjoy my manager.”
“Coming to work feels safe to me.”
“I feel trusted.”
“I feel valued, appreciated, supported.”
“I feel connected to the people and to work.”
“It feels very rejuvenating.”
Consistent feedback mechanisms, both formal and informal, create opportunities for genuine expressions of gratitude and acknowledgment to be experienced. This feedback mechanism system, especially the targeted feedback, increases trust, helps employees grow as professionals, builds confidence, and sustains individual and collective motivation. To build trust, fuel creativity and innovation, and invite full and authentic contribution from employees, dignity is everything.
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.