A New Perspective on Elevating Significance & Self-Esteem at Work

by | Apr 16, 2024

The desire to feel significant in the world is an innate human need. For some people, this manifests strongly in the workplace as well. Elevating the feeling of “mattering” at work is important, no one wants to feel invisible, and it may be a vital ingredient for the health and happiness of certain team members even if that isn’t true for you. That’s what embracing motive diversity is all about, which you can dive into here.

1. Amplify Gratitude, But in a Personalized Way You Probably Haven’t Thought About

Saying thank you is nice. Recognizing someone’s efforts is important. But what’s even better? sharing gratitude for how that person positively impacted you personally.

Instead of saying → “Thanks for covering for me when I was out sick.” 

Upgrade to →  “Thanks for covering for me, I was stressed about missing work but knowing you were covering for me made me feel so relieved, that I could take the sick day off and get better.” 

Or, let’s say you’re the boss. When someone nails a presentation, go beyond the usual pat on the back. Share the ripple effect of their hard work.

Instead of saying   “You did a great job on that presentation it was very impressive.”

Upgrade to   “Your impressive presentation made me feel proud of you and our team. Knowing I can count on you for these big moments frees up time for me to focus elsewhere which I really need right now.” 

And it’s not just about what people do; it’s about who they are. 

It’s telling someone, “Work has felt intense lately and the optimism and humor you bring to the team is a game changer for all of us, I feel less stressed and more inspired when I work on projects with you.”

How did someone make you feel? What do you get to do (or not have to do!) because of their help? How do you personally benefit from someone’s actions or attitude? Next time you’re gearing up to show some appreciation, connect your gratitude to the personal impact, it elevates its significance for both you and the recipient. 

2. Reinforce Self-Esteem 

If you have been engaging with Motives Met for a while, you know that we identified 28 psychological, emotional, and social needs that are what thriving at work is all about. These 28 “motives” as we call them are the main drivers people need to be well and perform well at work and they fall into 10 overarching Motive Domains, one of them being Significance. If you want to learn more about the 28 motives, research, and framework, download our free Work Well-Being & Culture Roadmap.

The Significance Domain represents the need to feel valued, matter, and make meaningful contributions. There are three motives that are part of the Significance Domain: SELF-ESTEEM, PEER APPRECIATION, and COMPANY APPRECIATION. SELF-ESTEEM isn’t a need that is given as much attention, but our data showed it’s distinct from appreciation. Understanding and nurturing the SELF-ESTEEM motive in the workplace hinges on recognizing the blend of internal confidence and external value and validation. This need is met when a person feels self-respect and worth towards oneself, but of great importance also feels that others find their work and value to be of high importance. It’s believing that what you bring to the table is both unique and useful, that you aren’t replaceable, that you are a pivotal part of the team. To reinforce someone’s SELF-ESTEEM, express the importance they bring to the team or to you. Where possible, show them that what they bring to the table isn’t just valued—it’s vital. What tasks do they do that are essential to the team? What role do they play that is needed? This importance does not have to be grandiose, but how do they make a difference to your company’s objectives, to tasks, or your team’s dynamic? It’s also important to make sure that people feel heard, that their thoughts, ideas, and opinions are valued and matter even if you don’t always agree with them.


3. Express Appreciation & Overcome the Illusion of Transparency

Ever assume people know you appreciate them because, well, you think it really loud in your head? Here’s a wake-up call: they don’t. One thing that diminishes appreciation is the illusion of transparency, which is a cognitive bias that inclines people to overestimate the extent to which others can pick up on what they are thinking or feeling. People often believe that their positive feelings toward someone else are clear and easily perceived through their actions or nonverbal cues, even when they haven’t explicitly expressed those feelings. We may naturally assume that someone knows what a great job we think they’re doing, or that we are grateful for the extra hours they’ve been putting in – but have we said so? You likely have appreciative thoughts about your work peers or employees more often than you express. One person who consistently notices a job well done and the good in others can be the agent of change in their work culture. In the fast pace of many businesses and busy schedules, daily accomplishment becomes invisible or passé pretty quickly. Be the person who notices, AND outwardly vocalizes that appreciation. 

Actionable Challenge:

This week, pick one team member who you feel could use a boost in feeling significant. Choose one of the above strategies and make it happen. It’s about making intentional efforts to validate the worth and contributions of those around you.