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Signs Your Employees Feel Underappreciated at Work (and 8 Things To Do About It)

All workers, from laborers to C-suite executives, have one thing in common: they want to be valued. This desire is so strong that employees who feel underappreciated at work tend to be less productive and more likely to quit their jobs. If you’re a manager or business owner, it’s up to you to spot the warning signs and find solutions.

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How to tell if your employees feel undervalued at work

If you’re in a leadership position, it’s often hard to tell if employees are feeling unappreciated. After all, they’re unlikely to request more recognition. If you feel as though something is off in your business, keep an eye out for these signs that your employees don’t feel valued.

Changes in employee behavior or performance

Think about your top employees—are they still as enthusiastic and productive as they were six months ago? Do they seem just as responsive and proactive? If the answer is no, it’s time to examine your own behavior. Since high-performing employees require minimal supervision, it’s easy to take them for granted. Over time, the lack of recognition eats away at their motivation, and their work suffers. When this happens on a company-wide or department-wide scale, you might notice a decline in productivity.

No one speaks up in meetings

Meetings are an excellent indicator of employee morale. If your meetings are silent, or if every discussion feels like pulling teeth, take note. When an employee feels underappreciated at work, they have little reason to offer ideas and insights because they assume their contributions will be ignored.

Collaboration and innovation have stalled

Collaboration and innovation require a great deal of energy on the part of your employees. If they don’t feel valued, they’re unlikely to put forth the effort to work across teams or dream up exciting new possibilities. As a result, you might notice stale solutions or slow business growth.

Employees are quitting

A high turnover rate is a sure sign that your workers don’t feel valued. Don’t rely on exit interviews to reveal the true reason for the increase in departures; outgoing employees don’t always feel comfortable explaining that they want more appreciation and recognition.

Your managerial style is lacking

In many cases, you may not realize that employees feel undervalued until it’s too late. If you have the feeling that something is wrong, take a look at your managerial style. There might be a problem if you:

  • Criticize more than you praise
  • Can’t remember the last time you expressed appreciation
  • Take credit for employees’ successes but assign blame for their failures
  • Don’t allow flexibility for personal obligations
  • Ignore employee feedback and ideas
  • Micromanage projects

Each of these behaviors can slowly chip away at employee morale. If you recognize that you or your management team are doing more than one, your employees are probably feeling the effects.

What to do if your team is feeling underappreciated at work

It’s not pleasant to realize that your employees don’t feel valued, especially if your actions contributed to the problem. The good news? It’s not too late to turn things around. You can’t change the past, but you can take steps to create a positive company culture that recognizes and appreciates great work.

1. Apologize and accept responsibility

Offering an apology is a powerful way to jumpstart a shift in your company culture. After all, it takes a great deal of humility and self-awareness to recognize and admit that you were wrong. As long as you’re genuine, this discussion may be enough to prevent unhappy team members from jumping ship in the short term. Follow it up with concrete, consistent action, and you have a good shot at improving employee relations.

2. Trust workers’ talents and abilities

Micromanaging demonstrates a lack of trust in your employees. If you’re guilty of being overly involved in every project, it’s time to back off. Communicate simple, clear expectations and set your workers free to work their magic. This simple step demonstrates your confidence and shows respect for each employee’s skills. Plus, you’ll free up your own time for higher-level tasks.

3. Invest in your employees

Chances are, each of your employees has career goals and ambitions. Help them reach those goals by investing in professional development initiatives that may include:

  • Conferences and trade shows
  • Continuing education
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Training in new technology or software
  • Upgrades to equipment or facilities

When money is tight, you can take a more personal approach. Ask each person about their aspirations, and offer new projects, challenges or promotions to help them get there. You can also connect them with people in the industry who can serve as career mentors.

4. Offer flexibility

Your employees are more than workers—they’re people with struggles and obligations. Offering flex time is an easy way to show that you value both the person and the professional. You might create a policy that allows your team to duck out for appointments, family events and other commitments. Even a small amount of flexibility can ease a great deal of stress, which improves productivity and focus at work.

5. Tailor praise to the individual

When it comes to receiving recognition, every employee is different. Some people light up when they’re praised in public; others want to disappear. Your job is to figure out which strategy is right for each person. Some ways to show appreciation for your workers are:

  • Praise their work to the client
  • Write a thank-you note or email
  • Communicate the impact of their work
  • Share credit for team successes
  • Reduce their workload in busy times

6. Offer surprise perks

There’s a reason employee of the month programs don’t usually motivate workers—they feel obligatory rather than organic. If your team is feeling underappreciated at work, try offering unexpected perks to show how much you value them. Buy them lunch, or bring in doughnuts on a busy day. After a demanding quarter, give everyone a Friday off. If possible, hand out a surprise bonus after a particularly successful year.

7. Avoid playing favorites

If you’re a manager, it’s natural to prefer some employees over others. To make your entire team feel more valued, avoid playing favorites. Distribute praise and new challenges fairly—that way, no one feels ignored in favor of the star performer. This is particularly important in meetings, where the loudest voices tend to dominate the room. Give everyone the chance to be heard, and you might be surprised at the ideas that arise.

8. Pay workers well

If your employees are making less than the market rate, all the recognition in the world won’t make them feel valued. Create a fair raise and promotion structure that’s the same for everyone, and set clear metrics for reaching the next level. If raises are out of the question, consider offering creative benefits such as:

  • Additional paid vacation
  • Stock options
  • Improved job titles
  • Work-from-home days
  • Family leave
  • On-site meals
  • Expanded insurance coverage
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