We’ve discussed before the importance of taking steps now to retain female talent in your organization through the pandemic, but as InHerSight collects more data on what women employees are feeling as they navigate our dramatically altered workplaces, we’re seeing a growing need for companies to think empathetically and creatively about the ways they support their teams.
Because the perception of value, or worth, affects employee productivity and turnover, in August, InHerSight asked women whether they feel more or less valued by their employer since working from home. Of the remote respondents*, 42 percent say they feel less valued than before.
Melissa Doman, an organizational psychologist, former mental health therapist, and specialist in mental health at work, says such a large shift is likely due to a combination of personality, team culture, and management style.
“For some people who have always been much more comfortable with working from home, I’ve found that that’s for a couple of reasons,” she says. “They like having that sense of flexibility, and they communicate often enough and clearly enough via technology their value in a very secure way, where their work product really speaks for itself.”
Others, Doman says, might be more used to a culture of presenteeism, where “their value is more recognized if it’s seen, or that it’s easier for them to prove their value in person.” They also might communicate more effectively in person and could feel like they’re struggling to assert their worth. “I’ve been seeing some folks who fear when they’re out of sight, their value goes down,” she says. “That imposter syndrome really starts going up, and working from home solidifies it because they’re not there in person to prove it.”
A depreciating sense of value can make employees apathetic, passive aggressive, irritable, and more likely to quit, but being intentional about how you recognize and celebrate their achievements can help, Doman says. “Now more than ever, especially with this home working condition, the power of recognition and the psychological impact is even greater.”
What counts as recognition and affects perceived value
Let’s pretend we’re kids on a playground. There’s a swingset, a slide, and a chin-up bar that exactly three people can reach. There are also unwritten rules of engagement: Tricia always wants to go down the slide first, Sanjeed and Colton don’t like to play together, and Gabby would like to be in charge of today’s make-believe, thank you very much. Sound familiar?
Doman says the playground is the perfect workplace analogy because nothing about people’s interpersonal dynamics changes between pre-K and post-grad. “We’re older. We’re talking about different things. Our toys are different, but if you think about the dynamics of a workplace, it’s exactly the same as a playground,” she says. “There are people who want to rule the jungle gym. There are some people who don’t play well together.”
Despite having matured emotionally, the things that make us feel valued are relatively stable as well. “Everybody, no matter how old they are, wants to feel valued,” Doman says. “That’s a normal human need.” Some of us fill that bucket by seeking verbal or written recognition—wanting high praise for making it all the way across the monkey bars—while others look for rewards that better align with their own personalities. An extra hour of playtime. Taking the lead during make-believe. Getting to go down the slide first. (There is no benefit for Sanjeed and Colton. They just have to get over it.)
Doman says everyone’s value drivers, whether on the playground, in the office, or in the virtual workplace, fit into the SCARF model:
Status: How we perceive our position in relation to others
Certainty: How sure we feel about events, situations, or people that affect us
Autonomy: The level of control we have over decisions that affect us
Relatedness: The quality of our relationships and sense of belonging
Fairness: Our sense of justice or right versus wrong
Think of the SCARF model as pseudo-love languages. “For some people, they feel valued by their leader taking action, by the leader saying to them, ‘I want you to take this project,’” Doman says. “For other people, it’s through words. ‘You’re doing great. You’re really important to this team. We couldn’t do this without you.’ It’s really a matter of getting to know someone’s baseline.”
The best way to find out which one speaks to individual employees is for managers to ask their direct reports—What makes you feel appreciated at work? How do you know when you’re a valued member of the team?—and to recognize them accordingly. “Oftentimes people will quit managers, not companies,” Doman says. “Having a good manager can make or break your workplace experience. Even if you are at a company you don’t like, but you have a manager who watches out for you, who makes you feel stimulated in your job, that can be a reason that you stay.”
The benefits that boost perceived value
Once you know what makes employees feel valued, you can begin to put together benefits and perks to boost your team’s perceived value while working from home. Doman says in addition to the SCARF model, employers should be aware that there are two kinds of motivators: extrinsic and intrinsic. The first includes external factors such as spot bonuses and additional paid time off. The second, value-based motivators such as verbal or written praise or trust and ownership over a project. How an employee falls on the SCARF model will decide which motivators resonate with them the most.
You can’t expect to give everyone exactly what they want, but again, Doman says the best way to know what will work for the majority of your company is to ask. Cull a list of options that include both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and send out an anonymous survey that says:
We’re conscious that the world has been turned upside down, and we want to make sure that you have benefits that are not only enjoyable but useful to you right now. Here are some categories of benefits that you could choose from. Which would you want most?
Doman also recommends brainstorming beyond traditional motivators and perks when providing employees with a list to choose from: “The way we show recognition, the way we show value, the way we work is fundamentally changing for the foreseeable future.”
If people are afraid to travel, for instance, additional paid time off might not work. “People might want vouchers for telecounseling, vouchers for remote workout services, vouchers for meal delivery,” she says. “You have to ask people what is going to be useful.
“Organizations need to be flexible and realize that they can’t predict the future around what’s going to happen,” she says. “Instead of just throwing things at their staff, this is a good time to check in and ask what would be helpful. Obviously you can’t cater to every individual’s needs, but I think there is an organizational duty of care to ask.”
About our source
Following years of clinical work as a licensed mental health therapist in universities, EAPs, and private practice, Melissa Doman, MA, left the clinical sector and turned her focus to consulting and speaking in the worlds of organizational psychology and mental health awareness for international, national, and local organizations and Fortune 500 companies, including organizations like Salesforce, Charlotte Tilbury, and the NHS. Doman has been featured as a speaker and subject matter expert at national conferences, summits, digital publications, local television shows, international mentoring programs, and as a panelist at Google U.K. about how to have practical and inclusive conversations around mental health at work.
*InHerSight's August survey results include responses from remote and non-remote employees. To provide specific insights in this article on how to support women working from home, we've removed responses from non-remote employees. The original data is available in the results featured at the top of the page.