Valuing Professional Services Staff
By Professor Julian Gould-Williams, Professor of Human Resource Management at Cardiff Business School.
Imagine what it would be like to work in an environment where your efforts go unnoticed, where you feel nobody cares about you, that you are easily replaced and your views ignored. Many feel under-valued at some time in their career – so such a scenario shouldn’t be too hard to imagine. We all want to feel valued – to be of worth. It’s a fundamental human need which promotes human motivation. Being valued gives us the ‘energy’ to carry on whatever our role or status within the organisation. In contrast, if we don’t feel valued, we feel worthless and ‘empty’. We may lack the motivation to engage in tasks and question our purpose in life.
Despite the large number of articles, blogs and commentaries published on ‘How to Make Employees Feel Valued’, staff surveys reveal that the message simply isn’t getting through. Although providing fair and decent wages is important, much more is required for staff to truly feel valued. Here I focus on ways in which managers can help professional services staff feel valued. Small and seemingly insignificant expressions of appreciation can have a big impact, especially when applied consistently over time. I believe that this is especially important in the professional services context as salaries may not always reflect the true extent to which business schools value staff. Just take receptionists for example. They are often the first to meet and greet visitors to business schools. The impressions of professionalism, the warmth of the welcome and the initial directions provided by reception staff can have a lasting impact on how the visitor perceives the school.
Below I outline four ways managers can reinforce a sense of value and appreciation amongst professional services staff that are simple to apply and in the main, have minimal financial costs.
Be interested in your staff
Valuing staff begins with a genuine interest in them and the work they do. This cannot be viewed as a tick-box exercise. There are no gimmicks – even though there are plenty of off-the-shelf apps and schemes for recognising and rewarding staff. These certainly have their place, but feeling valued begins with the right attitude as evidenced through managers’ behaviours. Ask professional services staff about their work, the challenges they face, what excites them about the activities they engage in, and what they find challenging. What about their interests outside work? Their family, hobbies and general well-being? Of course, it may be culturally unacceptable to ask probing personal questions, so adjust accordingly. But remember, valuing staff begins with an awareness of who your staff are and having an understanding of the ways in which they contribute to the organisation.
Involve, listen and communicate to your staff
We feel valued when we are listened to and feel part of an on-going discussion. So, managers should strive to involve professional services staff in decision-making processes, especially when these decisions have an impact on their jobs. Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that because some professional services staff are less experienced or of lower grade and salary their views are less likely to be of use. These characteristics should not influence the value or worth of their contributions. Managers should encourage and actively seek a diverse range of responses and viewpoints.
Also, managers need to be careful to avoid secrecy or withholding information from those they manage. This signals a lack of trust and value. For instance, a job review or restructuring programme can be construed as an opportunity to ‘get rid of staff’ – signalling a lack of value if managers are reluctant to share information or be transparent with staff. In contrast, managers may seek the views of employees on how work processes can be improved to meet the changing needs of service users, or how efficiency savings can be made. Actively engaging staff in dialogue will make them feel valued. Further, as professional services staff sometimes have to undertake administrative tasks that are mundane or even boring but nevertheless essential, managers can demonstrate how much they value their contributions by seeking ways to help them cope with such tasks or ensuring they can periodically engage in more interesting work through shadowing others or job rotation.
Recognising individuals’ contributions
Managers are repeatedly reminded that a simple ‘thank you’ for a task well-done is all it takes for staff to feel valued. However, due to the distractions of day-to-day work and pressures to meet deadlines, managers often overlook simple gestures of appreciation. A timely visit to the office or personal email to express appreciation for work well done, will contribute to staff feeling valued. Managers may also wish to create a forum in which co-workers can acknowledge the good deeds of their colleagues. These could include notice boards, blogs, apps, and notes of appreciation. When managers recognise the good work of others, co-workers are likely to do so too as a culture of acknowledgement and appreciation develops.
If possible and funds allow, from time to time managers may wish to recognise the contributions of staff at small-scale social events. Some business schools already host such events in which tea, coffee and ‘nice treats’ such as cakes are offered on a regular basis. These events send a clear signal that professional services staff are valued and appreciated. They can also be used as a forum in which announcements of successes and noteworthy achievements are made.
The working environment
Finally, the physical space in which professional services staff work may signal their value to the organisation. It is unlikely that staff will feel valued if they have to work in an office environment that is unpleasant, in need of refurbishment or decorating, with broken furnishings and poor lighting. Although budgets may be constrained, providing decent facilities and a pleasant working environment is key to staff feeling valued. Just think of the implications when a university announces it is going to spend £100 millions on new buildings to attract students and ‘high status’ staff, and yet be reluctant to spend £1,000s on refurbishing existing buildings which already accommodate ‘valued’ staff.
Valuing professional services staff involves recognising who they are and what they do. Managers should notice and comment on the work that is going on all around them. Feeling valued contributes to increased staff motivation, but more importantly it also contributes to staff well-being and a positive work environment. If you, as a manager, are already expressing appreciation for work well-done and engaging staff in meaningful conversations, then be assured that your staff will value you too.
To further explore Professional Services issues, share ideas and network with others in the community, join us at our Professional Managers Annual Conference (PMAC) 2017 on 11-12 December in Liverpool.