One of the common reasons for people to disengage at work is not feeling appreciated. People phrase this problem in various ways: not feeling seen, not feeling valued, not feeling rewarded.

These subtle differences in phrasing can lead to jumping to different types of solutions. Language is a magical thing. If people say they don’t feel valued, we may think: ok, the problem is value. What is guaranteed to show value? Money! So we may jump to monetary rewards. When people don’t feel the work they do is seen or appreciated, we may attempt to fix this visibility problem through public praise.

However, are these really our best ways to show people they matter?

By now you will likely know that whenever I pose a question like that the answer is always no.

I believe we have another way, and that way involves using the resource that we all have access to equally. No matter if we’re rich or poor; the CEO or the sanitary manager. We can give it; we can take it. It’s the ultimate currency.

No, it’s not Worldcoin.

It’s time.

As human beings we put a premium on people who give us time and energy. Receiving time and energy generates oxytocin in our body, which is the “social bonding” hormone. It builds relationships. When you build relationships, you build belonging. When you feel you belong, you feel seen, valued, appreciated, safe, and all that good stuff.

Simon Sinek put it nicely in this talk — the whole thing is worth watching, but the link goes to the timestamp where he discusses the topic of time and energy specifically.

This is the problem with most e-mails, chat messages and so on: they are too easy. There’s too little time and energy investment required. As a result: no oxytocin, no stronger relationship. For exchanging information (“Can we push that meeting back 30 minutes?” “Sure.”), they’re great — but not to have deeper conversations (“What do you think about my idea?”).

Money has the same problem: giving somebody a bonus can make them feel appreciated at some level, at least short-term. Long-term the effectiveness is questionable. However, do you build belonging or relationships this way? I sure would hope not. Why? Again: it’s not a real time and energy investment. My bet would be that the most value of giving somebody a bonus is the time you spend (assuming that you do) in a meeting with them explaining why they’re getting the bonus, not the hitting of that “Transfer” button. Likely, the money you are giving away is not something you personally sweated to earn, it’s anonymous company money.

The alternative: spend that time, spend that energy.

When somebody visibly put a lot of effort into preparing a proposal, a feature, a project plan, don’t reply with “LGTM” or by adding that 👏 reaction emoji. That takes zero time or effort. Instead: meet — in person, on a call. Tell them what you think, why it matters, ask them about their effort. Show them that you care by spending that universal currency: time. And don’t constantly check your watch while doing it.

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