Employee Engagement through Two Simple Words and One Powerful Gesture

Leaders Matter.

People hear it all the time, “Have a good day.”

Usually it goes in one ear and out the other without connecting.

But how often have you said to a colleague:

You Matter

Imagine how much those words can impact the person receiving that message.

Now, imagine how much telling someone that they matter that can impact the person giving that message.

Thoughtful leaders are not just concerned with getting the job done they are also concerned with the qualitative experiences that lead to exceptional performance —  experiences that enhance engagement, recognition, and inclusion for all employees.

The Harvard Business Review recently published a set of articles on the impact of loneliness at work. They note research that finds, “loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”

Creating a sense of belonging at work is good business.

I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and moving sharing the words You Matter can be. And I wanted others to feel this experience too.

It all started when a colleague gave me a card with the words, You Matter.  Nothing more. I felt as if I had been hugged. So I ordered my own cards and began sharing them with friends. Then, weeks later, a specific encounter at a grocery store inspired me to get other people involved.

I was standing in the checkout line behind a woman who looked to be in her 60s. When the cashier asked her how she was doing, the woman said, “Not so good. My husband just lost his job and my son is up to his old tricks again. The truth is I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays.”

Then she gave the cashier food stamps.

My heart ached. I wanted to help but didn’t know how. Should I offer to pay for her groceries, ask for her husband’s resume?

I did nothing. And the woman left the store.

As I walked into the parking lot, I spotted the woman returning her shopping cart, and I remembered something in my purse that might help her.

My heart pounded as I approached the woman.

“Excuse me. I overheard what you said to the cashier. It sounds like you’re going through a really hard time right now. I’d like to give you something.”

And I handed her a You Matter card.

When the woman read the card, she began to cry. And through her tears, she said, “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

I hadn’t anticipated the reaction. “Oh my,” I said. “May I give you a hug?”

After we embraced, I walked back to my car and cried.

Soon after that encounter the You Matter Marathon came to life. Its purpose was to create positive connections between individuals and within communities by collectively sharing You Matter cards during November.

I could never have imagined how many people and organizations would join me in this life-changing journey.

I would have been thrilled if we had shared 10,000 cards in one month.

But almost half-a-million cards were given to people who were stopped in their tracks and told:

You Matter.

That’s not a misprint.

Almost half-a-million.

In 50 states and 59 countries.


And as impressive as those numbers are, the true value of even one card share is immeasurable. Here are just a few of the hundreds of stories and comments we received:

“We started using the cards with teen suicide programs and some gang programs, mentor programs. It is a hoot to have nasty, bratty teens tell me sincerely that I matter because I helped them feel like they matter. In 42 years of practice this has been the most important, significant thing we/I have done.”

“Having the You Matter cards, ready to hand out, has caused me to look at people differently. It is hard for me to approach strangers, so this is an opportunity for growth. I try to find people with whom I can have a meaningful interaction. Consequently, I am really looking at people. I find myself smiling at them because I am really looking at them. This is making me a much more connected human.”

“I teach 22 children who really matter. I put a card on each desk and I was surprised at how much that meant to my seven year olds. They made me You Matter notes on little pieces of paper and left them for me all day long. Many of them taped the cards on their desks. I felt so good seeing how the You Matter message made my students feel. One little girl told me that it made her feel happy all over.”

We know that compassion and empathy in the workplace help build trust. Trust is especially vital in team-based cultures. People want to work with those they feel seen and heard by.  Not only that, creativity and problem solving are enhanced when people feel safe to express themselves.

We also know that positive emotions can be contagious and help to broaden and build our capabilities. Even small acts of empathy and kindness in the workplace create micro-moments of positivity that have large and lasting impact. They are the glue for engagement and connection that ultimately enhances both happiness and productivity. Giving employees a simple yet powerful way to acknowledge each other can make all the difference.

You Matter.

If inspired, you can learn more about the You Matter Marathon here.

Photo Credit: lindahudson Flickr via Compfight cc