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Validation at Work: Where to Find It and Who Should Offer It

The type of toxic workplace where employees feel unsupported, neglected, or unacknowledged gets little serious attention in modern culture. Most workplaces have increased efforts to limit and eradicate more direct forms of abuse, from harassment to verbal derision, but less effort has been made to understand the importance of validation at work.

Validation is not only acknowledgement of one’s feelings but an understanding that allows a person to feel heard and valued. An example of validation is, “I hear what you are saying, and your feelings make a lot of sense. You are not crazy or wrong for feeling that way.” Validation is mostly talked about in regards to romantic relationships — we desire a partner who accepts us for who we are and allows us to be seen, heard, and appreciated. But validation is also an important component of job satisfaction and motivation at work.

There are a number of reasons why someone may not look forward to going to work. It is boring. It is stressful. Coworkers are annoying. The boss is a pompous tool. There is simply not enough reward to compensate for the emotional and psychological (and in some cases physical) costs of this particular job.

Underlying many of these complaints and lack of motivation is the reality that too frequently, the employer-employee relationship lacks the essential ingredients of a successful, rewarding relationship: validation, respect, and commitment. Granted, the two parties are not on equal footing, like one might have in an intimate relationship. The power dynamic between employer and employee puts distance between the two parties and often muddies one’s view of who is responsible for maintaining a successful work relationship.

Should an employee be responsible for seeking validation? He or she may do so by taking greater efforts to point out his or her accomplishments and met goals. An employee can initiate a meeting with an employer to discuss workplace satisfaction and receive feedback on his or her efforts. At the same time, an employee is in a lesser position of power, so he or she may have less confidence in initiating efforts to receive workplace validation. In some cases, if it is never reciprocated, an employee who was initially comfortable with seeking validation may lose motivation and feel unsupported.

What an employee is solely responsible for is self-validation. Just like in romantic relationships, it is not healthy to rely on external validation to feel worthy and appreciated at work. You will struggle to accept validation from others if you are incapable or unwilling to offer it to yourself. For example, if your boss congratulates you on your latest presentation and you are unfamiliar with self-validation, you are more likely to brush off the compliment and continue thinking that your work is not good enough. Take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments, however small, and try extending efforts of validation to your coworkers.

Should the employer be responsible for offering validation to his or her employees? Essentially, yes. Part of an employer’s role is to be aware of employee performance and concerns. A boss can offer words of affirmation, like “I like the detail you put into this report, and thank you for getting it back to me so quickly.” Or he or she can invite employees to openly discuss their feelings related to work, like “I understand you are working on a project with a looming deadline. I really appreciate the extra time you are putting in. How are you feeling? Please let me know if you are feeling unsupported.”

Here is where a comparison to intimate relationships becomes useful again, to a degree. Both parties are responsible for giving and receiving validation. Thanking an employee for his or her efforts should be reciprocated with thanking an employer for the acknowledgement and being provided with the job opportunity, and vice versa. Validation is essential to fostering a sense of competence and sustaining motivation, two pivotal pieces of job satisfaction.

Not everything related to workplace satisfaction is as concrete as pay incentives, benefit programs, and catered lunches. It is important to recognize the importance of relationships — camaraderie among employees, faith in management, and mutual respect. These elements are created by fostering sufficient self-worth, identifying one’s needs for validation, and developing the confidence to seek it from a supervisor. It is created by maintaining awareness of an employee’s strengths and growing edges and openly acknowledging an employee’s contributions to the workplace.

It should not come as a surprise that the more satisfied one is with a job, the more productive one is on the job. The traditional patriarchal employer-employee model limits open communication, collaboration, and adequate support for learning and growth. Employers especially should note the importance of validation and reflect on how they use their position of power to promote feelings of confidence and worth in the workplace. Being in a position of leadership, employers should always feel responsible for initiating efforts of validation and open communication and likewise be receptive to the same efforts from employees.

If you are not receiving or offering sufficient validation at work, the good news is that validation involves skills that can be learned and effectively targeted. It involves greater awareness of one’s environment, being attentive and present, and active listening. This means focusing exclusively on what someone is saying rather than formulating a response or being distracted by a mental to-do list. Start by acknowledging the efforts you see and inquiring about feelings of stress and satisfaction. You want a healthy workplace that fosters productivity and growth, and you are in control of achieving a positive perspective.

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