Is “mattering” the secret to engagement in a new hybrid-working economy, or just a patronizing and wrong-headed buzzword?

There has been no shortage of talk recently about how workplace team leaders and managers can hold on to their employees in the new economy, something that continues to confound many. Some will say it’s about work-life balance; many more will say all you really need to hold on to a good employee is to pay them a good salary (pizza parties are now routinely mocked.)

But at this year’s Davos conference, among the economic and business elite the big buzzword was something different: “mattering.”

“This is the secret to management in a fragmented world,” proclaimed the CEO of BetterUp Alexi Robichaux. “Mattering is crucial because it provides the ‘why’ that fuels us. The working world is fragmented in terms of where work occurs and who does it, but also in terms of time, levels of effort and direction.”

Robichaux urged managers to do all they could to make sure their employees felt like they mattered — not by flattering them, but by making sure that they do matter, that they aren’t disposable.

The North American economy is frantically trying to solve the problem of flagging productivity, and research suggests that mattering might be helpful. In a 2021 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that firms whose employees felt like they mattered saw that reflected in the bottom line.

“When employees feel like they matter to their organization, they are more satisfied with their jobs and life, more likely to occupy leadership positions, more likely to be rewarded and promoted and less likely to quit,” they wrote.

But others are less sure about the modern workplace’s ability to do this authentically. “I don’t wish to argue that employee happiness and wellbeing is unimportant, or even that organizations are wrong to think about these things in relation to productivity and performance. But the idea that you can make someone feel like they matter simply by telling managers to ‘deliver mattering’ is not just patronizing, it is also wrong-headed” writes the Financial Times’ Jemima Kelly.

“Delivering mattering as a management technique, rather than making someone feel like they matter by showing them, over time, that they really do, is not going to achieve that.”

Content written by Kieran Delamont for Worklife, a partnership between Ahria Consulting and London Inc. To view this content in newsletter form, click here.