If you want engaged, happy employees, focus on what they do best, rather than making recommendations for improvement, a new study concludes.

The 2015 Strengths @ Work Survey includes feedback from 1,000 full- and part-time employees in the United States about what motivates them most to keep coming to work every day.

The answer? The opportunity to do what they do best.

Focusing on Employee Strengths


“When employees have the opportunity to focus on their strengths and do what they do best each day, there are clear bottom line outcomes,” Michelle McQuaid, workplace wellbeing expert and author of the study, told CMSWire.

“Turnover is up to 36 percent lower, productivity is up to 44 percent higher and customers are more satisfied.”

Today is Employee Appreciation Day, an unofficial observance that gives bosses across the United States the chance to support, thank and reward workers. Started in 1995 by Bob Nelson, a founding member of the Recognition Professionals International (RPI) (previously NAER- National Association for Employee Recognition), it's celebrated on the first Friday in March.

In recognition of the day, we asked McQuaid to share with us three things business leaders and managers can do to recognize and nurture the strengths of their employees.

1. Catch Employees at Their Best

McQuaid suggested that, starting today, managers walk around their offices and try to catch people at their best. “Our brains are inclined to see people at their worst, and then try to fix them,” she said. “It takes more effort to find people at their best – when they’re engaged, energized and are clearly enjoying what they’re doing.”

Unfortunately, as the study shows that only 34 percent of managers can name the strengths of their employees, this is easier said than done – which brings us to our next tip.

2. Ask Employees to Name Their Strengths

“If you’re not confident that you can see the strengths of your employees, just ask them,” said McQuaid.

She suggested posing the question like this: “When are you most engaged, energized and enjoying your work, and how can we help you do more of that?”

For employees who are unsure of their own strengths, McQuaid suggested they take a strength assessment test, such as the one offered by the VIA Institute on Character.

Visitors answer 120 quick questions, and the system generates a free report listing the user’s 24 strengths, which could include humility, judgment, fairness and perseverance. Additional in-depth reports are available for purchase.

3. Give Strengths-Based Feedback

“Let people know which of their strengths you value and appreciate so they can focus their efforts on them,” said McQuaid. “Giving people extra feedback like this gives employees more confidence to do better at their jobs.”

She added that this type of conversation is a very safe one for employees to have with their managers, as it removes the worry that managers might begin to criticize their performance. “It feels safer and builds trust in relationships with each other when we’re focusing on our strengths,” said McQuaid.

Still Room for Improvement

“When we look at performance through strengths, it doesn’t mean you can’t talk about improvements,” concluded McQuaid. “Just be sure to focus on where the employee feels confident and committed to making the necessary changes.”

The 2015 Strengths @ Work Survey was conducted in conjunction with the VIA Institute on Character in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by familymwr.