Your staff need your attention – and you probably aren’t giving them enough. According to Dr Geoff MacDonald, a psychologist at the University of Toronto “Attention is one of the most valuable resources in existence for social animals”. He adds that without it, the motivation to pass on your genes diminishes significantly. Therefore for the continuation of the human race we need attention!

In addition positive attention encourages a sense of belonging. When we are acknowledged, we feel valued.

Many managers I work with talk about “difficult people messing up good team work”. They often describe them as “frustrating, attention seekers, a real drain on my time.”

Is this desire for attention hiding a desire to belong that isn’t being fulfilled? And if it is, what can we as managers and leaders do about it?

First, let’s learn a bit about attention and belonging.

The idea that people need to belong is not new. Thomas Maslow put “belonging” into his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. Later in 1995 Baumeister and Leary also stated that, “belonging means getting positive attention from people you know well”.
So what happens in the workplace when we give attention? And what does it mean when we don’t?

Attention and belonging in the workplace:

Attention is about getting other people to think about you.

When you get this attention, you feel like you belong.

When your team get this attention from you, they feel like they belong.

As a line manager and a leader, it is therefore utterly crucial to give each of your team your attention. Not doing so is like depriving a plant of water.

Without acknowledgement and genuine interest from managers, people will feel demotivated and unappreciated. In time, they may even leave.

Negative attention seekers

If you have team members who are exhibiting negative attention seeking behaviour in the workplace, first ask yourself, why?

Why do they feel the need to draw attention to themselves, even in this negative way?

Do they feel like they belong? Do they feel like part of the team? Are you not paying them enough attention so they are going to grab it anyway?

Managers often complain to me about people who sap their energy and take up their time; you’re giving them attention but perhaps the negative type; short comments, impatient remarks, curt emails.

So, change it. Give them positive attention. Do it for one week. Then two weeks. See if they are less “attention seeking” and more settled.

Of course if the behaviour is so detrimental then performance management is required. But I’m talking about low level energy sappers.

Help your team feel they belong

When people feel they belong, their motivation increases along with their desire to stay. Therefore, you have to start paying them the attention they need right now so that they don’t seek it out in other ways.

Start with some small things, such as:
* Send someone a short email of gratitude, e.g: “Your report really helped us today. It was well crafted, and presented. Thank you”
* Say, “Well done on organising that team meeting at such short notice”.
* Acknowledge, “I recognise that no-one else knows how much you made that conference happen but I do, and thank you for all the hard work you put in”.

These one sentence acknowledgements are worth their weight in gold. They will help retain team members, and make staff feel recognised that their work is important.

Attention and belonging…we all need it
If you have tried this approach and are still struggling with team members, then contact me. We can have a conversation and see if there is something deeper going on that you need more in-depth help with.
You may feel that your need for attention isn’t being met; I support many leaders who feel unacknowledged and lonely and I can support you too.

(With the help of Leo Benedictus article in the Guardian 5.2.18)