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We Want, No, NEED to be Cared For–How Did That Happen?

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Roy F. Baumeister (Princeton A.B., Ph.D ’78) in his evolutionary treatise on the cultural aspects of man’s development concludes, “It seems to be a law of nature. We care about people who care about us. We engage with people who care about us. And that can have powerful benefits” (Baumeister, 2005, p. 31).    Marcus Buckingham (1999) has reported on similar studies. According to research reported in his book, First, Break All the Rules,when people feel cared for at work: (1) Productivity goes up; (2) Profitability goes up; (3) Customer satisfaction goes up;and (4) Turnover goes down (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999). All of that happens when employees feel cared for because they become engaged with the work and with the people at work. When employees are possessed of a genuine, unshakable belief that their well-being and success are among the leader’s primary concerns, engagement explodes.  These behavioral traits are categorized in the body of my research as Category 1 Behaviors—the Work Matters and the People Care, and this conclusion aligns with the work of Buckingham and Baumeister as well as Posner and Kouzes in their research.  However, it remains up to you to uncover the subtleties of caring in your workplace in a systematic manner.  What is it that makes your people feel cared for at work TODAY?  

Ask them; record their answers, and think about the implications of what they are saying. Some of your employees will report that they are learners. They will report feeling cared for when they can learn, grow, experience development activities, or when the boss or a peer takes time to teach them a job-related task.  Watch that happen in the workplace or at home or church. People actually get engaged with one another. Why is that? Researchers have looked into it and have concluded that the individuals involved are ‘sharing brainpower’ or interpersonal cognitive processes.

In that light, then it is beneficial, Wentzel (1997) reports, to spend some time considering the ‘why’ that motivates them to be engaged (or lacking it, to be disengaged). Much of the research here points to motivational engagement and/or disengagement which is attributed to intrapersonal cognitive processes (thinking about or considering something without referring to another person) and/or teaching and instruction (Wentzel 1997). This, of course, is the life long work of the researchers that Wentzel cites for both cognitive processes and teaching or instruction.  It is the teaching and instruction piece that holds some promise for the individual managers as they exercise the task of relating to individual teams of workers.

Wentzel links interpersonal relationships between teachers and individuals to (positive) motivational outcomes.  You can do the same thing at work. Her suggestions include the notion that feelings of belongingness and “of being cared for” foster adoption and internalization of the goals and values of  ‘caregivers’ (Baumeister, Connell & Noddings, 1999).  “individuals will be motivated to engage in classroom activities if they believe that teachers care about them and the activity”.  If caring teachers make a difference, then what constitutes an effective ‘caregiver’ in the eyes of an individual?  This becomes an essential question in the eyes of the modern-day manager. Is it just the perceptions of caring at work which involve learning that have a similar effect on employees, or are there other elements of caring in the classroom or other places from which managers can become informed?

Perceptions of caring might be a critical factor that motivates middle school individuals to engage in the social and academic activities of the classroom, but to what extent is the perception of caring a predictor of motivational outcomes/achievements?  What characterizes a caring teacher, and by extension a caring manager or a genuinely caring person?  Both academics and classroom teachers alike have long noted that the teacher’s and students’ ability to behave in prosocial or caring ways has been related to subsequent academic motivation, performance, and social competence (Wentzel, 1997).  The conclusion should be closing in on you by now that the level of caring towards others by yourself and your peers and colleagues in your work environment will say a lot about your productivity and engagement.  How can you make it better?  Begin at the beginning.  Begin with each employee.  Ask them how they value each of the items of caring in the initial survey—ask them how much they get of it at work, and record their answers. Make it visible to the entire workplace. Commit to improving the areas where you don’t get scored well.

Caring Item How Much Value How Much Get

I Feel Encouraged and Supported

At Work I am Productive

I am Given Increased Responsibility

My Thoughts and Opinions are Valued

I Feel Important

I feel a high degree of Personal Interest or Connection

I am Professionally acknowledged

I receive Professional Growth opportunities

Generally, I am listened to

I am complimented

I am allowed to Lead

I often have an opportunity to Input into Decision making

I am often given opportunities to do my best

People Trust me

I am praised at work

Individual-centered perceptions of caring were the focus of interest in Wentzel’s research, as employee centered perceptions of caring are the focus of this book.  She concludes that,  “Perceptions of caring behavior are more powerful predictors of social and emotional outcomes than other reports, and perceived support from teachers is a significant predictor of motivation and achievement. Further, when considered jointly, perceived support from teachers has the most direct link to interest (parents, peers, and teachers)” (Wentzel 1997, p. 413).  This result is one of the more important findings in educational psychology and has its potential for impacting organizational and managerial psychology as well.  The question is what constitutes perceived caring from an individual-centered or an employee centered point of view.  Both of these studies have prescripted ideas based on early 1980’s questionnaires of what should constitute caring in the classroom.  The questionnaire you will be using in Step Two, Going Deeper with Caring, is based on responses to questionnaires from people just like your work group, and from responses gathered in 2007-2010.

Other researchers including Noddings (1992) presented some elements of caring teachers as leaders  (they model behavior, they engage individuals in mutual dialogues that lead to understanding, etc., and they expect as well as encourage individuals to do their best).  Bandura (1977) adds elements of democratic communications, consistent rule setting, expressions of warmth and approval.  The most recent, still in press research concludes that “Modeling, democratic communications, expectations for behavior, rule setting, and nurturance constitute five dimensions of caring in the classroom” (Eccles, Alfeld, & Fredricks, 2009, p. 3). Eccles continues, “We found few examples of empirical research on passion. One….can…define passion as a strong inclination and desire towards an activity one likes, finds important, and invests time and energy” (Eccles & Alfeld, & Fredricks, 2009, p. 3). 

In testing the person-environment fit model of Eccles and Midgley (1993), Vallerand and Blanchard found that harmonious passion was positively associated with flow and positive emotion, and that obsessive passion was associated with negative emotion and affect (Vallerand & Blanchard, 2003). In addition, they found that the perceived value of activity participation and an autonomous personality predicted harmonious passion. Although originally Eccles’ subjects were primarily individuals between the ages of 4 to 14, as the longitudinal studies continue, there are now significant numbers of subjects in their late 30’s reported in Eccles’ work.  Similarly, with Vallerand and Blanchard, the research bridges the ‘gap’ between purely educational, motivational psychology and a hierarchical model of motivation. You have the responsibility and the opportunity to model caring behavior at work by spending more time teaching and less time criticizing. Fill up your tank with kindness in the morning and you will find that the day goes better for everyone.


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