Let's Talk Strengths

Why You Should Talk to Your Employees About Their Strengths

          You may have heard that employees who have an opportunity to use their strengths in their work are generally more engaged, more productive, and have higher levels of well-being than those who don’t. You may also have heard that these employees have lower rates of absenteeism, as well as less frequent turnover (Woerkon & Meyers, 2015; Woerkom, Bakker, & Nishii, 2015). According to the 2015 Strengths At Work Survey, only 5 out of every 10 employees have a chance to do what they do best each day, and only 56% of people surveyed could name their top 5 strengths (McQuaid, 2015). These numbers aren’t negligible, but they still leave nearly 50% of people with untapped potential. (For more information on what exactly we mean by the term "strength," check out my post on Defining Strengths in the workplace). 

          Let’s think about it this way. Imagine an administrative assistant who does simple graphic design work as a hobby. There isn’t enough administrative work to keep her busy for 8 hours every day, so she spends her free time at work surfing the web. Meanwhile, the marketing manager regularly hires external contractors to design event fliers. Without knowledge of the administrative assistant’s strengths, the company has no idea that an internal employee could do exceptional work on these fliers and eliminate the expense of hiring someone external to do the job. The administrative assistant doesn’t mind her job, but she often finds herself bored, and she isn't necessarily engaged. She is capable of much more than the position requires, and, without knowing it, is waiting for the right opportunity to leave the position and find something more stimulating. If someone had taken the time to discover her strengths, she may have been asked to work on designing fliers in her free time, which would in turn have made her feel valued, appreciated, and engaged.

          In a survey of 1,000 American employees (McQuaid, 2015), only 32% said that they’d had a meaningful conversation about their strengths with their supervisor within the last 3 months. (An additional 37% said they’d been patted on the back for doing an okay job, and 21% simply hadn’t talked to their supervisor about their job or career at all). Of those who had a strengths conversation with their supervisor, 78% felt engaged, energized, and appreciated in their work. This is in comparison to 55% of those who had been patted on the back, and 24% of those who had not talked to their manager about their work at all. The survey data also showed that those employees whose supervisors are knowledgeable about their strengths are also more likely to apply their strengths in their work.

       The message is clear; talking to your subordinates about their strengths can benefit both your company and your employees. So what would this sort of conversation entail?

1. Ask your employees if they know their top strengths: Some people will have a good idea of what their strengths are, while others will be clueless. You could have your employees take a free VIA strengths assessment, but be careful not to feel limited by the results. You should supplement any such survey by talking to your employees about the overlap between what they enjoy doing and what they do best.

2. Be explicit with your praise: If you’ve noticed something that your employee is good at, tell them, and ask them if they’ve been complemented on it before. Engage them in conversation about the topic. It's likely that this process will help you to uncover one or more of their strengths.   

3. Discuss ways they can use their strengths on the job: Expressing interest in your employees’ strengths is a great start, but you can take it one step further by working together to plan ways to put their strengths to work! Be sure to keep these strengths in mind when helping your employees to set goals moving forward. 

       Having a conversation with your employees about their strengths may require you to take a few extra minutes out of your day, but the potential payoff is huge. Not only will your employees be more engaged in their work, but you may also find that you can save your company's resources by accessing your employees' untapped potential. 


McQuaid, M. (2015). The 2015 strengths at work survey. Retrieved from http://www.michellemcquaid.com/product/2015-strengths-at-work-survey/ 

Woerkom, M.V., Bakker, A. B., & Nishii, L. H. (2015). Accumulative job demands and support for strength use: Fine-tuning the job demands-resources model using conservation of resources theory. Journal of Applied Psychologyhttp://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000033

Woerkom, M. V., Meyers, M. C. (2015). My strengths count! Effects of a strengths-based psychological climate on positive affect and job performance. Human Resource Management, 54(1), 81–103. http://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.2162

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