fbpx Skip to main content

As we gracefully slide into 2023 having enjoyed a little time to reflect, restore and reset, what do you see as being most important in terms of your relationship with work this year?

Your work, while important because it helps to pay the bills, isn’t just about the role you play, it’s also about you as a human being, team member, employee, boss, supervisor and knowing you matter.

Mattering matters because it is key to your mental health and wellbeing.

As a GP I would frequently ask my patients,

“What’s the matter?” the implication being that something was wrong and needing my help to get fixed.

But when it came to really understanding what was going on for someone, I sometimes failed to ask the other really important question,

“What matters to you?”


Why this matters.

It’s been revealed that clinical care only accounts for 10- 20% of health outcomes.

It’s the health behaviours and social determinants of health that make the difference.

(Sorry, could you please explain what the heck is a social determinant of health?)

Social determinants of health (SDoH) as defined by the World Health Organisation are the health-related behaviours, socioeconomic and environmental factors that influence our birth, growth, life, work, and age. 

As a doctor I was sometimes left frustrated, bewildered, or disappointed when my suggested treatment option was rejected.

If only I had been more curious to understand my patient’s reasoning, rather than thinking they were being unreasonable. My patient was probably disappointed too, that I didn’t “get” their why because I hadn’t asked.

Caring enough to ask, empowers the other person to know they matter and are part of the dialogue, not just being spoken to.

This raises:

  • Significance
  • Connection
  • Belonging (social acceptance)

If any of these three are missing, you’re probably wondering “why bother” or thinking “this is meaningless”, putting you at higher risk of developing a stress related illness, mental mood disorder or burnout.

In his new framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing U. S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy lists mattering as the fourth key element required and is revealed by providing dignity and meaning.


The role of dignity.

Dignity is about feeling respected and valued.

When present you feel supported.
When lacking, it’s stressful, demotivating and can lead to anger, hostility, and reduced contribution.

Being treated in an undignified way feels belittling.

Like when you’re required to wear one of those horrible hospital gowns that gape at the back revealing your backside to all and sundry before undergoing a treatment or investigation. Feeling undignified is disempowering.

Similarly, being called out publicly, like being asked to leave an establishment because you’re not adhering to the dress code – yes, I was once asked to leave a hotel bar once because I was wearing tailored shorts, is humiliating, and makes us feel stupid.

And what about how we treat people have been made redundant?

Being frog marched to the building entrance by a security guard with your cardboard box of belonging is undignified and unnecessary.

How does dignity play out on your workplace?


The role of meaning.

Having meaning in your work relates to significance. When you know what you do is contributing to a bigger picture, it’s empowering, motivating and spurs you on to deliver your best.

Having meaning and a sense of purpose in your work is good for your health, reduces your risk of stroke or heart attack, boosts productivity because your work feels worthwhile and inspires new ideas and innovation.

According to the new Framework, this maps out by:

  1. Providing a living wage
  2. Engaging employees in workplace decisions
  3. Creating a culture founded on gratitude and recognition
  4. Connecting an individual’s work with the organisation’s mission

A living wage.

While highly variable depending on societal and cultural norms, a living wage means having an income that covers the necessities of living. The financial stress caused by insufficient income is associated with a higher risk of mental health challenges.

And it’s not just the stipulated wage. It’s the unpaid overtime that’s “expected”, doing extra for which you receive no financial benefit or thanks, or regularly having to sacrifice precious family time to meet an organisation’s needs.

Ensuring you receive a fair and equitable wage, on time and consistently is a good start.

Making people in lower paying jobs dependent on earning commissions or tips to meet a living wage is simply wrong because of the damage done to an individual’s sense of dignity and meaning.


Shared decision making.

This is the number one attribute of patient-centred care. This is especially relevant when a patient is at a health care decision crossroads.

Michael J Barry and Susan Edgman-Levitan wrote about this a decade ago. Sharing decision making creates a far deeper personal engagement between patient and health provider leads to greater trust and faster recovery times. It’s the way forward to co-creating health.

It’s the same in the workplace.

How often are you invited for you input into a decision that is going to impact your ability to deliver your best work?

Are you frequently consulted for your ideas on what would make work in your workplace work better?

Do you get a chance to engage in meaningful conversations around goals, values, and the organisation’s objectives?

Are you inspired by your organisation’s enthusiasm and commitment to making work, work better?

For all the talk about the need for inclusion what better way than to:

  • Invite all employees to the discussion table
  • Enable all voices to be heard
  • Implement those ideas agreed to by the majority

Leadership is about raising others up, beginning with ensuring dignity and meaning so you know you matter.


A paycheck doesn’t say thank you.

Beyond being compensated for your work, the human needs of being seen, respected and valued are fundamental to a thriving workplace. 

Doug Conant former CEO of Campbell Soups is remembered for reinvigorating a company that was doing badly.

But it’s how he did it that is particularly remarkable. He stated his purpose as, 

‘’I intend to build high-trust, high-performance teams that honour people, defy the critics, and thrive in the face of adversity.”

He made a promise, revealed his values, and showed how he honoured his employees by hand-writing individual notes of appreciation, around 30,000 of them over the course of his tenure as CEO.

Cast your mind back to the last time someone you admire, respect, look up to, took time out to share a genuine word of appreciation for something you did at work.

How did that make you feel?

Did your chest puff out in pride?
Did you walk a little taller that day?
Did it put a massive smile on your face and inspire you to try harder and do more?

And this doesn’t have to be only the domain of a boss, supervisor, or manager.

How often have you noticed a colleague or co-worker do something special, and you thought “that was pretty neat!” and then carry on with the rest of your day.

There are countless undelivered gifts of appreciation and respect that never reach their intended recipient.

How sad to go to all that effort of noticing, to mentally gift wrap your thank-you and then forget to gift it!

This is where pressing pause for a second, to acknowledge the fact and then share your appreciation makes the recipient feel pretty darn special – through feeling more significant, and you feel good too.

Studies have shown that those who are shown frequent (genuine) appreciation at work pay it forward, increases your personal sense of feeling valued and boosts team performance.

What a great way to build trust, loyalty and mutual respect and maintain a thriving workplace.


Join the dots of what you do and the organisation’s mission.

This is where having a shared goal or purpose serves to reinforce how your role, strengths and input make a difference to your team, department, and organisation. 

Starbucks used “mission review” cards where an employee could report on any decision that had been taken where they did not in their opinion feel this reflected the organisation’s mission statement and they were guaranteed a quick response. 

This is about ‘Appreciative Inquiry’, tapping into strengths to create more joy at work.

Are you ready to have those conversations to ask

“What matters to you?”

Just like asking RU OK? when checking in on what matters for someone else it’s important that you are in the best head space, and have the time needed for the conversation. Because what is shared can be a rich, robust, and enlightening but if you don’t ask, you’re not going to know.

What matters is showing a willingness to listen and try to do something to improve the problem. As Howard Behar, former Starbucks President said,

“Leaders can’t always do something to improve the problem, but they can listen and try.
The tension goes away as soon as people feel their feedback is valued.”

And for those who love to celebrate days of significance ‘What Matters to YOU?’ Day is celebrated on June 9th.

What matters to you?


Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, trainer,keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

Leave a Reply