Emotional Salary is the non-financial or emotional gains we obtain from working that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development.

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Why co-creation is the answer to the leadership challenges we’re facing

To a certain extent leaders have always faced the same challenges they are facing now – how to motivate their teams and how to manage performance, team dynamics and resistance to change with compassion. But on top of these challenges, we have a whole new set of challenges which have become much more predominant due to the pandemic.

Mental health and burnout are at the centre of those challenges, together with how to manage a return to the office or hybrid working. We’re seeing increased individualism and priority shifts as people struggle to manage their wellbeing and make sense of what has happened over the past two years.

The graphic below represents what leaders consider to be their main challenges when asked the question at one of our recent webinars.

Wordcloud of words representing challenges leaders are facing including motivation, resistance to change, mental health, engagement, uncertainty and return to office

When it comes to leadership, there are so many different models and styles, most of which are incredibly valuable in supporting leaders to develop their skills and hone their individual leadership style. However, if we want to create a working environment where people feel invested, engaged and fulfilled, there is only one effective solution – co-creation. By co-creation we mean leaders, their teams and the organization working together to create and support a healthy team and organizational culture.

So, what does co-creation look like in practice, and how can we implement it?

Let’s look at the tale of two teams. Both teams are finance teams that support an international company with a range of team members from administrative assistants who do process-driven tasks to mid and senior level managers.

Team one: The team runs well and generally meets its targets. There are regular meetings of the senior managers. The senior managers determine processes and procedures. The structure is hierarchical and there is little interaction between administrative assistants and managers. There are regular performance reviews in line with company policy, but it is mainly just a box-ticking exercise to appease HR. Managers see their role as primarily managing the function rather than the people. Some team members are engaged and motivated, but many see their job as purely a way to earn money with little opportunity or desire for career progression. There is little communication from team management other than when policies or procedures change. There is little interaction between team members in different areas of the team unless there is a necessity to communicate on a work-related issue.
Team two: The team runs well and generally meets its targets. There is consistent, open and transparent communication in the team both from the senior management and between team members. There are brief weekly team meetings where all team members participate, share ideas, suggestions for improvement or anything else they consider relevant to the wellbeing of the whole team. The head of the team knows every team member and interacts with them regularly. When mistakes are made in the team they are shared, and the focus is on learning. Managers take people development seriously and see it as a vital part of their role, coaching team members and exploring how they can help them grow and develop on an ongoing basis. Team members regularly show appreciation for each other and there is a culture of collaboration and support. Each team member has clarity on their purpose in the team and the organisation and can see their personal values reflected in the team and their work generally.

Which team would you rather work in?

The main difference between these two teams is that in team two, co-creation is at the centre of the culture. The leadership focus is on taking a collaborative approach rather than a directive and paternalistic approach. Team members recognise the responsibility they have in creating a fulfilling work environment and they are active rather than passive.

There are some prerequisites for co-creation. Firstly, it necessitates that everyone is willing and able to take responsibility for creating a great working environment. That means that the leadership not only allows this participation, but actively encourages it and works hard to maintain it on an ongoing basis. Secondly, communication, openness and transparency are the cornerstones on which everything is built. Thirdly, there is a continuous effort to support psychological safety, that is,  communicate and teach by example a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Establishing a climate of psychological safety allows space for people to speak up and share their ideas. Communication is continuous and two-way.

The key to implementing a culture of co-creation is to focus on Emotional Salary. Emotional Salary is the non-financial benefits of working that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development.

Developing an awareness of our Emotional Salary is essential for co-creation. By gaining an awareness of what we value when it comes to our work, we can start to appreciate what we have and understand what we don’t have. This process leads to a shift in our perception about our work and empowers us to take responsibility and become an active co-creator and participant in our work environment and culture. This works both ways – if we examine our Emotional Salary and discover that we are lacking many emotional benefits that are important to us, we have a stark choice – stay where we are and explore how to get more of what is important to us or disengage and go and look elsewhere. This is where the role of the leader, and the environment and culture that we are working in becomes critical. If together they support that exploration and offer us opportunities to increase our Emotional Salary, then obviously we are more likely to stay, take responsibility and move towards co-creation: we’ll feel listened to, valued and motivated.

Graphic showing five stages from awareness to responsibility


So as a leader, how can you facilitate a shift towards co-creation in your team?

The first step in the process is encouraging your team to explore their Emotional Salary and share the results of that exploration. In our research, we’ve identified 10 different factors that constitute Emotional Salary:

Autonomy: The opportunity to have freedom in a work context, in which the person feels respected and trusted as a competent individual who is provided with the space to choose and manage their own organisational style, projects, and time on a basis that is congruent with their own values.

Belonging: Having a sense of connection with the team, organisation or peers. Being acknowledged, appreciated, valued and identified with the role that is played within the work system.

Creativity: The opportunity for exploration, development and expression of original, different and/or innovative ways of doing things, allowing personalisation of work.

Direction: The opportunity to view, create and choose a career path, together with the ability to make and contribute to decisions that affect your career.

Enjoyment: The opportunity to experience pleasure and diversion and have relaxed, respectful, trusting and authentic social interactions that allow for spontaneity, appropriate humour and play.

Inspiration: The opportunity to be aligned with a person’s most profound values which generates connection with a sense of possibility and direction towards the best possible work.

Mastery: The opportunity to gain a deeper understanding, finesse and knowledge over time in order to excel, gain greater expertise and an awareness of the subtleties of a profession.

Personal Growth: The opportunity to gain self-awareness, learn from mistakes, become more reflective and flexible and learn from the work environment to develop those qualities that make us better human beings.

Professional Growth: The opportunity to develop talents, skills and abilities through exposure to stimulating work and social opportunities such as peer exchange, mentoring and supervision whilst being able to reflect on and learn from mistakes.

Purpose: Having a sense of ownership and significance derived from work and feeling that it contributes to your greater purpose and that of the organisation.

You can use our free quiz to help your team explore their Emotional Salary or ask them to read our article on how to take responsibility for your own Emotional Salary.

Once your team have a good understanding of what Emotional Salary is and have started to explore their own Emotional salary, you need to use Emotional Salary as a framework to drive communication on an ongoing basis and to shift towards a culture of co-creation. This means integrating the ten factors of Emotional Salary into your leadership and talking to your team about their Emotional Salary regularly. Think about how you can create opportunities for your team to experience each of the ten factors. For example, take the factor of Belonging. How can you demonstrate to your team that they are valued? What can you do to facilitate a sense of connection in the team? How can you ensure that each team member has clarity around their role in the team and organization? Of course, this integration isn’t solely your responsibility as leader. You should also be encouraging your team to think about how they can take responsibility and look for opportunities for co-creation and to increase their Emotional Salary in each factor. This article on how to talk to your team about Emotional Salary will give you some ideas.

Integrating Emotional Salary into your leadership is the first step in generating a culture of co-creation and will ensure that you are laying adequate foundations for your team to feel empowered, listened to and willing to take responsibility. To maintain and support co-creation you need to continue to prioritize your team’s Emotional Salary. Emotional Salary is not static – it changes over time and depending on people’s individual situations as well as what is going on in the work environment. We also have a tendency to take things for granted and return to a baseline level of satisfaction (a psychological principle known as hedonic adaptation) which means that to continue to recognise the value of the emotional benefits we get from our work, we need to maintain an awareness of them. This means continuing to focus on Emotional Salary on an ongoing basis. As a leader your listening skills are a superpower that you can utilise to ensure that you are consistently understanding what is important to your team members and using this information to look for ways to co-create a working environment where every team member can thrive.

If you’d like some help and support on generating a culture of co-creation or integrating Emotional Salary in your team or organization, why not get in touch to discover more about an Emotional Salary Audit or our Leadership Training & Certification Programme.


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