Filling Buckets And Fostering Positive Work Relationships

Fill Buckets, Prioritize Positive Communication: A Manager's Guide
Summary: Want to fill buckets? Ensure your communication skills are on point so that your management style cultivates satisfied, engaged employees.

Do You Fill People's Buckets? Or Kick Them Over?

"That’s not really good enough.", "You’ve got a way to go before any promotion.", "I’ve spent years working on this so don’t try and change anything, any idea you have I’ve already tried."—ever heard these phrases from a manager? Ever said these phrases as a manager? Words have an impact. Recent studies have shown that every single interaction a customer has with an organization triggers an emotional response which makes that customer either more or less likely to repeat the purchase. The same is true with your team. Every single interaction you have positively or negatively impacts your relationship. Learning to fill buckets rather than drain them is the key to transforming your management style.

Filling buckets is a popular metaphor based upon the premise that everyone has a secret, invisible bucket that represents their emotional well-being. The idea is when someone’s bucket is full, they feel happy and content, while an empty bucket can leave them feeling sad or unfulfilled.

How To Fill Buckets In A Corporate Context

In an organizational context, "filling buckets" refers to a preferential way for managers to communicate with their people. By providing positive, supportive feedback and recognizing achievements, managers can fill the buckets of their employees which, in turn, boosts morale, and engagement and should increase productivity. The metaphor is designed to focus managers on fostering positive relationships with their people, reminding them their job is so much more than just managing tasks and deadlines. The importance of empathy, understanding, and emotional intelligence has only been growing over recent years; the organizations and managers who recognize this and fill buckets are likely to be more successful than those who don’t.

The Benefits Of Filling Buckets

1. Improved Employee Engagement

When employees feel that their emotional needs are being met, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work. When employees are recognized for their good work and feel like their contributions to the team matter, they are more likely to be invested in their work and the overall success of the organization. By focusing on filling employees’ buckets, managers can create a more positive work environment that fosters loyalty and dedication.

A study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology found that leaders who prioritize positive relationships and emotional support tend to have more engaged employees. By focusing on "filling buckets" managers can build these types of relationships creating a more engaged workforce. Moreover, Gallup supported this further finding that employees who receive regular recognition and praise are more engaged at work. The study found that employees who receive recognition at least once a week are more likely to stay with their organization due to feeling valued and motivated to do their best work. It’s important to give feedback in a timely matter too, waiting for formal performance reviews creates detachment between the accomplishment and the feedback.

Actionable Task

Try sending an email to an employee to recognize their hard work on a recent project and highlight specific contributions that made a difference. The manager could also follow up with a verbal acknowledgment during a team meeting or one-on-one conversation, whatever is most appropriate. By providing specific and timely feedback, using positive, above-the-line words you can fill someone’s bucket and improve engagement in a meaningful way.

2. Increased Motivation And Productivity

When employees feel supported and valued, they are more motivated to do their best work. By recognizing employees’ achievements and providing positive support when someone is struggling, whether it’s with a personal or professional problem, managers can inspire employees to go above and beyond in their roles, leading to increased productivity and better results. When employees feel valued, appreciated, and supported for their efforts, they are more likely to continue working hard.

This is especially pertinent when employees are feeling challenged. Studies have shown that positive leadership behaviors, such as providing feedback and recognition, can increase employees’ motivation and job satisfaction, leading to higher levels of productivity. For example, within the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that individuals who received positive feedback on a task were more motivated to continue working on it, compared to those who received negative feedback. This suggests that filling someone’s bucket with positive feedback and recognition can be a powerful motivator. The relationship between motivation and productivity is well explored both academically and practically in the business world.

Actionable Task

It’s possible to give good feedback that’s timely, without filling someone’s bucket. Ever had a conversation with someone and you know they are trying to help you, but their words only make you feel worse? Exactly. Our word choice is incredibly important, so next time you’re giving feedback, think about the language you are using. Is it positive or negative? Ensure all of your language is above the line. Swap "Not bad," for "Good!", or "You could have done better," for "With time and practice, you’ll be able to take your skills to the next level." The impact these small changes have is vast.

3. Better Relationships And Communication

The "filling buckets" approach can help to build stronger relationships between team members and between employees and their managers. When individuals feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to trust and respect those they work with, which can create a more positive and productive work environment.

There are three key ways filling buckets can improve the relationship between you and your team. Firstly, it builds trust. We all know the importance of trust it’s the foundation of all relationships and when trust is present, team members are more likely to communicate openly and honestly. People will be more likely to share their ideas, perspectives, and experiences; some of the greatest business ideas came from those on the front lines so this is invaluable. Secondly, filling buckets can help foster collaboration. The UK’s work environment is almost entirely based on collaboration both structurally and culturally. When team members feel that their ideas are valued, they are more likely to participate in group discussions and work together to find solutions.

Finally, it can boost morale. If team members feel good about their contributions, it boosts morale and creates a more positive work environment. Filling buckets is a simple idea that has the power to transform your work relationships. Given that emotional intelligence is the biggest predictor of success in two people with similar hard skills, the strength of your relationship with your team will most likely be the difference between success and failure as a manager. The Journal of Organisational Behaviour published a study that found employees who received positive feedback from managers had higher levels of trust in their managers, compared to those who exclusively received negative or no feedback.

Actionable Task

Often with filling buckets, there’s a huge focus on how and what you communicate, but listening is just as important, especially when focusing on bettering your relationships. Filling buckets is a metaphor based on the emotional well-being of your team, sometimes the best way to fill a bucket is to listen actively and empathetically. Try using active listening tips to show that you’re engaged and respond directly to what is said!


Filling buckets isn’t just a nice-to-have in the workplace—it’s an essential ingredient for building strong, productive teams. When we take the time to recognize and appreciate our colleagues’ contributions, we build trust, enhance collaboration, and create a positive work culture that inspires us to achieve great things together. So, let’s make bucket-filling a top priority because when we prioritize each other’s well-being and success, magical things happen.

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