Thanks to our business heritage of industrialization, which gave birth to the practice of modern management, we’ve spent the last 100 years (or more) employing strategies designed to get more out of less. And we’ve been remarkably successful in this quest. But along the way, our workplaces lost their heart.
The most costly result of our quest for efficiency has been that too many leaders have divorced productivity from the human beings doing the work. In a purely efficient system, there is no room for the messiness that is human emotion and irrationality. As a result, we have been asking employees to check their “humanness” at the door. And, when it sneaks in, we treat it as a performance problem to be corrected.
So, employees are becoming more nomadic, moving from one job to the next, searching the landscape for a workplace that feels better — where they will be treated better.
It’s time to put the heart back into the workplace.
Each year, our analysis of hundreds of thousands of employee responses collected through our Best Places to Work programs reveals the most important factors for creating an engaging workplace. Near the top of this list each year are feeling valued at work, being recognized for contribution, and knowing that someone cares about my development and well-being.
These are very human needs. So, while this may make your human resources department cringe, we really need to focus as leaders on how to bring more love into the workplace.
1. Make appreciation part of how you do things.
This starts very simply with saying “thank you” more often. Nothing diminishes a relationship faster than feeling taken for granted. A sincere thank you, even for small things, has positive effects.
If you watched any of the basketball tournament in March, you probably noticed that after a player shoots a free throw in a game, all four teammates usually come and give the shooter a high five or a slap on the back. It’s a ritual of appreciation and support that has become part of the game.
As a leader, you should consider how you can create your own rituals of appreciation. Adding an agenda item to the beginning of every meeting for peers to acknowledge and thank each other can be a meaningful step toward creating an appreciative culture.
2. Recognize effort, not just performance.
Early in my career, I remember a leader explaining that recognition and rewards were only for exceptional performance. “If you want recognition for doing what is expected of you, take a look at your paycheck. That’s what we pay you to do.”
This mindset is sadly still alive and well in too many workplaces, fueled by a fundamental misunderstanding of the 80/20 rule. The problem, of course, isn’t that recognizing exceptional performance is bad, but rather that a vast majority of our employees show up every day to work, give a good day of effort, and deliver average performance — thus being overlooked in this model of recognition.
The key is to extend recognition and appreciate beyond those who perform exceptionally. One simple way to do this is to encourage managers to create an appreciation list for each employee as part of preparing for their one-on-one meetings and performance reviews.
An appreciation list is about more than performance, it’s about anything the employee does that has a positive impact on the team and organization. These lists might include an appreciation for being dependable, always remembering team members’ birthdays, or always having a positive attitude. These are things often taken for granted and rarely verbalized.
3. Make time for more conversations.
When most of us think about how we demonstrate love to those most important to us, it often can be boiled down to making time for them. When someone makes time to spend with us, we feel valued because time is a scarce resource.
At the manager level, this means making time for conversations with employees about their work experience and development. In our company, we set the expectation that each employee has a monthly GOOD lunch with their leader. The key to these conversations as a leader is asking good questions. For example, “What did you learn last month?” or “How are you feeling about work right now?” Then, shut up and listen.
It’s also important for peers to spend time together not working. When organizations create space for this, employees have conversations and get to know one another. It’s in these moments that the feeling of “family” is created.
Organizations with leaders who make their workplaces more human who will win in the war for talent in the future. Even if it makes you uncomfortable to talk about, make it a priority to foster an environment where employees feel the love. They will love you back.
A version of this was first posted on Huffington Post.