Find a sustainable pace and keep people in tempo with it.
Your job as a leader is to protect your people so that they can keep doing their job day-in and day-out. And this means finding a sustainable pace, setting that pace as the leader, and then keeping your people accountable to not run too fast or too slow. Leaders who do not care about their people use phrases like, “If we can just ride this wave, we’ll be set”, or “We are only working like crazy people for a time, we’ll slow down eventually”. This kind of thinking is a smell that something unhealthy is amiss, and you would do well to tread very carefully. What is really being said may be closer to, “You are just another wave of people crazy enough to work like this, and believe me, you will only work like this for a time, because you’ll burn yourself and all your relationships out before too long, at which point we’ll find someone else crazy enough to take your place.” You may respond that startups must move quickly, everyone must wear many hats, and there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done that you wish. And would I agree with you. But in those circumstances, oftentimes the best thing is for everyone to just stop working. And this starts from the top-down. Telling them to go on home while you work late sends the wrong message. Everyone knows that good leaders lead by example, and having a different standard for yourself (higher or lower) than your employees is harmful. People follow a leader’s example more than a leader’s words.
Provide a way for them to enjoy meals at the office.
When you eat food after being hungry and not eating for a long time, there is a feeling of relief and happiness that comes with it. Some foods even release endorphines. When this pleasure arrives, we associate that feeling with our surroundings. If your employees are always leaving your office to get lunch, they walk out of the office with a feeling of longing and hunger, they go to a restaurant, and then they get that feeling of happiness at the restaurant. Repeat this hundreds of times, and you equate the office with tired and hungry, and the restaurant with providing for you and making you feel better.
Some people bring their lunch to the office. But, if you don’t have a place for them to eat it, they’ll end up eating at their desk (which cultivates feelings of, “I’ve got so much work to do, I’m eating my meals at my desk.”) Provide your employees with a common area for them to eat their meals – whether its an big indoor table, couches, or picnic tables and hammocks outside – and you give people the opportunity to associate the feelings of a pleasurable meal with their office space. This has the added bonus of encouraging employees to eat together and foster friendships within the team.
But don’t limit yourself to places to sit. Provide appliances to facilitate employees’ preparing their own food and eating healthy. If your office doesn’t have the space for a full size oven and stovetop, just put a Foreman grill, hotplate, microwave, and a rice cooker on an open counter, and you’ve got a fully functional kitchen.
Lastly, if you regularly provide meals for your employees, they will associate feelings of goodwill toward the company – feelings that they are being provided for, appreciated, and their needs taken care of. All this for a few dollars – a tiny fraction of what you pay someone for a day’s work.
Heart to hearts don’t happen at the water cooler. Nor do they happen in large meetings. Regular one-on-one time cultivates trust, friendship, and gives employees a safe place where they can say what they really feel. Also, get out of the office. Go for a walk in the park. Grab coffee. Go to the batting cages. You get the idea. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be structured. Just take 30 minutes every two weeks with each person under you, and watch your relationship improve.
Ask employees to evaluate their managers
Hopefully, your managers perform employee evaluations quite regularly. But if you want to do even better, have your employees perform manager evaluations. Managers are often just as responsible for employee performance, morale, and turnover as employees themselves. So its a no-brainer to measure a manager’s leadership just as much as an employee’s execution. Just be sure you protect your employees to ensure that managers do not retaliate or discourage negative reviews. You may find it helpful to keep these evaluations anonymous.
Show them that you trust them.
A company culture that allows people to watch YouTube, listen to music on their headphones, or joke around without a supervisor telling them to get back to work is not just cool and hip. At its core, treating employees like this shows that you trust them. (If you don’t trust them, you shouldn’t have hired them.) The reason for most workplace restrictions is because leadership wants to increase productivity. And its easier to make policies in hopes of increasing productivity than it is to actually measure productivity. And measuring productivity is a crucial component of giving people freedom.
The reality is, in appropriate quantities, distractions can improve focus. Humans simply work better if they play in small pieces interspersed throughout the day. Finding something interesting on the Internet, sharing it, having a laugh with co-workers – these things keep one’s mind engaged throughout the day. If a company restricts employee freedom, their team will become plagued with a serious case of boredom. When boredom occurs, folks turn their minds off, they do not want to be at work, and then productivity tanks. Measure individual effort, growth, and value added to the business – don’t measure whether or not people look like they are working.
Praise often, and publicly
Let people know when they do a good job. When you have meetings, set aside a time where people brag on each other. Cultivate an environment where people give verbal affirmation frequently.
There are two schools of thought on this. The first is to only praise exceptional sacrifice, rarely showing people that you appreciate them. The second is to praise quite often, encouraging people and cheering them on regularly. I believe the latter. Praise cultivates praiseworthiness. As you look for ways that people are showing effort, and you see progress (even if its less than what you prefer), if you praise it and nurture it, this will encourage people to show more growth in that area. This applies to your relationship with your spouse, your children, and your relationship with your employees. Failure to receive praise from those who love them makes people vulnerable to praise from those who do not.
Measure your efforts by the spouse-approval rating
An employee may not tell you if you’re making their professional life difficult, or if you’re hurting their family – but their spouse sure will. If you care about employee retention and touching people’s lives, enlist spouses to keep you accountable. Most businesses barely measure an employee’s job satisfaction, so the entire idea of measuring what their spouse or family thinks about their job is rather audacious. How can you measure your success as a leader by someone you never see? Your first challenge is to cultivate an environment where this is even possible.
When you hire a new employee, have a brief phone call with them and their spouse, just so you can get to know each other. Allow them to ask any questions they may have. Finish the call with something like this, “Bob, its important to me that your spouse loves your job as much as you do. Linda, my honest desire is for Bob’s work to be good thing not just for him, but for you and the family. Will you please let me know if I’m making Bob’s life difficult, or if my actions are putting him in a hard place on the home front?”
Then, create opportunities for regular time together. Have a family feast once a quarter where everyone in the company brings their family to eat a meal together. During the summer, have a company-wide whitewater rafting trip where everyone can bring their kids. Go on a camping trip in the fall. You get the idea. This increases camaraderie between your team, and they give you an opportunity to engage employee’s families. But group events are not necessarily the ideal place for a heart-to-heart. You’ll get better feedback from a one-on-one meeting with spouses every 6 months. Questions like, “Linda, is Bob taking his work home with him? How often is he working on the weekends? What does he complain about? What can I do to make his life better?” Questions like this can help you gauge how much stress you’re putting on your people, and any pain points that you can alleviate. And those insights can be invaluable for decreasing employee turnover by increasing employee thriving at work and at home.
Carefully tune your office environment so that the 5 senses are at ease
If you put the cares of the body to rest, you free the mind to be its best. Noise, harsh fluorescent lighting, uncomfortable temperature, visual clutter, a chair/desk combo that doesn’t work for decent posture, sewage smell, inability to have quick access to food… these are the enemies of productivity. And they all have to do with the 5 senses. If our body is not comfortable, we won’t be happy, and we won’t be at the top of our game. Be sensitive to things that are bothering your people, and deal with them quickly, or else morale, performance, and eventually loyalty will suffer.
So there you have it – a few ways to show your employees that you care. Thanks for reading – please leave a comment if you have any thoughts.