Strengthen Your Team by Getting on Your Employees' Level

Work isn't a vacation or a playground. So, de-emphasize the perks. Perks can attract employees, but they won't keep them around.
Strengthen Your Team by Getting on Your Employees' Level
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Contrary to what some employers think, it doesn't always take office perks such as Google's nap pods or unlimited complimentary food to keep employees happy.

Related: 6 Best Practices for Managing Unhappy Employees

In a study of workplace satisfaction, Glassdoor found that Expedia ranked as the best place to work in Britain for the second consecutive year -- and not because of its flashy office space.

Instead, more mundane perks such as career opportunities and an attractive company culture won Expedia its top spot for the second time. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, two of the top five sources of satisfaction that employees listed were respectful treatment of employees at all levels (65 percent) and trust between employees and senior management (61 percent).

So, instead of designing an office worthy of a cool Instagram post, employers might want to focus on forging strong relationships with employees. Close relationships are some of the most important contributors to happiness -- not only at work, but also in life.

Respect is fundamental.

Keeping it real, for me, means building authentic relationships with my team that are founded on trust and transparency. When I don't care for something -- whether it be an edit, a design or a marketing idea -- I tell employees directly instead of trying to sugarcoat things. The goal is to always react in solution-oriented, supportive ways.

About a year ago, for example, one of the most talented members of our production team came to me to let me know he was struggling with his position. While he loved the team and the culture, he was more interested in a career working on feature films and was thinking about pursuing other jobs. I truly appreciated his talents and wanted him to stay, but also wanted him to do what was best for him in the long run; and I had to be honest about what we could and couldn't offer him.

In that spirit of mutual trust, I gave him a paid week off to weigh his options and even introduced him to another production company I thought might be a good fit. Thankfully, after conducting some research, he decided that staying at Lemonlight Production and taking on additional, more creative responsibilities was the way to go.

Without the trusting relationships we work so hard to build, he might have found it easier to just keep mum about his dissatisfaction until it became too much to bear, focing him to suddenly flee for another job.

If you're hoping to break down barriers and cultivate a more open, honest and productive work environment, here are a few tips:

1. Make room to vent.

A Hubworks survey found that relationships formed during the interview process are so critical they can prompt 80 percent of people to take one job over another. This is why I try to foster a trusting environment where everyone feels safe speaking candidly -- and that starts the moment a candidate arrives for an interview.

Most leaders can sense when something is wrong with their employees. Rather than wait for them to voice complaints on their own, actively provide space for them to share whatever is on their mind. According to research by Businessolver, employees who feel that they have an empathetic employer would be willing to take a lower salary (60 percent) and work longer hours (77 percent).

Cultivating empathy isn't about paying people less for more work, of course. The point of understanding employee concerns is to enable you to address issues early on and create the best possible work environment.

"Walk and talk" as a way to keep in touch with your employees around the office is an effective way to get employees to open up. It feels more casual and doesn't require all that direct eye contact associated with sitting directly across from them.

Don't take my word for it, though: Steve Jobs was a well-known practitioner of the method.

Recently, our graphic designer started becoming impatient about getting feedback. So we went for a walk and talked about what was bothering him. As it turned out, he was feeling overwhelmed by the number of requests from various departments -- all considered high priority by the requesters. Easy fix: We set up a more structured workflow with clearly defined priorities and required teams to go through his manager before adding more work to his plate.

2. Tackle conflict head on.

Relationships built on trust, transparency and clear communication discourage passive-aggressive attitudes at work. They allow you to explore solutions and tackle problems right away while ensuring everybody shares in victories and celebrates with the rest of the team.

Related: The 10 Benefits of Conflict

Disagreement can be uncomfortable, but it tends to uncover the truth. Plus, it indicates that both sides are passionate about a matter, which is a good thing.

Being heard makes people feel valued, so strive to create an environment where they feel secure enough to voice not only their opinions, but also their personal perspectives.

Avoiding conflict leads to an artificial harmony, which -- ironically -- breeds resentment. By contrast, encouraging constructive dissent, as, for example, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz does, demonstrates to your team that diverse viewpoints can bring about better results.

3. Keep your ego at bay.

Conversations ruled by ego and emotions have some common elements: personal insults, raised voices, interruptions, eye-rolling and lots of gossip after the "conversation" is over.

Remind everyone of the goal of the conversation. I usually ask people to focus on using words to share what's going on and to try to separate their perspectives from their emotions as much as possible.

This approach results in more pragmatic solutions, but leaders who want their employees to embrace it must learn to live by it themselves: They need to model it in both one-on-one conversations and group meetings.

Communications that simply flow from the top down are far less likely to account for all points of view. As a leader, you must be receptive to many different ideas.

I've noticed that listening more than talking is a sign of a highly effective leader. So, when I came across two employees having a heated debate about who deserved credit for a project, we three all went for a walk to talk it out. By making it clear that I was only there to listen, I helped them open up, and they respectfully resolved the issue on their own.

Related: Want a More Creative Team? Start by Taming Your Own Ego.

The upshot? A workplace doesn't need an infinity pool and on-site massage therapists to be attractive.

After all, work isn't a vacation or a playground, and while unique perks may initially attract employees, they won't keep them around for years and years. Work is a part of life, and just as in life, trusting relationships with respect at their core are what keep people happy, positive and productive.

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