Friday, December 7, 2018

For Bosses: Simple Ways to Show You Care

In the A/E industry, people are often promoted into management positions more for their technical capabilities than their skill in leading people. That's unfortunate, especially in a tight labor market. Gallup research revealed that the number one reason employees leave a company is their boss. When staffing is the top strategic issue in our business, cultivating great bosses should be a priority.

If you are a boss, I hope you appropriately value the significance of your role and desire to continually improve at it. Arguably, the most important quality you can develop is genuine concern for those who work for you. If you really care, employees will generally be forgiving of other shortcomings. Unfortunately, this trait is not as common as we'd like. What is often diagnosed as a lack of people skills may more accurately be called a lack of people concern.

Then there are those of you who do care, but don't show it often enough. You need constant reminders to set aside time in your hectic schedule to invest in others. Build relationships. That's the bedrock of becoming a great boss. Here are a few simple but profound things bosses can do to show you care:

Write personal thank-you notes. In talking to hundreds of employees about workplace issues over the years, I can confirm what you already know: Expressions of praise and appreciation are in short supply. By all means, tell your employees how much you value their contributions as often as possible. But there's something about written thank-you notes that means even more.

Celebrate employee birthdays. It's not the birthday per se that really matters. It's simply a convenient date to in effect say, "You're special to us." Take the employee out to lunch and use that time to say thanks again, and to ask how things are going and what you can do to be more helpful. You might also want to have some kind of group celebration involving the office or department.

Involve staff in key decisions. One of the more uncaring things firm management can do is to make a significant policy or process change without consulting staff in advance. If you want the change to yield positive results, you'll fare much better when you proactively engage the people who ultimately have to make it work. Furthermore, involving employees in such decisions communicates that you value their input and care about how they might be affected.

Create time to talk about nonbusiness matters. Relationships built exclusively on business-related interactions are limited, even in a business setting. With pressing deadlines and pressure to meet utilization goals, you can inadvertently squelch the informal, personal conversations that help build stronger working relationships. Plus research has found that friendship at work is a highly valued workplace asset. Intentionally set time aside for personal interaction (which leads to my next point...).

Host periodic potluck lunches. Perhaps this is a Southern thing, but I associate potlucks with being great times for fellowship. Buying pizza or sandwiches for the group may seem to create the same kind of setting, but I've found there's something about potlucks that introduces a more personal, homey atmosphere that most employees appreciate. Doing this occasionally is a welcome break to the more common "business lunch" derivatives.

Help them achieve work/life balance. I commonly hear complaints from my fellow baby boomers that today's younger workers aren't as devoted to the job as we are. Perhaps they noticed that the web of work-induced stress, broken homes, and neglected priorities was a steep price to pay for making a living. Interestingly, studies are finding that adding work/life balance enhances productivity and profitability. Even us older workers are in increasing numbers seeking more balance. The bottom line for bosses: Show that you care about your employees' private lives, and help them (rather than discourage them) in the pursuit of that elusive balance. 

Be sensitive to employees' personal issues. The fact is that problems at home typically create struggles at work. Few people can effectively compartmentalize matters of the heart. This isn't to suggest that you as boss need to try to solve your employees' personal problems. But you should be understanding and compassionate. Sometimes that's as simple as taking some time to listen. Keep in mind that if an employee approaches you to talk about a personal matter, you have gained his or her trust and respect. Don't forfeit it by being too busy or distracted to show you care.

Conduct periodic "stay interviews." Why is it that in many firms the only time employees are really asked what they think about their employer is when they're heading out the door? Don't wait until the exit interview to uncover problems. A great boss will regularly ask employees how things are going and are on the alert for those unspoken signals of disengagement. But it might be wise to have a third party check in occasionally, in case there are problems with the boss that the employee doesn't want to talk to the boss about.

In these times of heated competition for talent, we need to step up the caring quotient. Most firms are very busy, leading to long hours and elevated stress for employees. Employee burnout has become a major problem, with one major study finding that over 50% feel they are overworked and overwhelmed, and 70% say they often dream of having another job. If you're a boss in a busy firm, you've all the more reason to demonstrate how much you care about your employees. Hopefully these tips will help.