And Other Signs of Love
Provide good coffee for your employees in the office. Give them options. Spring for a decent espresso machine. And don’t be stingy with the beans, flavors, and creamers. Why is coffee so important? Because people love their coffee! If you provide the coffee that they gladly pay $5 for at the local/chain coffee shop, not only do you save them the time in the morning for the extra stop, but you give them something important to them. For Free.
The message this communicates is that you understand what is important to your team, and you want to provide that for them, and that’s good culture. That is love (yes, you should love your employees).
I get it. Not all people are coffee lovers. This will not speak to everyone the same. But tapping into coffee-culture is one way you can value your people. Do not stop there, though. Consider Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. Although originally written for married couples, the Five Love Languages is one of the best frameworks on the planet for interpersonal relationships. Whether it is your spouse, your kid, your boss, or your employee, understanding these love languages will help you to show that you care and appreciate them.
Breaking it down briefly, the Five Love Languages are Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation. I’ll touch on each of them in the business setting to show how they can apply.
Our coffee example would fall under the Gifts category. While this can be a more expensive “gift”, they don’t have to be. Or maybe you don’t have an office. Buying your employee a coffee (especially if you remember what they like), or a candy bar, or lunch will make a huge impact for those who have gifts as their Love Language. It isn’t about the price tag; it’s about the fact that you thought of them and valued them enough to give them something.
Quality Time can be a little more difficult to brainstorm. With tight schedules and tighter deadlines, it can be difficult to carve out time to BE with people. So, schedule that time into your day. As a leader, your primary job is people… developing people, helping people, leading people. That requires time. Relationships are inherently inefficient. Like it or not, you need to embrace some of that inefficiency. So invite people into your office to “pick their brain” or bounce your ideas off them. Schedule collaborative meetings. Or take people to lunch to spend 1:1 (or one-on-few) time with them.
Physical Touch is, well, touchy in the business world. In our litigious society it’s probably the most difficult one to accommodate. Subject to input from HR, of course, I would suggest that there are “safe” ways to do so. Shaking hands is an easy one. In our post-pandemic world, many have done away with this custom for safety/health reasons. I say, shake hands and wash hands frequently. Let’s not allow fear (of a disease) keep us from being/expressing our humanity. Also, a pat on the back or congratulatory hand on the shoulder may be welcome. Use judgement/discernment, but don’t’ be afraid of small physical gestures to remind people that we are all people.
Sometimes it can be challenging for a leader or manager to think in terms of “serving” their employees. I’m a firm believer in servant-leadership, but what does that look like, practically speaking? Removing obstacles is one of the ways leaders can serve their teams. It’s one of the keys of good leadership anyway, so ask your people what’s standing in their way then go to work fixing it. Another way to employ Acts of Service with employees is to help them. While this can involve rolling up your sleeves and taking some of their workload, more often it is really about paying attention and shifting/delegating some of their work to others when they are stressed or under a tight deadline.
Finally, hardest for some and easy for others is Words of Affirmation. If you are a Words person, it is easy to offer encouragement, “attaboys”, and gratitude. For those who are not, it is REALLY easy to overlook this one. It requires the least amount of time, energy, money (which is partially why it’s so easy to ignore). Being proactive and intentional about Words (and the other 4 Love Languages) is the key. Find positive things to say to your team every day. Not only will it enhance their work experience, but it will elevate their impression of you.
In a broad-sweep approach, make sure you are regularly offering perks, incentives, recognition, and rewards that hit all 5 of the Love Languages. That way, you reach each of your people right where they are at least some of the time. Don’t worry about the misses. The attempts that don’t reach people will be far superseded by the ones that do.
For your direct reports and those to whom you are closest in your company, get to know their Love Language(s). Pay attention to which of your efforts elicit the biggest response. This will help you show them more consistently and personally that you genuinely care about them. And of course, you should know your own Love Language(s). There is a short quiz available at the 5 Love Languages site where you can determine your Love Language: Quiz.
What other ways can you love your employees?