Are you taking a vacation this summer? If you hope to be a great leader, a new study suggests you should.
Working with Harvard Business Review, researchers surveyed 19,000 employees about their work experiences and what made them happier and more likely to stay involved. Among their findings: Employees were more likely to stay with an organization if their bosses encouraged them to take breaks and use their vacation time, and especially "if [the leaders] modeled these behaviors themselves."
When you put it that way, it seems straightforward. Still, so many leaders skip over the little things that can keep their people happy and motivated.
Here are seven radically simple ways to make employees love their work--and hopefully stick around:
1. Send them on vacation.
That HBR study really resonated with me because of an experience I had as a reporter in Iraq. I was embedded with some U.S. troops after one particularly tedious and dangerous mission, and I wanted to interview a top commander. It couldn't happen, I was told, because he'd left on leave to travel with his family.
At the time I was shocked and even offended on behalf of the soldiers I'd been with--what kind of leader takes a vacation during a war? Yet, it turned out that the Pentagon had a policy requiring--not just allowing--commanders to take mid-tour leave, because so few soldiers would feel free to do so otherwise.
2. Encourage them to take advantage of perks.
It's not just vacations according to the HBR study--it's all kinds of little perks. What good is the company gym or nap room, for example, if leaders don't show that using them is actually encouraged? That foosball table isn't going to play itself.
"In our own work with clients, we have seen many terrifically equipped gyms sitting largely unused during work hours," the researchers wrote. "Perks that ought to be generating positive energy and renewal among employees may end up prompting frustration and resentment instead."
3. Ask them to write their own job descriptions.
What better way to ensure that your people believe they are using their best strengths as they perceive them--and working at jobs that they think are a great fit--than to ask them to write their dream job descriptions?
Granted, you might not be able to give them every thing they want. I can't imagine too many people are going to include mucking the stables so to speak, or whatever the least desirable tasks are in your line of work. But, you might well be able to use the things they really want to do as a starting point, and find that it covers 80 percent of what your team needs to achieve.
4. Give them a mission worthy of their efforts.
Beyond making money, what reasons do you offer your team for choosing to work with you and achieve your mission?
This is almost existential--if you don't identify and articulate a compelling goal that your people can believe in and feel great about, there will ultimately come a day when they question what they're doing with their professional lives. Head that off by building an organization that pursues worthy goals.
5. Show them the data.
Have you ever worked for a boss who held information closely, like a valuable commodity that formed the base of his or her power? How much did you you respect that person as a leader? Perhaps tellingly, are you still a part of that person's team?
Don't be that kind of leader. Instead, share the truth with your people--the hard data about how the organization is doing as a whole, and about how their efforts stack up to their peers. Doing so shows that you trust them and want to empower them. (If you can't trust them that much, of course, they shouldn't be on the team.)
6. Hold them accountable.
Grownups want to be treated like grownups, and part of that involves pushing your people to achieve more. When they say they're going to do something, trust them--but verify that they've done what they promise. This also means holding yourself accountable, taking the overall blame when things go wrong, and admitting when you fall short, too.
7. Give them 10 to 20 percent more than they expect.
Pop quiz: Your best employee asks for a $10,000 raise. You think she's worth it, you don't want to lose her, and you can afford it. What's the best thing you can do? It just might be to give her a $15,000 raise.
I'm aware that the heading on this item advocates a 10 or 20 percent premium, and I just gave our hypothetical star employee a 50 percent premium, but that's the point: Give your people even more than they expect, and you'll almost always see it pay off in the long term.
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