Unstructured activities at work are not always fun. You have to endure a putt-putt golf outing with your design team or sit at lunch with a group of salespeople swapping jokes.
For anyone who leads a company and has to sign the checks, it's tantamount to an endurance race when you go to a party on the weekend with people you hired because of their technical skills and not because of their exceptional karaoke abilities.
It feels a bit like The Office, and you're a smarter version of Michael Scott.
Yet, these ad hoc meet-ups and after-hours events are a goldmine if you are curious whether your employees actually like working with you.
The secret to knowing if you are well-liked in the office is to pay attention to what your employees do when they don't have to talk to you. I call it the open door test. As the boss, if you are sitting all day in an empty office and the only time you see anyone is when you have a meeting or an official reason to interact, there is a serious problem.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when you leave the door open and there is a constant influx of eager employees, all shooting the breeze with you (and arguably trying to get on your good side), that's also a sign. People in an office setting tend to behave in two widely disparate ways. On the one hand, if they don't like you, they will avoid you, even if it means they might lose some brownie points. If they do like you, they will find you.
Think about how this might work at a small startup.
The boss arrives for work and heads right to her office. She sips on some coffee, and after only a few minutes someone rolls on by and asks about her kids. Another employee drops off a bagel. Nice gesture, sure. Yet, these small interactions are a clear indicator--this is a boss who has shown empathy and compassion, who is kind and interested in the well-being of others. Perhaps not everyone in the office likes her, but the few interactions right away in the morning make it pretty obvious that most do.
Then there's the curmudgeon boss.
No one ever brings him a bagel. No one asks about his kids. I've seen this myself many times where a cranky boss who just "runs the numbers" and commands from on high is also alone most of the time. It's crazy how employees who dislike a boss tend to avoid that boss all day. The only time they interact? When they are paid to do so.
Now for the hard question.
Which boss are you?
If you find that everyone seems to interact with you and finds you in your office when the door is open, or that they like chatting in the hallway or in the parking lot, that's a good sign. You are doing something right. However, if they avoid you, it's important to make some changes. Are you showing them enough empathy? Have you acted in kindness toward them? Do you make enough jokes and ask them about the weather?
Take those unstructured moments at work and, even as the boss, turn them into an opportunity to resolve a lingering problem.
Be the type of boss that an employee wants to bring a bagel to.