A loving workplace is a happy, productive workplace, and it all starts at the top. But it isn't enough to simply want to be loving--it requires strategy, planning and deliberate effort.

The idea of showing love and affection to your employees can be intimidating. It's a lot easier to play the stern, invulnerable taskmaster whose only concern is the bottom line.

It's a lot less rewarding, too. Here are nine ideas for opening your heart to the folks who do so much to make your business dreams a reality.

1. Learn their stories.

Every month, I interview two of my employees and have them tell me their life stories. I turn their reminiscences into essays, which are then read aloud at company meetings.

It's difficult work, but it's one of the best parts of my job. I gain insights into my team that I couldn't achieve otherwise, and their narratives never fail to be equal parts moving, instructive and hilarious.

2. Acknowledge their contributions.

Go out of your way to acknowledge unique efforts and success. Recognition is the icing on the cake of achievement, and it tastes delicious.

Be liberal with your praise, and encourage team leaders to be liberal with theirs. Special effort deserves special appreciation every time.

3. Wine and dine them.

American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez once observed that "if you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him ... the people who give you their food give you their heart."

There's something glorious about gathering with friends and colleagues to enjoy good food and drink. Psychological walls come down, talk and laughter flow, and you leave the table closer in mind and spirit than when you sat down.

4. Hold regular one-on-ones.

One-on-ones are your chance to get up close and personal with your employees on an individual basis. It's an effective, intimate means of discovering what's going right and what's going wrong in their lives and careers.

It's also a great way to gauge the health of your team as a whole. Be attentive, be sympathetic, and take notes. Love and listening go hand-in-hand.

5. Make yourself available.

I routinely let my employees know that I'm there to assist them any way I can. Ultimately, it's up to them to reach out to me, but it starts with me reaching out to them.

It's easy to forget that approaching your boss can be intimidating. Nine-tenths of being approachable is offering a steady stream of reminders that you're there.

6. Tell them you love them.

Shocking, I know, but nothing says "I love you" like saying "I love you." The words have an almost magical effect of causing you to feel love as they leave your mouth.

Context is important, of course. I'm not going to be whispering sweet nothings into my business partner's ear anytime soon. But company meetings, Christmas cards, general messages in Slack? Say it loud, say it proud, say it often.

7. Acknowledge who they love.

Get to know your employees' significant others. Learn the names of their kids. Convey their importance to you by knowing something of the people who are important to them.

You've got a lot on your plate, so keep your efforts within reason. It isn't necessary to memorize every last twig on the family tree. But familiarizing yourself with a few of the main branches will leave a lasting impression.

8. Be real with them.

I personally find the concept of "tough love" to be a contradiction in terms, but if you notice that someone's losing their edge or offering a subpar performance, step in and set them straight.

Be honest and transparent with employees who aren't living up to a high standard. If you think they're in danger of hurting their reputation or career, tell them as much. Never let things slide for the sake of being popular.

9. Work your butt off for them.

Don't expect to be perfect when it comes to loving your employees. You're only human, after all. You're going to lose your temper, forget a birthday, inadvertently make an insensitive remark.

Apologize and move forward. Labor tirelessly to ensure that those paychecks and benefits keep coming. Prove your love to your people through your blood, sweat and tears, and your shortcomings will pale in comparison.