Let me clarify something right off the bat: the term "employee engagement" has been stuck in HR for a number of years, but it is now fair game. Leaders at all levels, not just HR, are now faced with the responsibility of answering some key questions:
- How do we tap into what drives human motivation and engagement at work?
- What can we do to consistently inspire our people to fully commit to their jobs?
- What drives our people to willingly go above and beyond?
In answering those questions, I'm going to identify five leadership practices that affect people at such a deep level that they show up with uncommon loyalty and commitment.
But first...the four letter word. Brace yourselves.
When I first heard of this word as a leadership concept that drives engagement, I actually cringed. That was my reaction. I went seriously? How is it applicable to business?
When it comes right down to it, the truth is that employee engagement, motivation, drive, and commitment -- in the purest form of the words -- come down to this four letter word:
Before judging it out of context, yes, love (in the romantic "Eros" sense) makes people nervous inside corporate walls where employee handbooks outline code of ethics to safeguard against things like sexual harassment.
But the love I'm speaking of is the Agape type -- an "action verb" bridging the gap between business-as-usual and positive emotions. What science has found is that positive emotions is at the root of human motivation. We are wired for it.
A Moment of Truth
It's time to get over our reluctance to embrace love as a business strategy. We need to change the faulty perception that feelings in the workplace aren't professional, or too squishy, and can't be measured. (Nobody's talking about actually measuring feelings; we're talking about measuring the effectiveness of leaders in creating the conditions that will bring out the best in others)
University of North Carolina psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, did an extensive study on human emotions with profound results. In this Fast Company article, she was asked if a person's engagement at work is established and fueled by feelings of love. Here's Fredrickson:
"When people are made to feel cared for, nurtured, and growing, that will serve the organization well. Because those feelings drive commitment and loyalty just like it would in any relationship. If you feel uniquely seen, understood, valued and appreciated, then that will hook you into being committed to that team, leader and organization. This is how positive emotions work."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is love at work defined.
Practically speaking, how do leaders show love in the workplace?
I mentioned at the start five critical leadership practices that affect people at a deep level to give uncommon, discretionary effort. Here's how to love your employees.
1. Leaders love their people by caring about them, their well-being, and their growth.
You want to advocate for the development and success of those you lead, and model that in future leaders.
You want to make sure they have the right tools and resources. Not having the right tools to do their jobs can have an effect on engagement level. Invest in the proper equipment for your employees -- it will make their jobs easier, and make them better at what they do.
2. Leaders love their people by creating work that fits with their talents and gifts.
Employees won't be fully into their work if their hearts aren't in it. Did you know that employees who are well matched to their jobs are 2.5 times more productive on the job? Studies show that proper job fit also improves engagement and job satisfaction.
3. Leaders love their people by making them routinely feel valued and appreciated.
An engagement killer happens when people's contributions go unrecognized.
One of the easiest and most important ways to engage employees is to praise them! And it costs nothing. According to Gallup, you should ideally be praising someone at least once a week.
The flipside: Employees who say they're not properly recognized at work, are three times more likely to quit in the next year.
4. Leaders love their people by creating safety and trust.
People need to know that it's safe to express themselves, and that their opinions will be respected.
They are empowered and encouraged to take initiative, develop new skills, and contribute their opinions, even if leaders disagree because it's safe to do so.
For any leader that dreams of building an exceptionally committed and productive team, I end by offering you my best three-word advice: Love your people.
5. Leaders love their employees by developing policies and practices that foster greater compassion among workers.
In Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O'Neill's study on "companionate love," they concluded that companies who build an emotional culture of warmth, affection, and connection led to better performance.
From the Harvard Business Review:
Whole Foods Market has a set of management principles that begin with "Love" and PepsiCo lists "caring" as its first guiding principle on its website. Zappos also explicitly focuses on caring as part of its values: 'We are more than a team though...we are a family. We watch out for each other, care for each other and go above and beyond for each other'".
Another example of love in display is that of a CEO who asks to be notified within 48 hours if a close member of an employee's family dies. What executive does that? Former Cisco CEO ( and now executive chairman) John Chambers.
It seems so logical, but yet so rare to find. When you love on your employees, you'll get the most out of them. You, as a leader, succeed. The whole organization succeeds.