Building relationships at work is a lot like dating.
Think about what you look for in a significant other. Respect. Support. Loyalty. Honesty. Passion. When you find it, you don't just spend time with that person when it's convenient. You want to be around them. You want to share things with them.
You enjoy the highs and work through the lows. You invest emotionally and want to make that person happy so they don't leave.
Now think about employees. Do you want them to be passionate? Do you want them to support co-workers? Do you want them to be honest about their work? Do you want to avoid turnover? If you want employees to give you their all, you have to create a strong, emotional culture.
Invest your time.
Like any relationship, you have to put in time to really get to know someone. You can't just talk to someone for 30 minutes a week and expect them to fall in love with you. Same thing applies at work.
You don't develop authentic relationships by only talking to employees during work hours. Put in time outside the office to really get to know them. Ask employees to grab coffee or a drink. Ask about their interests and hobbies. Learn about their family.
When employees feel cared about, they'll be more engaged and more likely to stay.
There are highs and lows in any relationship. We've all had the boyfriend or girlfriend who ignores problems and doesn't like talking about them. They're exes for a reason.
It's hard to establish something real at work if you don't communicate. Talk about the good and the bad. Praise employees when they do something well. Give them constructive feedback in real time. Explain what isn't working and get on the same page.
That's how you avoid bigger issues down the road.
You're not going to tell your significant other that you'll only talk to them between certain hours each day, unless you want to break up.
If an employee calls at night or on a weekend while they're working on a project, make yourself available. If they stay late to work on a project, stay and work on it with them. If you expect employees to put in extra time, you have to be ready to give extra time, too.
Show them you care about their success and want to help them hit their goals.
Think about the little details.
The most meaningful part of a relationship (typically) isn't the flashy stuff. It isn't fancy dinners or vacations.
Too often, companies get caught up in the flashy stuff. Ping-pong tables, free lunches, a keg in the kitchen. I'm not saying you shouldn't offer those things, but the flashy stuff usually isn't what makes employees feel an emotional connection to the organization. It's the little things that do.
It's texting an employee on their birthday. It's sending them champagne for their anniversary. It's sending them soup when they're sick. It's asking them about their weekend, and genuinely wanting to know how it was. It's being understanding and having empathy.