Work is a relationship – a bunch of relationships actually. A relationship with the activities and tasks we do. A relationship with the person who supervises us and the employees we manage. A relationship with a long-time team member or new coworker at a nearby desk.
Work is awesome when these relationships are healthy and thriving. When any of these relationships deteriorate or become toxic, work starts to suck.
I think many of us in the business of “making work awesome” (or “making work suck less”) have lost sight of this fact. We traded in employee happiness for workplace efficiency, and genuine relationships for methodical processes. Think you’re the exception? Well let me ask, have you ever:
- Applied technology as the solution when things aren’t working?
- Encouraged leaders not to be “friends” with those they lead?
- Mandated a lack of emotion in the workplace?
- Advised people to create separation between “work” and “personal”?
It’s okay, you’re not alone. We’re all guilty of it. But it’s time we ditch the black and white, emotionless “best practices” we think help make work awesome, and start studying what actually makes awesome relationships work. Then, figure out how to do more of it.
The past decade of employee engagement data we’ve collected repeatedly highlights that what matters most to employees at work is feeling valued, being appreciated and recognized, trusting those you work with, and knowing that someone cares about your growth and well-being. We even have some pretty compelling data to suggest when employees feel like they can be themselves at work, they’re more likely to be engaged.
I don’t know about you, but that’s what I look for in all of my important relationships—whether it’s with my wife, my friends, or my coworkers. Appreciation. Recognition. Feeling valued. Being cared for. Trust. Love.
Yep, you read that right. Love.
We need more love in the workplace.
I know somewhere an HR manager’s head just exploded. After all, we’ve spent the better part of HR’s existence working to make our workplaces cool (dare I say emotionless), hyper-efficient productivity factories where we ask people to leave their messy “human-ness” at home. We wrote policy manuals that prioritized assimilation and sameness because it was easier to manage.
Well, we were wrong.
We need to make love part of how we do business. The best workplaces in the world have this down. Every aspect of these organizations are designed to promote love. Leaders show appreciation. Employees trust their leaders. Managers care about their people. Coworkers embrace each other for who they really are. They refer to themselves as a family. And they mean it.
But, is love alone enough? Maybe not.
While we are showing the love, we need to also pay attention to the one thing that can derail your efforst: fear.
Is employee appreciation meaningful when employees fear the repercussions of failure? Is there really trust in senior leaders if supervisors are afraid to raise concerns? No. Fear kills relationships. Fear breaks trust. Fear destroys love.
Traci Fenton, the founder of Worldblu, is on a quest to eliminate fear-based management in favor of creating democratic workplaces. They have created a process that helps leaders diagnose if their leadership style is fear-based or freedom-based.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Traci talk about what it means to be a freedom-centered leader. She highlighted three things:
- Knowing how to be in your power in the right way
- Knowing how to show love in the right way
- Ubuntu (a South African word that Traci translated as “My Best = Your Best”)
One of the powerful insights within Worldblu’s model is that the journey to being a freedom-centered leader begins with self-awareness and loving oneself before you can truly be a great leader of others. There’s no tech short cut on this one.
So, while we live in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology, the key to creating great teams and workplaces is very non-technical. As leaders, our primary job is becoming more and more about the fundamentals that have existed as long as humans have. Love people. And they will love you back.
How do we make this actionable? I think we could make a lot progress if we used these filters for everything we do at work:
- Are we increasing the love?
- Are we removing fear?
If you can’t answer yes to one of those two questions in every interaction you have with your people, you are probably focusing on the wrong things.
Show the love. Eliminate fear.