Companies are continually striving for new ways to engage, motivate, and retain their workforce. Often, they are re-evaluating their comp plan, or adding a free snack to the office break room. I have seen offices with ping-pong tables, prize rooms, and go-karts. It causes me to cock my head to the side when employees claim to love these benefits. I would rather live my remaining days in a maximum-security prison than work at a company with a prize room. (Are we in f***ing kindergarten??) It got me thinking about the differences between people and how that translates to the work environment.
Are you meeting your employee’s needs in a variety of ways, so you attract diverse talent and maintain everyone’s motivation?
So, just for shits and giggles, I thought I would relate Gary Chapman’s famous book, The 5 Love Languages, to the work environment. I might get sued for this, but if understanding “love languages” makes such a difference in our personal relationships, it stands to reason that a similar methodology would apply in our office relationships.
The first love language described is one of the easiest to translate, Words of Affirmation. Do you provide your team with praise? Are there consistent opportunities for compliments to be shared? Is the language used when coaching employees coming from the positive or negative?
If this is not one of your primary love languages, it may take some practice to express yourself verbally. Especially at work. But it is easy and free. Think of the last time someone went above and beyond on a project. Did you express gratitude to that person? One step further, did you express gratitude openly in front of others? At our sister company, High Rock Accounting, there is a Slack channel for #highrock-awesomeness. Anyone can post in the channel when a member of the team does something remarkable.
Quality Time. You might think this is a weird one for the workspace. How do you spend quality time with your team? Please do not take them on dates and blame me for an increase in sexual harassment claims. If any of your team places a high value on quality time, you might hear phrases like, “I just want to be heard” or “I’d like to have a seat at the table.” Maybe they want to have an influence, or perhaps they just want some 1:1 time. They need to know their presence is valued, or hell, just noticed.
Once, I was part of a two-person team based in a corporate office. The two of us were shoved in a corner, and literally, no one ever acknowledged our presence. Now, as an introvert, this was kind of refreshing. However, we regularly joked that we were going to quit, but not tell anyone, and see how long it took to stop receiving a paycheck. Pretty sure that isn’t how you foster loyalty on your teams. Neither of us stayed with that company for long.
At High Rock Accounting, we have a fantastic Concept Alchemist who takes our CEO’s ideas and makes them into real things. Recently, she developed a coaching program for all team members. This allows everyone to receive 1:1 time and lets them know the company cares about their growth and goals.
This one, I have seen many companies attempt to execute – Gifts. Swag, free snacks, beverages, books, prize rooms (gag), company raffles, and the list goes on and on. This is not my love language, or I would not have the urge to vomit when I see companies overloaded on “toys.” While it is a widely used language, I think we need to level up. Instead of assuming everyone wants the same things, get to know your team and offer gifts that mean something to them. Not wanting to spend much money? No problem, make something handmade or buy a candy bar. It does not have to be fancy. I once had a coworker recognize my propensity to stress eat and the gusto in which I eat cake frosting. She bought two containers of frosting, put them in a gift bag, and tied plastic spoons to the bag. Best. Gift. Ever.
Since you go to work to, well, work, the Acts of Service love language may initially seem to be null and void. Isn’t just showing up an act of service? No. That is not how any of this works. The act of service should be toward the individual employee. If you are in management, you may think of this similar to servant leadership. You may struggle to come up with ideas for this one. If you do, maybe throw it out to the team and get their opinion. If there was one duty you did not have to perform tomorrow when you come in, what would it be? Maybe you do their “one thing” for them, or perhaps you reorganize some of the team’s responsibilities to align strengths and weaknesses. Another idea could be to outsource to a concierge service but try to keep it meaningful on an individual level.
One of my business partners hates to see the sink full of dishes in our office kitchen. Since we do not have a regular cleaning crew, I will do the dishes if I notice the sink full. Now, let me not make myself out to be a saint… I am super anal retentive and also hate the mess, so it is a little selfish. But, I know this will make her less stressed if I take the five extra minutes to clean up (not my mess, to be clear!).
Do I even want to bring up the final language, Physical Touch, in an article meant for the workplace? My HR colleagues are cringing at the mere thought. The uptight, legally appropriate answer is NEVER TOUCH ANYONE AT WORK! That said, there are plenty of coworkers that are great friends and are entirely comfortable hugging, giving a quick shoulder rub, etc. I am envisioning being sued for the mere suggestion that coworkers hug each other. Yes, I acknowledge that you are not supposed to do this, but I am also human and see it happening all the time, so let’s deal in reality here.
That said, you can make it work appropriate. It can be a high five. You can also use your presence to fulfill some of these needs. Look the person in the eye when you are talking to them. Hold a door open. This is not an open invitation to be the creepy coworker stalker. Gauge your relationships and use common sense. Some people will punch you in the throat for trying to hug them (seen it), and others want to have their hand held when they are having trouble breathing at work (also seen it).
While I understand why we in HR or legal fields make blanket statements like “no touching,” it is still a workforce full of human beings. Whether we want to admit it or not, humans tend to be physical beings. Use your best judgment and understand the risks and consequences.
Whether you like the reference to the love languages or not, the general point here is that we should be paying attention to what motivates our workforce and how we can tailor our tactics to meet our team’s needs. Do not be confined to the model presented in the last business book you read or used by every company you have ever worked for. Get creative. Hell, maybe even ask your team for input on what motivates them. We *cough, HR people, cough* tend to get so wrapped up in doing things the “right” way, that we forget (or are scared to death) to be creative.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice. My opinion pieces are merely that, the opinion of a rogue HR maven, trying to encourage authenticity and appreciation in the workspace.