Leaders: Be More Human Please

No matter how old I am, I always feel like the fall is “back to school.” As wonderful as the summer may be, the fall is a “fresh start,” a new semester of life.

So I thought this summer about what as leaders we can do to be more effective next semester in terms of our interactions with our employees. It’s not working harder or smarter. It is being more human.

I have reviewed the summer engagement surveys of many clients. Even in companies that have great results, many employees feel that the company does not care about them.

Of course, in today’s litigious climate, there are legal risks in being human. But there are legal and business risks in not.

If employees do not perceive HR and their supervisor as human beings who care about them, they are less likely to be engaged, and therefore, less productive at work and less reluctant to sue in court.

I have noted among the deficiencies that I have frequently seen on engagement surveys the following five, and I have reframed them as aspirational goals for all of us next semester:

  1. Existential recognition.  Say hello and good bye.  Nod or smile when you see someone. Sounds simple, but in a rush some don’t. And when you don’t, the message the employee may feel: I don’t exist. This kind of micro-inequity can hurt… a lot, particularly if it is repetitive.
  2. Genuine appreciation.  When an employee does a good job, thank them. We all do that, right? Not according to employees of even some of the best places to work. Employees want to know that they are making a difference; make a conscious commitment to tell them so.
  3. Personal concern.  Sometimes employees let us know they are dealing with personal issues from their own health to family problems. Of course, we need to be careful of the ADA, among other laws. But if an employee raises a personal issue, such as, they are struggling with elder care, do the human thing and ask how things are. You can show genuine concern without becoming inappropriately involved. We just have to be thoughtful about how we are thoughtful.
  4. Admit when you are wrong.  So many of us aim for perfection. But be careful not to suggest you are never wrong.  Worse yet, don’t blame others for your mistakes. Human beings make mistakes and those who pretend otherwise tend to make horrible leaders. Who wants to follow someone who thinks that he or she is perfect when he or she is not?  To the contrary, when a leader professes perfection, subordinates work hard to prove them wrong.
  5. Listen more.  Let’s face it; we need a nine-day week with three days off, but we are not going to get it. So we have to do more and more in limited time. Who has time to just listen? Smart leaders who want to save time in the long run tap into the talent that of the workforce. And that can occur only by a conversation in which the leader primarily listens. You can show no greater respect for an employee than to give them your time, your most precious asset. And what you can learn will be well worth the investment.

Of course, our leaders know all of the above. We all do. But employees often don’t feel that we do. And, if they don’t feel connected to us, engagement becomes just one more empty bromide.

That’s all for now. Heading to Macy’s to get my new shoes for the first day of school.



This article is not legal advice and should not be construed as applying to specific factual situations.

Follow me on Twitter at @Jonathan_HR_Law

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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