We’ve all heard about the importance of corporate culture. How companies like Google and Facebook create environments for their employees that make going to work feel like a day of play. But a recent study at the Wharton School of Business found that keeping employees happy involves more than ping-pong tables and a private chef.
"Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork," write researchers Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill in Harvard Business Review. They show up for work more often, and their attitude impacts relationships with clients.
While employees who felt greater affection and caring from their colleagues perform better, Tom Gimbel, CEO of the LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based recruiting firm, says few managers focus on building an emotional culture and many believe love should stop at the office door.
"If loving your job was just about the company, no one would leave Google or Facebook," he says. "People join companies but they quit managers."
Creating a culture of caring means putting a little personal into your professional life. Gimbel offers five things CEOs and managers can do to foster a feeling of appreciation at work:
A lot of a company’s emotional culture falls on the individual managers and not the employer, says Gimbel. If a manager doesn’t care, it comes across. But managers often take their cue from their boss.
"It really goes back to the CEO," says Gimbel. "If you’re going to create an atmosphere of appreciation, the CEO needs to take the lead for the company."
Employees want their employers to care about them, but a work relationship is a two-way street. Managers need to set clear expectations and be honest with employees when there is a problem.
"Managers like people who are all in," he says. "It can be hard to be that committed sometimes, but those who are, are often the happiest employees."
Managers should be available to their staff 24/7, says Gimbel. For example, if an employee is worried about a project and reaches out over the weekend, a manager should reward that kind of dedication by making time for him or her.
"You don’t have to take the call at all hours, but you need to be responsive," he says. "If you expect your staff to be dedicated, you have to be willing to offer that, too, because if an employees needs aren’t met, you’re looking at turnover."
It’s tempting to work and personal lives separate, but Gimbel says there is only so much trust you can build between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
"You’ve got to spend some time together after hours," he says. "Play golf, go to a concert or just go out for happy hour. Those are the times when you hear about personal lives and you can take engagement to another level."
Gimbel says it’s also important to choose team-building activities that employees enjoy: "The founder of a company might think it’s fun to have their staff spend the day at their pool, but if employees have to drive 30 miles and give up a Saturday afternoon, it might backfire," he says. Instead, get a sense of what’s fun for your staff.
Fun events, such as company picnics or baseball game outings, can keep employees engaged in a corporation, but their loyalty to their job will be strengthened on a more personal level. Gimbel says showing care for your colleagues or staff is easiest during life milestones.
"A new baby, a death or a divorce—how the company reacts when something like this happens can make a big difference," he says. He suggests offering extra vacation days when an employee goes through a divorce, sending flowers when there is a death, or texting employees on their birthdays. "Little things can go a long way," he says.