Employees need genuine connections with co-workers and the organization to be engaged.
Study after study will tell you it’s all about treating them like whole people, with all the respect and deference that implies.
We all inherently understand what a “genuine” connection with another human being is – a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. But according to Gallup, these engaging relationships remain elusive in the workplace.
Born to engage
We need trust and confidence in others not just to do our jobs, but to get through every day life.
We begin to connect and build relationships with other humans within the first hour after birth, and the behavior is so ingrained in our instincts it’s barely perceptible. As social psychologist Roderick M. Kramer puts it in the Harvard Business Review, “We’re born to be engaged and to engage others, which is what trust is largely about. That has been an advantage in our struggle for survival.”
Every employee needs this basic level of trust and confidence in their employer to do their best work.
The “uncanny valley” effect
That’s why it is very easy for most of us to recognize when someone’s intentions are false or transparent. When you try to manufacture genuine connections in the workplace, it comes off as insincere and everyone knows it.
And without genuine, perceptible recognition from others we begin to lose our sense of self.
This is a deep-seated fear we all experience, and it’s tied to our instinctual need for social engagement – the fear of being alone, the fear of not mattering to the group.
When you pretend to trust your employees, when you pretend to care about them and their careers, no matter how much effort you put into the act, it always results in an “uncanny valley” effect. Employees may recognize the general overture and gestures, but deep down they know it’s not real, and remain unmoved.
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It takes more than just strategy and a manager badge to connect with people. It also takes heart, motivation, and a willingness to remove said badge and just be a fellow human.
The power of the manager
There are several contextual factors that can contribute to an employee’s unhappiness, but arguably the relationship with their manager has the most influence, since the direct supervisor is more or less the person any given employee will interact with the most.
To wit: the National Business Research Institute recently surveyed employees and zeroed in on the top 10 most recognized complaints employees make about employers. Not surprisingly, eight out of the 10 reasons had to do with direct feedback from managers or higher-ups, including some of the greatest hits like incompetence, micromanagement, favoritism, and under-appreciation.
No one is saying it’s easy to develop genuine relationships. It’s not.
People are not so easily solved, so it can be awkward and frustrating, and it takes considerable effort, social skills, and a strong constitution to pull it off with success.
But you do it because you care enough to. That’s a gesture everyone can understand.