If you want to connect with your staff, there’s no better way than starting a conversation about shared interests, such as hobbies or sports. According to management expert Ken Blanchard, catching people doing things right and taking an interest in your employees in general increases employee engagement and creates a positive work environment, which leads to improved productivity. A boss should learn what his employees' hobbies are, but take care to establish boundaries.
As your business grows, you may lose touch with your employees. Morale may suffer, and you might not know what employees are genuinely thinking. To experience what your staff deals with on the job, you have to spend some time getting to know them. Only then will they be willing to candidly share feedback and ideas. Showing interest in your employees lets them know that you respect and appreciate them.
Learning about your employees' hobbies and life outside of work can help you understand the other demands on their time. You may find that personal talents can be exploited on the job, as well. Casual conversations about employee hobbies can lead to real insight about how to improve company operations. You may find out about how relatively minor changes impact your workforce in a negative way or how your systems are tedious, time-consuming and antiquated. This can trigger needed changes without incurring the added expenses external consultants. This informal dialogue also helps you display your true self and express your authenticity to inspire, trust and motivate your employees to work as hard and with as much passion as you do.
Being too close your employees may threaten your authority. Finding out about and participating in an employee’s hobby may also inadvertently skew your views of him and his of you. Your purpose as a small business leader is to focus on work issues and problems, not your employee’s knitting, wood carving or painting pastime. You also don’t want an employee to misinterpret your interest as an endorsement of an activity that may not represent a positive reflection on your business or even a good idea for him personally. While additional insight about your employee’s circumstances can explain an employee’s inappropriate or questionable behavior at work, such as fatigue or disinterest, it doesn’t excuse it.
Many employers now investigate prospective employees using social media technology. That doesn't mean an employer genuinely knows his employees. Use work-related social situations, such as luncheons, team-building events and other informal activities, to ask your employees about their lives outside of working hours. These conversations help you get to know your workers’ strengths and weaknesses from a new perspective. This builds trust, as well. Then, you can get real criticism, feedback and ideas to shape your company’s direction from employees who trust and respect you, without fear of reprisal or repercussions.
Tara Duggan is a Project Management Professional (PMP) specializing in knowledge management and instructional design. For over 25 years she has developed quality training materials for a variety of products and services supporting such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and HP. Her freelance work is published on various websites.