Today’s show is Building Relationships With Your Employees. Listen to the show on iTunes and Stitcher.

Don: [00:00:00] What’s going to hold an employee to an organization? What’s going to make them want to be there and stay there? And it’s this emotional velcro. If something feels like family, those are the hooks and loops that someone wants to be in and they’re going to thrive.

Don: [00:00:14] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”.

Don: [00:00:23] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create, engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.

Don: [00:00:41] Each week my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 solutions to give managers CEOs and leaders that tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.

Kelly: [00:01:05] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, Vice President of Client Experiences at E3 Solutions.

Kelly: [00:01:11] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem. Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.

Don: [00:01:20] It’s my pleasure Kelly.

Kelly: [00:01:22] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is building better relationships with your employees.

Kelly: [00:01:28] I’m kind of afraid to say the stat out loud, it doesn’t feel very good. But, the average person spends 90,000 hours of their life in the office. However, only one-third of U.S. employees are actually engaged in their work and in their workplace according to Gallup.

Kelly: [00:01:45] This statistic seems to underscore the need for co-workers like managers and employees to connect with one another. Why should managers bother to build relationships with their employees? Shouldn’t employees just show up and do their work?

Don: [00:01:57] Yeah, that’s been the mantra for a couple of hundred years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that just show up and do your work. And, that just doesn’t fit with how the brain is designed.

Don: [00:02:06] This is one of the wonderful gifts we’ve received from the field of neuroscience, especially, the field of social neuroscience. This growing understanding, that as human beings, we are hardwired to be with others.

Don: [00:02:19] We are social animals. We’re herd animals, if you will. And, I liked your statistic, although it’s kind of scary—90,000 hours of time spent in the workplace.

Don: [00:02:30] Here’s the issue I think for us and one of the reasons that drives what we do at E3 Solutions. We are herd animals at our core. We’re hardwired to be in groups and clans and tribes. But, we don’t grow up in tight-knit tribes anymore. Where do we spend most of our time when we’re awake with other adults? It’s clearly at work.

Don: [00:02:47] So, in one sense work is the new tribe for the 21st-century homo sapiens. What that means is we’re hardwired in a way to go to work, that is, to be in a tribe.

Don: [00:02:57] The challenge for the brain is the conditions the brain thought it was going to get by being with this group of people is not what typically happens in the workplace. That is, I can’t count on these people. They don’t have my back. I can be blindsided at any time so I have to be very vigilant about threats around me. I don’t have these, what therapists might call, safe and secure connections around me at work. And, the part of the brain that’s in charge that has control precedents, the limbic system, isn’t smart enough to know if it’s at work or at home. It only knows whether it feels safe. And, because we’re herd animals, these social beings, safety in this part of the brain is determined by, do I have people around me that are that think the same way I do. That I can count on. Are they consistent and predictable? Those are the conditions that relationships create for the brain and that’s why relationships are so powerful when they’re healthy inside the workplace.

Kelly: [00:03:52] There’s clearly a huge opportunity for us to do this better every single day. If two-thirds of people wake up every morning to an alarm clock and dread putting on those work clothes and heading out the door and going to their cubicle or their office space then something has to change.

Don: [00:04:09] It does. Employees tell me that they’re their knuckles are white gripping the steering wheel as they drive into work. They feel their stomach tighten up. They feel ill. They look down, they don’t look at people around them. They just go in and they say I’ve become like an automaton because it just doesn’t feel healthy when they get there.

Don: [00:04:26] That’s what we would call a toxic workplace even though we are herd animals by hardwiring, that’s not the conditions that the brain thrives in. And, that’s literally why I titled the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”

Don: [00:04:41] We know, quite literally, specifically, what are the conditions when people are in them they thrive? That is they operate close to their full capacity. And it’s not hard to do that in the workplace, but that’s not what’s going on there now in most organizations.

Kelly: [00:04:58] So what’s the opportunity here for leaders especially around building relationships?

Don: [00:05:03] The simplest level when we go into an organization, as you know Kelly, because you’ve been on this journey now with us for many years. When we go into an organization we can quickly assess is this a transactional culture? Or, is this a relational culture? And the transactional cultures, the ones that just focus on utilization rates and productivity and it’s all numbers, they struggle around keeping employees and creating an environment where people look forward to coming to work.

Don: [00:05:27] The relational cultures are the ones that thrive now. How do we know if it’s relational culture? Well, one of the ways is when we do our employee engagement survey and we look at the open-ended questions.

Don: [00:05:36] One of the questions I like to have in the survey, in fact, I love it when it’s the last question in the survey are, what are the three reasons why you love working for this organization?

Don: [00:05:45] And, when we see things like, feels like family I work with great people, I’m challenged every day in my work. We know it’s a relational culture and it’s what we refer to is as, emotional velcro.

Don: [00:05:57] What’s going to hold an employee to an organization? What going to make them want to be there and stay there? And it’s this emotional velcro. If something feels like family, those are the hooks and loops that someone wants to be in and they’re going to thrive.

Kelly: [00:06:10] I was just reading an article last night in Forbes about the perils of friendship between a boss and their employees. There’s obviously some clear boundaries that need to be drawn there. It doesn’t look like being best friends or knowing everything about one another. What are some of those appropriate guideposts in relationships in family feel between a leader and their team members?

Don: [00:06:31] It can be simple things like it’s ok to laugh and have fun. I can make a mistake and I’m not shamed for making it. We talk about it openly. A non-blaming kind of atmosphere. But when we look at it most specifically around the brain and the limbic system in the brain, the part of the brain that’s hyper-vigilant for threat, determines it’s the epicenter of fight, flight or freeze. The two conditions that the brain seems to prize more than anything else, is consistency and predictability.

Don: [00:06:59] So, it is my manager consistent and predictable? And, so that when I interact with them, I’m not surprised I’m not blindsided by something I didn’t expect. As a manager as a leader, do you show up in a way that’s consistent and predictable for your team? Are you there for them? Do you have their back?

Don: [00:07:16] One employee said, “my manager’s an advocate for me.” That is they’re supportive. They come alongside me. They’re going to help me get to the next level. They’re going to be a mentor, a coach, a guide. These are all things that are part of a healthy relationship but not a best friend. In fact, there’s one big major player out in this field of measuring engagement and one of their questions is: do I have a best friend at work? That’s not the issue. That’s not the point. It really is, do I have someone at work I can count on, that has my back.

Kelly: [00:07:45] That doesn’t mean there isn’t space for a personal relationship of some kind in the workplace and what you’ve just been describing is really wonderful and appropriate professional relationships and professional connections.

Kelly: [00:07:58] One of the things I think that you do well Don is is to understand and nowhere each of us on the team really love and value. You know that I have a dog, you know I love my dog. I’m a big dog person so you often ask me about her how she’s doing what we’re up to this weekend. You do a great job of tying in the personal and really appropriate ways that help me see, that you see me as a human, not just as a worker as an employee, as a colleague.

Don: [00:08:24] Thank you for that. It really does help when a manager, a leader loves the people that work for them. And, I think there’s a great deal of love expressed in our whole team and what we do. And that love is part respect and its support and we have each other’s back. And of course, I want to know more about you and your family because that’s a part of what you bring to work. It’s not Kelly Burns coming to work. It’s the whole Burns clan. That includes your husband and your dog and your children. And that’s a part of what you bring to the office. So let’s recognize that and that’s OK.

Don: [00:08:53] One of the questions in our survey, for example, out of the 28 questions, one of them is: do I feel valued for more than the work I produce? And, that’s one of the key relational indicators inside an organization.

Don: [00:09:05] I was at an organization that was an engineering company, large engineering company with offices all over the U.S., and I was in this workshop with some of their leaders and saying, hey, it’s really important to have these relationships with your employees. And a hand goes up on the back of the room and like yeah, Bob what’s the question? He said, “H.R. said we’re not allowed to have relationships with our employees.” And everybody kind of looked around and said, “yeah right, right on dude, we’re not supposed to have those. And I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Come on you guys, I’m not tired of that kind of relationship.”

Don: [00:09:32] It is okay to be relational with your team. And, so I said, what’s an example of something you could do to get a better understanding of your employees without being invasive? Because they’re all worried about being invasive.

Don: [00:09:44] The room was pin-drop silent. I knew I had to slice that question thinner. So I said, “Okay it’s Monday morning, your employees are coming in to work on Monday morning. What’s a question you could ask that’s relational? That not invasive. They can give you a lot of detail or no detail at all.”

Don: [00:10:02] And finally someone with trepidation raised their hand and said well, “I guess I could ask him how their weekend was.” And I said fantastic, that’s exactly it. I said, how many of you could at least ask that question? And then slowly, as they looked around for self-affirmation and others doing it, they all raised their hands and, hey, yeah I can do that. That’s an example of being relational. Leaning in trying to get an understanding of something about an employee’s life outside of the workplace. That’s okay.

Kelly: [00:10:28] And an easy way to pull on that thread later is if they mention their daughter’s soccer game that weekend, then you remember to ask about that again later and that thoughtfulness goes a long way in building relationships.

Don: [00:10:39] That’s the word, Kelly, thank you for using it. Thoughtfulness. There’s a phrase now that’s very popular in the therapy world, mindfulness. Being mindful, being thoughtful.

Don: [00:10:50] Frankly all of those terms and some of them are buzzwords clearly. It’s about attunement. It’s about being attuned to the individual, what’s important to them. And, if they know that certain things that are important to them are also important to you, that’s another example of emotional velcro. Those are some of the hooks and loops that will hold an employee to an organization. Because this company my leader, this leader, manager, supervisor, they care about me.

Kelly: [00:11:13] And connection and relationship is clearly important to the employee.

Kelly: [00:11:17] There was a recent study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management, that highlighted that the top engagement condition for 79 percent of employees, is their relationship with their co-workers. That’s a huge amount. What is the leader’s role in helping facilitate relationships between co-workers?

Don: [00:11:36] It’s really important you know. In the old school, they talked about people standing around the water cooler and hey, get back to work and get back to your desks and that was wasted time.

Don: [00:11:45] What we now know, is that one of the most effective ways to invest in engagement is to create opportunities where employees can socialize. And, we’ve seen that really popularized, in for example Silicon Valley in the high tech and the Googles and the Yahoos of the world, where they have these spaces where there’s foosball or ping pong or pool.

Don: [00:12:06] No one wakes up in the morning and saying, oh, I can hardly wait to play foosball. But, we do wake up on the morning hardwired to, “I need to connect and engage with people” and when we do, we feel safer, inherently safer. And when we feel safe, we outperform. We start operating at our full capacity. So these things are important.

Don: [00:12:25] Again, it’s not about, you know the gaming or whatever, it’s about the chance to connect and engage with others. So even having a slightly more robust employee snack room, where employees can stand, get their self a soda, congregate, connect and engage. Because when we’re engaged, when I’ve sat in the lunch or the break room with Kelly Burns and I’ve learned something about your life, and what you do and what’s important to you. I’m actually more likely to be accountable to you. I’m going to work harder on your behalf because I now have this relationship.

Kelly: [00:12:59] The shared experience that the two of you have then takes it into a productive and healthy environment in the workplace.

Don: [00:13:06] It changes the motivations for behavior. We are relational animals so when we talk about accountability, for example, accountability, is always in relationship to something else.

Don: [00:13:18] Employees become more accountable with each other when they have relationships with each other. That’s what they’re accountable to. I don’t want to violate this relationship. I don’t want to add that struggle. I want to help and support this person. I want to have their back. I’m going to stay later and get the job done.

Kelly: [00:13:33] When we analyze our clients data, our survey data and I read these responses, and I do this all the time, so it’s amazing that this surprises me, but I’m amazed by the amount of employees who respond saying that they want more team building opportunities, more team bonding opportunities, even outside of the workplace.

Kelly: [00:13:53] Which means they’re willing to show up, outside of the nine to five to spend time with their co-workers because we are so hardwired to build these relationships and have these connections that they want to create space and opportunity, both inside and outside of the workplace, to foster those relationships.

Don: [00:14:10] There’s a generational issue here is as well, Kelly.

Don: [00:14:14] We’re all hardwired to have these relationships, but what the data is showing us is that Millennials and Gen Z have a much higher expectation for them in the workplace.

Don: [00:14:23] In fact, one of the characteristics of the 34 and younger, as a generation, is that they see work as a place to extend their social network. They want to have friends at work, in fact, they expect it. And, if they’re in a workplace that is bereft of these relationships or where they’re chastised for taking time to connect and engage with others, that’s going to increase their chances of moving on to go somewhere else because it doesn’t feel natural to them. And, in fact, it doesn’t feel natural to the brain.

Kelly: [00:14:52] We spend a lot of our waking hours at work—90,000 hours of our life.

Kelly: [00:14:58] Most people go to work not feeling engaged and connected. It is a leader’s huge opportunity to build those relationships to start asking the how is your weekend questions, to pull on those threads, to be thoughtful.

Kelly: [00:15:11] There is so much opportunity for a leader to foster those relationships with and among their employees. And, that’s what employees crave and it’s going to change the workplace when they get it.

Don: [00:15:20] On Monday morning, managers, have a huddle with your team. Do the work-related stuff, hey, what’s ahead? What are we gonna do this week? Anything in our way of being just extraordinary and excellent?

Don: [00:15:27] Then you could also go around and say, everybody list one thing that was really cool that you did this weekend. What was the best part of your weekend? And, just go around and let people share that. Starts somewhere, so people can share more about their lives that’s not just about work.

Kelly: [00:15:43] That’s it for today. I’m your host Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.

Kelly: [00:15:47] Tune in to next week’s episode, building trust and connection.

Kelly: [00:15:54] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high-performance?

Kelly: [00:16:01] Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t Wait. Check out right now.

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Kelly: [00:16:17] Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler.

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