Best Practices in HR

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Robyn Whalen
  April 10, 2019

7 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections with Employees

Getting to know your employees shouldn’t be off limits.

In fact, good leaders regularly connect with employees to gain better company insight and develop personal relationships that drive productivity and engagement.

In a recent State of the American Workplace report, only 15% of employees strongly felt that leaders got them excited about the future of the company. How much higher could that percentage be if leaders took the time to connect with employees to share company growth and insight? 

It comes down to creating opportunities for meaningful exchanges that aren’t always about the bottom line.

Here are seven ways to make closer connections with employees:

1. Go Beyond “How Are You?”

“How are you?” is a question you ask a stranger in passing. It’s not a daily question to ask an employee who is working to make your company money. Yes, the initial polite question is great. But dig deeper with follow-up, open-ended questions. Harvard Research shows that a single “How are you?” question won’t elicit much of a response.

  • Connection point: Dig deeper and you’ll be more well liked and connected to employees. Instead, try: “What are you most looking forward to this week?”

2. Listen

As a leader, it’s easy to assume you have all the answers. But carefully listening to someone requires patience and practice. Control your reactions, and hear them out until the very end. Validate and verify you’ve heard what was said before making your own points. Think of the last time you didn’t feel “heard” in a conversation, especially if the urge to respond hits right away.

  • Connection point: Conversations are a two-way street. Make it a priority to connect by asking employees about their passions, interests, and opinions. Recognize your employees have something of value to say without interjecting.

3. Team Build

Team building can boost morale and employee wellness. Imagine how exciting it would be to connect with your colleagues over a task other than work. Unsure of where to start? Here’s seven ideas to get going.

  • Connection point: For any team building activity you choose, make sure it’s lighthearted and fun. You’ll also want to ensure there’s dialogue for the best opportunity to connect employees to you and one another.

4. Be Like Leaders You Admire 

 Prior to making it to your leadership spot, think of your best employee-employer relationships. What stands out? Is it watching a leader make decisions with integrity? Hosting weekly team pep rallies? Prove you’re willing to work alongside employees and take their feedback, too.

  • Connection point: Ask employees what makes them feel appreciated and important. Then, do those things.

5. Share Vulnerability

Leaders don’t always have all the answers. Sometimes it takes time to collect data and then make a decision. Whether it’s in one-on-one conversations or group meetings, make it a point to show your employees that you’re human, too.

  • Connection point: In meetings, you can showcase vulnerability and honesty. For example, when someone asks a question you can’t respond to on the spot, it’s perfectly acceptable to say: “I don’t know. But I will find out and get back to you.”

6. Have Lunch Together  

Eat with all of your team, not just fellow management and leadership.

It can be hard to make everyone’s schedules work, but make it a point to try and do it at least once a month. Everyone can relax over food; just be sure to ask about dietary restrictions if providing the meal.

  • Connection point: Randomly select employees to eat with management. This offers a chance to get feedback in a casual setting. It won’t be intimidating for employees if several colleagues are invited along. 

7. Open Your Door  

When you shut yourself off from the team, it can come off as cold or uninterested. There will be times of intentional work focus, and make sure it’s clear well in advance when your team will not be able to reach you. Don’t make that every day, though. Ensure that you are reachable and open to connecting  — whether it’s over lunch or your desk.

  • Connection point: Create an open door policy that is welcoming. Try “Free Flow Fridays” where you keep your door open for half the day for any discussions employees want to have throughout the day.

Balance Professionalism With Friendliness

For companies that focus on creating a connection between leadership and employees, the result is higher employee engagement. By including employees in regular dialogue, it reaffirms the importance of their role within the company while developing leadership trust.

And while it’s great to connect with employees and even create close friendships, professionalism should be kept in check, too.

It’s fine to acknowledge friendships, but do keep inside jokes and weekend plans for outside the workplace. Otherwise leaders run the risk of alienating those who aren’t as personally close.

No matter how your leadership team decides to connect, doing it often and authentically will yield the best results for getting to know employees.

How do you get to know your employees? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!