As an employer, it’s easy to feel like there’s a bit of a division between you and your employees. Sure, they smile when you walk past them and answer the questions you pose, but they tend to be more hesitant when it comes to engaging in frank conversation. How can you, as the boss, develop deeper relationships that encourage them to open up?
Bridging the Divide
As people, we tend to segregate and divide based on a number of factors. In everyday life, things like race, gender, looks, age, location, and personal interests contribute heavily. People flock to other people who are familiar, which leaves huge schisms in society. It’s no different in the workplace.
In the workplace, people are often divided based on departmental obligations, office location, and, of course, seniority. The latter is especially evident when you look at employers, the top rung of the seniority ladder, and employees, those clearly on the lower rungs.
While there is healthy division in the workplace, employees shouldn’t feel like they are your equals – too much division can lead to hostile relationships and unnecessary friction. In order to avoid excess division, you must work hard to build trust with your employees and forge some sort of relationships with them.
Four Ways to Get to Know Your Employees
The first step in forming healthy relationships is simply to get to know them better. A quick hello when passing in the hallway won’t do. You need to invest a little more time and effort.
Here are some strategies, tips, and ideas.
1. Have an Open Door Policy
You’ve heard of the term “open door policy” before, but is it something you make a priority? There are many benefits to leaving your door open and allowing employees to shuffle in and out as they feel necessary, but one of the more important is accessibility.
“Managers who demonstrate high levels of accessibility are more apt to have employees who feel comfortable stopping by for a quick chat to bring difficult issues, situations or ideas to the attention of their manager,” Forbes contributor Lisa Quast says . “This gives open door managers a better understanding and ‘pulse’ on what is happening in the department or company on a daily basis.”
Having an open door policy involves more than physically leaving your door open. Employees need to feel like they can come in your office without guilt or obstruction. If you leave your door open but employees don’t welcome, that defeats the whole purpose.
2. Spend Time Together Outside of Work
Have you ever spent time with your employees outside of work? (Running into an employee at the mall doesn’t count.) The best way to develop deeper ties with them is by fostering bonding opportunities outside of the confines of the office. This is where memories are made and invisible walls are torn down. Here are a handful of unique suggestions:
- Go whale watching. Sometimes the best experiences are those which transcend everyday life, simply because unique experiences are more memorable and lasting. So, why not do something like take a whale watching excursion? As Expedia says , “Whales have a way of connecting us to nature, to each other, to the bigger picture. When you look into the eye of a whale, feel the cool mist of its plume or see it leaping from the waters and slowly turning in joy we are transformed. We are reminded that it’s not just about us.”
- Build a house together. No house building experience? No problem. Get your team to volunteer  on a Habitat for Humanity house-building project. There’s something about stretching your team outside of its comfort zone and tangibly taking a project from start to finish that feels good and allows you to see your employees for who they really are (and vice versa).
- Form a sports team. Competition brings out everyone’s true identity. Some people are aggressive and relentless, while others are more calm and calculated. And while there are tastes of competition in the office setting, you can’t get a totally accurate gauge unless you remove people from work. What better way to do this than by forming a team in a local rec sports league?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of other ways you could spend time with your employees outside of work and begin to form healthier relationships that are full of trust and mutual respect.
3. Recognize Achievements
How often do you recognize your employees for the good they do in your business? Chances are, you don’t do it nearly enough. While a simple “thank you” is good enough some of the time, it’s important that you take it a step further and recognize achievements  when you get the chance.
Formal recognition leads to employees who feel more appreciated. Plus, as HR expert Susan Heathfield says , “People who feel appreciated are more positive about themselves and their ability to contribute. People with positive self-esteem are potentially your best employees.”
4. Support Them With Clients
Finally, make sure you’re supporting your employees when they go to battle for your company. Employees put themselves on the line for your reputation every day and need to know that you have their back.
For example, let’s say that one of your employees has a conversation with a client and the client berates them for something that wasn’t within their control. Instead of getting frustrated with your employee for making the client angry, you should come to the rescue of your employee. Personally call the client back, let the employee know that you appreciate them, and even sever ties with the client if necessary.
Make Employees a Priority
If you want to get to know your employees better, you have to make them a priority. You can’t fake a genuine care for your employees and will need to invest a little bit of time and effort into developing stronger, healthier relationships. Start with the methods outlined in this article and see what you think. Every employer-employee dynamic is different, so you’ll have to adjust.
Once you find a method that works, though, don’t stop. Healthy relationships take time to develop and you’re in it for the long-haul!
Team Get Together  Photo via Shutterstock