Employees will never turn down ping-pong tables, hammocks, free vending machines, or putt-putt courses at work.
But here's a little hint: that's not what they really want from you.
To illustrate, let me share one of my worst Valentine's Day failures as a husband.
The year was 1998. Our first son, Britton, was four. Our second son, Sam, was two. Our third son, Jack, was on the way.
By mid-February, my wife Christy was experiencing the surge in hormones that comes early on in pregnancy. I had been through this twice before and quite frankly, it scared me. I saw Valentine's Day as a way to convey my love, but more importantly, perhaps my sweet plan would take the edge off Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde.
Like most people with an abstract mind, "planning" to me is a carefully crafted, methodical process that follows sequential step-by-step actions. . . WHATEVER!
What really happens is that "plans" arrive via flashes of bright lightning with pesky details showing up much later and really only serving to dim the brilliance of the idea. My lightning bolt came while driving to work on February 14, 1998.
Here it is. (Be amazed . . . that we are still married.)
(1) Sol Azteca, a Mexican restaurant in Birmingham, advertised Valentine's Day specials.
(2) Christy loves Mexican food.
(3) Hmmm...Christy, Valentine's Day, Mexican. Got it. That was my plan.
The storm clouds were gathering. Electricity was in the air. Lightning would soon follow. Never mind that my plan had to be fully developed in less than eight hours. I was onto something.
By that night, lightning had struck.
First, I made Christy dress up in a little black dress and sat her at the head of our dining room table, glowing with soft candlelight. I dressed Britton and Sam in matching black pants and white turtlenecks and added these for some flair.
Britton was the waiter. Sam was supposed to be the kitchen help, but kept sneaking back into the dining room and crawling on top of the table to steal the chips.
Christy was instructed to snack on the chips and salsa until her food arrived.
I sent Britton out with a menu, notepad, and pencil to take her order--wouldn't that be cute!--but here's where the pesky details started popping up.
Britton was four; therefore, he was illiterate. He protested in the kitchen that he would not get her order correct because he couldn't "make his letters right." Stinking first born.
"It's your mother out there. She'll still tip you." I dried his tears and sent him back out.
Meanwhile, I lost track of Sam. Sure enough, Christy called me to come get him off the table, only this time there was a bit of drama. In his quest to get a chip, he dipped his wild straw hat into the candle and he was literally en fuego.
I snatched the hat off and stomped it out, then turned to make sure Sam was unscathed. He was sitting on the table double fisting Tostitos.
In all the commotion, I forgot about the food in the kitchen. I hoped Christy liked her fajitas well done.
Lightning had struck alright. Struck me in the behind.
My idea had turned into a disaster . . . or so I thought. I wanted to come across like this guy to Christy.
I was sure, however, that I appeared more like this fellow:
As I was apologizing for the events of the evening, Christy quickly re-routed the conversation. "Are you kidding me?" she said. "This was hilarious! Let me tell you what happened from my perspective!"
She went on to describe how Sam, despite her protests, kept climbing on the table looking her straight in the eye during his ascent. (Later, in his teenage years, we discovered this character trait was not quite so endearing.)
And Britton, so careful to get her order correct, repeated Christy's order back to her.
Christy: Oh, hello waiter. I'll have some Mexican cornbread and fajitas.
Britton: OK, some Mex-i-no.
That's all he got; no cornbread, no fajitas--just Mex-i-no. His notepad did have the letter 'M' on it, but that's it. So his concern over his illiteracy was legit. But could he have been any cuter to his prejudiced mom?
The meal turned out to be average, but the night, the experience--oh, now that was something worth remembering.
So forget the ping pong tables. Here are the three questions employees want you to answer:
(1) Does my boss seem to care about me?
(2) Do I have a friend at work?
(3) Has my boss talked to me about my development?
My focus was to deliver Christy everything I thought she wanted. Her favorite Mexican dishes--chips with hot salsa, Mex-i-no cornbread, and fajitas.
What she wanted, however, was what she got. Fun, laughter, and time with her boys.
Don't make my mistake. Lots of research confirms that employees are--surprisingly--human. In their humanness, they want to work for and with other humans. They want those relationships to matter and their work to matter.
Nothing you can do will make your employees more loyal or more productive than providing positive answers to these three questions.
But take my word, don't try to cook for them.
Stay thirsty for my blog, mis amigos!
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