Caring about your team is needed for engagement. What if you’re not feeling it?
Q: I know that a core part of employee engagement is feeling like your supervisor cares about you as a person. But I’m struggling to care about my team right now — they all seem so needy and annoying. How can I re-find the love?
A: People can sometimes be so, people-y. Between their messy emotions, tedious needs, mysterious decision-making processes, and generally unfathomable behavior, it can be hard to like them sometimes. But you’re right: your relationship with your direct reports — their knowledge that you genuinely care about them, have their back, and want them to succeed — is the number one driver of their happiness and a huge driver of their work engagement.
How can you get your people-loving mojo back?
First, ask yourself whether this lack of warm-fuzzies is specific to your team, or a more general issue in your life right now. The challenges of the pandemic have put many of us in a state of what Adam Grant calls “languishing.” He describes it as the void between depression and flourishing, or the absence of well-being. If you’re also feeling blah about your relationships outside of work, your hobbies, or other things that used to bring you joy, you might try some of the antidotes he suggests: naming that you’re languishing, finding “flow” through uninterrupted time doing something you (used to) enjoy, and focusing on small goals.
But if this meh-ness is specifically about your team, there are two tactics that research shows can increase your sense of emotional connection to others.
Gratitude for other people: Study after study shows the benefits of gratitude practices at rewiring your brain to see the positive. A typical gratitude practice involves identifying three things you are grateful for each day. They need to be specific (no “I’m grateful for my dog” but instead “I’m grateful for the unconditional love I feel from my dog when I walk in the front door”) and different each day. To boost your sense of caring for your team, focus your gratitude practice on them: identify three things you are grateful for among your teammates each day. They can be small (“I’m grateful that Linda stepped in to reframe the question for others”) or long-term (“I’m grateful for Manuel’s ability to lighten the mood with a joke.”) This focus on gratitude toward others can increase empathy, help us see positive qualities in others and generate connecting behaviors, all of which can open us to more connection. Try it daily for a few weeks and see if you feel a difference.
Connection meditation: The second tactic that has been proven to increase our sense of caring about and connection with our team members is a simple connection meditation. It sounds hippy-dippy, but research out of some profoundly un-hippy-dippy organizations like Stanford and the University of North Carolina have shown how effective it is. And a version of this meditation, called loving-kindness meditation, co-evolved with mindfulness meditation over thousands of years.
Here’s how it works: Find a quiet, still place. Bring different people to your mind and silently say a series of statements wishing them well, while opening your mind to warm feelings toward them. For example:
“May you be well in body and mind.
May you find peace and balance in your life.
May you find meaning and fulfillment in your activities.
And may you be truly happy.”
The key is to start with those who are easiest to care about — a partner, pet, child, or good friend — and once you’ve had some practice at feeling connection and warmth, move on to coworkers or team members you would like to feel more connected to. And change the statements however you need so that they feel like something you would say. You can find a guided three-minute version of this meditation that I (Eric) recorded here. Just like the gratitude practice, you may need to do this daily for a few weeks to start to feel a change.
One last note: Make sure you honor yourself for wanting to care more. That’s a powerful foundation to build off of and one that not all managers even consider.