Most advice from lawyers to employers tends to focus on compliance with legal obligations imposed by statute or regulation, conformity with requirements contained in policy manuals, employee training in the area of sexual harassment prevention and like subjects, and similar “law-based” duties. What sometimes gets lost in the miasma of legal compliance is a more basic truth: The number one thing any employer can do to cultivate a vibrant work environment, and minimize employee complaints (both formal and informal), is simply to…be positive and accessible.
It is basic human nature that people are more likely to overlook grievances when the subject of the grievance — either individually or institutionally — is otherwise viewed positively. Taking a moment during the course of the day to say “hello” to your employees, or to ask about a weekend, or simply to look your employees in the eye while they tell you about something, can pay untold dividends that you may never know exist. Not only does such interaction make your employees feel valued and validated, but you may learn something useful about their interests or skill sets that you didn’t previously know. Moreover, unless you are the consummate introvert, you yourself will feel good about the interaction, and be more fulfilled from having at least a basic sense of who your employees are, and what makes them tick.
By contrast, if your sole interactions with your employees are work-centered (“John/Jane, please take the following memo….”), your employees are likely to see themselves as nothing more than cogs in a machine, with no independent reason for enthusiasm or loyalty beyond the paycheck they draw. Such an approach also needlessly divests you of an opportunity for your employees to see you as a human being, rather than just a larger/more senior cog. If you are viewed only as “the management,” employees are less likely to pump their own brakes on the lodging of a complaint for something that they see as offensive or actionable.
So, the next time you are tempted to power walk to your office and close the door, devote ten seconds to thinking about whether you have yet had a positive interaction with one or more employees that day. If not, take a minute or two to do so, even if it’s just to say “how are you today, Sydney”? The worst that can happen is that you find something out that you didn’t already know. And hey, is that so bad?