The Personal Touch of Business

Many business owners assume they’ve done their best by their workers by providing a good work environment with adequate equipment, attractive surroundings, competitive salaries and a full array of benefits. Yet with tight labor markets, business owners and their managements should try to go the extra mile by creating the right emotional climate at work. For example, many workers who could earn more by relocating to another job nonetheless stick with their current employers. Often it’s because of how they are treated as people, and not just in “human resource” terms. They stay where they are because of intangibles like the care management expresses over non-work related problems, the way they are accommodated by the company during a family crisis, the humor and fellowship expressed by the boss and co-workers — all of which cost little or nothing but can add mightily to the company’s bottomline.

Legitimate Ways To Show Concern:

Owners who are able to remember employees’ birthdays, and who also express interest in employees’ families, career progress, and non-work interests can dramatically improve their workers’ morale. Just showing appropriate concern when employees face major family and personal problems can also pay rich dividends in improved productivity, lower rates of hiring turnover and customer satisfaction.


  • Consider adding birthday greetings to the annual holiday greeting mailing. Birthdates are easily gleaned from employment records, and cards received on a worker’s birthday is more meaningful than the traditional holiday greeting. Adding a brief handwritten note thanking the employee for his or her contribution during the year, makes the greeting even more personal.

  • Try to make room in your schedule for an annual luncheon with immediate subordinates — and also employees farther down in the company if you are the CEO or are in top management.
  • A casual lunch or breakfast meeting, with no business agenda, is a good way to strengthen relationships because it affords you and your employees the chance to get better acquainted as individuals, outside the context of reporting relationships and work roles. While the annual company picnic can also be useful for bonding workers and management, lunch or breakfast meetings are a more personalized way of showing interest in your employees’ lives.
  • You may learn useful information about things going on in the company that you wouldn’t learn through formal channels from these luncheon get-togethers. However, discussion of company issues should be left at the employee’s discussion. You want to avoid conveying the impression that there was a hidden agenda behind the invitation.
  • When you hear about serious health, family, or other problems, you can take the initiative by asking employees if you can help. Obviously, it’s crucial that you follow through in an appropriate way if they respond to your offer.
  • Even if your help is not requested, you can still follow through by checking back later with the employee to learn how things turned out.
  • Discretely inform your assistant, and key managers, of your desire to be alerted in the event of a serious family or personal tragedy among your employees so that you’ll have the opportunity to offer assistance.
  • At the same time, you must be careful about becoming inappropriately involved in employees’ lives. You can express concern, and possibly assist by having the company help in some tangible way but a business is still a business, not a kinship network.


Using gifts to express appreciation is acceptable practice during the holiday season and may be called for at other times as well. If you decide to supplement holiday greetings with gifts, commonsense should guide you regarding what to give and to whom. If too expensive, or too cheap, your gift might well embarrass, confuse or anger the recipient.


  • Male employees should be careful about gifts given to female co-workers. Personal, intimate items such as jewelry, perfume, and wearing apparel should be avoided because they can mislead the recipient regarding your intentions. (Gifts of lingerie might well trigger a lawsuit!)

You can also enhance the emotional environment at work through the use of appropriate humor and simple good cheer. Besides the routine exchange pleasantries expected at any workplace, you can improve the bond between you and your employees by seeking out opportunities to engage individual workers, or small groups, in casual, non-work related conversation for short periods during the day. In short, you can create an environment that isn’t just “all work and no fun” but the right mixture between both.


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