Transformational, not transactional

Why our workplaces need to love their employees back

In Short

Even as we hold staff accountable to standards of excellence and strive to meet our mission, earn revenue and accomplish the work our organizations demand, our teams will work better if they love their jobs and, through employers’ actions, know they are valued and loved in return.

In her latest book, Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone, labor journalist Sarah Jaffe argues that encouraging people to pursue their passions and find work they love offers employers, even if unintentionally, opportunities to exploit employees’ hearts. If employees love their work — especially in our mission-driven nonprofit space — employers can get away with offering lower wages, less hospitable working conditions and less room for professional growth than they otherwise could. Although this scenario leaves employees less happy than they might be, they generally will acclimate and remain on staff, precisely because they love what they do.

Jaffe’s thesis might be accurate, but this is not how the employment landscape should operate, especially following the Great Resignation of 2021. Instead, employers ought to love their employees back. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also is a more effective approach to achieving organizational goals. 

Nearly a year ago, I published my own volume on the Jewish organizational work experience, Bless Our Workforce: Changing the Way We Manage Our People, arguing that investing in staff and treating them exceptionally well isn’t merely a nice thing to do — it’s a fantastic business strategy, too. Staff who feel valued — and yes, loved — not only stay, but also perform their best work, leading to stronger productivity, more satisfied end-users and a healthier financial position.

When stated thusly, even my own argument feels transactional, so perhaps it’s time to elevate employee-employer relationships, particularly in the Jewish community, so they feel transformational, offering employees a sense of belonging and caring that extends beyond the work they perform in exchange for a paycheck and holiday celebrations.

Today’s employees have choices, and because they’re not being lured back to the workplace solely by higher pay or other incentives, the need for this change is critical. If we truly believe our people are our everything, we must love them just as they love their jobs and the organizations that provide them. Although community members initially engage or join because of the pool or fitness program or sanctuary, they stay because of the people — the very same people who help us maintain our competitive edge.

Organizations can show love for employees in many ways. Here are six ways workplaces can demonstrate their love:

  1. Know their staff members: Loving organizations understand employees’ needs, interests and passions, and they use that information to manage and motivate them individually. These organizations make the effort to know their staff deeply and appreciate what motivates each team member. 
  1. Demonstrate transparency and honesty: Loving workplaces advise teams openly and truthfully about big picture challenges and decisions, including staffing; as appropriate, they welcome staff input in conversations; and they always keep staff updated, even if the news is difficult or involves layoffs or other cuts. In fact, transparency and honesty are important components of stellar leadership. 
  1. Build work around employees: Rather than hire and manage jobs, loving organizations hire and manage people. They structure what needs to be done around staff members’ unique strengths, passions and needs. 
  1. Offer opportunities for growth: Organizations that love their employees hire for today and tomorrow, always keeping an eye on how each employee can grow and advance within the organization. Whether it’s more responsibility or a whole new job, they value their people, offering ample opportunities to learn and be challenged and keeping them invested in the future of the organization. 
  1. Invite all staff to share in ebbs and flows: When organizations are victorious, loving workplaces acknowledge employees’ roles in achieving success and invite the whole team to own the success; when these same organizations miss the mark or navigate unexpected crises, they check in with employees about their mental and emotional health — and to see if employees have ideas to help move the organization forward. 
  1. Celebrate: Celebrations validate employees’ efforts and recognize their earned successes. They are best done genuinely, regularly, loudly, and communally because public recognition of a job well done is a powerful way to fill employees’ emotional savings banks.

JCC Association of North America, as part of its expanding talent strategy, supports JCCs seeking transformational relationships with staff. Among the offerings are professional growth opportunities, including cohort-based programs that advance Jewish learning and initiatives to create and nurture inclusive communities and a thriving work culture. Among, I’m honored to contribute to the offerings with a series based on these lessons: A “Bless Our Workforce Institute” for managers to study, practice and expand regularly on the recommendations above.

Even as we hold staff accountable to standards of excellence and strive to meet our mission, earn revenue and accomplish the work our organizations demand, our teams will work better if they love their jobs and, through employers’ actions, know they are valued and loved in return.

In a capitalist society, “bless” and “love” may be odd words to use regarding the workplace, yet when the relationship between employers and employees feels transformational and both sides feel loved by the other, our workplaces stand a better chance of attracting and retaining the extraordinary talent we need to thrive. So, let’s lead by loving our workers back. We’ll all be better for it. 

Mark S. Young is the vice president of talent strategy and director of JResponse® at JCC Association of North America and author of “Bless Our Workforce: Changing the Way We Manage Our People.”