YOU spend most of your waking hours — and your adult life — at work. Yet, you often meet people who can’t wait to retire because they are so tired of what they do.

Work should give meaning to your life even as it gives you an identity. The first or second question people usually ask you at any social event is, “What do you do?”

Research has shown that employees are happy when they find their work “meaningful” or more than “just a job”. Key contributing factors are a good work environment and positive relationships with colleagues and managers who respect them and value their efforts.

As a leader, how can you practise this at work with your teams?

Letting your staff know that you recognise and acknowledge them as individuals is a fantastic way to retain people and keep them happy to be working for you.

Know your teammates

Trainer and coach Roger Konopasek from R. Kono International ran a training session for leaders in our company this year.

He began by asking us if we knew whether our team members were married or single — this was easy. Then, he probed further for the names of their spouses and partners, or if they had children, names of their children and the birthdays of their children.

Most of us realised we did not know the names of our colleagues’ spouses and children. It drove home a point — we don’t know our people well and we don’t make it a point to remember what is important to them.

These are people you work with every day, and their families and loved ones are as important to them as your loved ones are to you.

Make small talk

Make time for “small talk”. Listen to what your team members say and make a mental note of what is important to them.

For instance, a colleague wanted to watch the Phantom Of The Opera, but she missed it because she was travelling. Her boss sent her a DVD of the live performance, a gesture that brought tears to her eyes.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter, like sending someone a note or card for no reason or buying their favourite blend of coffee.

Why not hold a “not about work” event where you and your teammates can talk about everything but work? It is amazing the number of things you can find out about the people you work with.

You will discover people within your team who can sing, play musical instruments, speak several languages, have learnt something interesting about the planet or have an uncommon hobby — this is what makes each team different and unique. It is like opening a secret door to your people’s hearts.

Breaking down barriers

Some people feel that it is important to demarcate work from their personal life. But whether you like it or not, you become entwined with the lives of the people you work closely with.

You feel their pain and you celebrate their successes with them. Often, you spend more time with your colleagues than with your families.

Understanding what goes on in people’s lives and giving them some leeway at times build bonds — it does not mean that you, as their leader, lose your objectivity.

Letting go

Holding people close also means being able to let go. Sometimes, leaders feel resentful when someone they held close, leaves the company.

Letting go is hard but it is a necessary part of a leader’s role. If leaders see their staff more as people, it makes it easier to understand their choices.

It is not uncommon to see people rejoining their former bosses after leaving for another job. The saying “people leave bosses, not the company” cuts both ways. People also rally around good bosses and stay with them.

Tough love

Being a good leader also means setting things right. It means saying: “I care about you but I don’t like the way you work, and if you don’t change, we won’t be working together in the future.”

It is uncomfortable for everyone, but a leader needs to be clear and firm about what is acceptable behaviour from his team.

An attitude of gratitude

To see your team go the extra mile for you is a very humbling experience. What is it that makes people do that for you?

It is easy telling leaders apart from managers. They are the ones who often say complimentary things about their team members. Leaders have the power to shape and mould the behaviour of their team.

A manager who is constantly finding fault will create an environment of negativity and distrust. Leaders see potential, capability and skill in their teams and encourage these aspects to grow.

If someone asks you about your team, how about saying: “I am very blessed; I have a really great team.” Try it and see the results.