Pay is obviously important. So are benefits. But pay and benefits are also expected. So what makes a job more than just a list of duties?
When you actually care about what you do—and care about the people you do it with and for.
We go the extra mile when we feel that we belong to a team, that we’re pursuing a higher purpose, that we’re working with people who care about us as individuals and not just as employees. Then we want to come to work, because that work is more rewarding.
Caring gives work meaning and helps us love our jobs.
Caring has to start with the employer. We don’t genuinely care about our company until we first know our company cares about us—by showing it.
How do great employers do that?
1. They provide freedom.
Detailed internal systems are important, but unique people create unique experiences. Smart employers allow their employees to be individuals. One obvious example: Zappos, a company that sets overall guidelines and then allows employees to express their individuality within those guidelines.
Assigning authority is important, but true responsibility comes from feeling not just in charge but encouraged and empowered to do what is right—and to do what is right in the way the individual feels is best.
Give me a task to do, and I’ll do it. Tell me it’s mine, and tell me to use my best judgment to get it done, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll care, because you trust me.
And I’ll trust you.
2. They build a true sense of team.
Go to any swim meet or track meet, and you’ll see it happen: Kids swim or run faster in relays than they do in individual events. They know other people are counting on them—and they don’t want to let them down.
Everyone loves to feel that sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that turns a group of individuals into a real team. The key is to show how each person’s effort impacts other people, both at the team level and more broadly throughout the company.
Great companies help employees understand how their efforts affect others, especially in a positive way. We all work hard for our boss, but we work harder for the people beside us—especially when we know they count on us.
3. They set logical expectations.
What’s worse than being criticized for doing something you thought you were supposed to do? Not knowing what to do.
Though it might sound contradictory, freedom and latitude are important, but so are basic and understandable expectations. Good companies create and post best practices. Great companies absorb best practices—almost organically—because their employees can easily understand why certain decisions and principles make sense.
When you create a guideline or process, put twice as much effort into explaining why as you do explaining what.
Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. Tell me why, and I’ll embrace it-and in the process I’ll care a lot more about doing it well.
4. They foster a unique sense of purpose.
Just as we all want to feel part of a team, we all like to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Feeling a true purpose starts with knowing what to care about and, more important, why to care.
Your company already has a purpose. (If it doesn’t, why are you in business?) Go a step further, and let your employees create a few purposes of their own, for your customers or the community.
You may find that what they care about becomes what you care about—and in the process makes your company even better.
5. They encourage genuine input.
Every employee has ideas, and one difference between employees who care and employees who do not is whether they are allowed to share their ideas—and whether their ideas are taken seriously. (Reject my ideas without consideration, and I immediately disengage.)
Great employers don’t just put out suggestion boxes. They ask leading, open-ended questions. They don’t say, “Should we do this, or this?” They say, “Do you know how we could make this better?” They probe gently. They help employees feel comfortable proposing new ways to get things done.
When an idea isn’t feasible, they always take the time to explain why—which often leads to the employee coming up with an even better idea.
Employees who provide input clearly care about the organization, because they want to make it better. Make sure that input is valued and they will care even more, because now it’s not your company-it’s our company.
6. They see the person inside the employee.
We all hope to work with people we admire and respect.
We also hope to be admired and respected by the people we work with. We want to be more than a title, more than a role. We want to be a person, too.
That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, a brief chat about the triathlon I just finished or the trip I just took or the hobby I just started—those moments are infinitely more important than any meeting or performance evaluations.
I care about you when you care about me—and the best way to show you care is to show, by word and action, that you appreciate me as a person and not just an employee.
7. They treat each employee not just equally but fairly.
Every employee is different. Some need a nudge. Others need regular confidence boosts. Others need an occasional kick in the pants.
Some employees have earned greater freedom; others have not.
Equal treatment is not always fair treatment. Employees care a lot more when they know a reward or discipline is, under unusual circumstances, based on what is right, not just what is written.
8. They dish out occasional tough love.
Even the best employees make mistakes. Even the best employees lose motivation.
Even the best employees occasionally need constructive feedback. Sometimes they even need a reality check, to know they are not just letting the company down but are also letting themselves down. (A boss once shook his head and said, “You’re better than that.” I was crushed—and I vowed to prove that I was better than that.)
In the moment an otherwise great employee may hate a little tough love, but in time will realize you cared enough to want her to achieve her goals and dreams.
9. They give frequent public praise.
Just as every employee makes mistakes, every employee also does something well. (Yes, even your worst employee.)
That means every employee deserves some amount of praise. So, offer it. Find reasons to recognize average performers. Find ways to recognize relatively poor performers. Sometimes all it takes for an employee to turn a performance corner is a little public recognition. Some will want to experience that feeling again; others will want to live up to the faith you show in them.
Public praise shows you care, and that’s reason enough—but it also gives employees another reason to care.
10. They create genuine opportunities.
When does a job most become just a job? When there is no possibility of that job leading to greater things, inside or even outside the company. When there’s no hope, it’s just a job.
Every employee wakes up every day with the hope of a better future. Show them you care by helping create a path to that future.
Good employers assume their employees will benefit when their company grows. Great employers understand that building a better future for the company is directly dependent on building a better future for their employees.
Above all, show you really care about your employees; only then will start to really care about your company.
That way everyone wins—and isn’t that the kind of company every employer wants to build?
A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.