‘Love’ Your Employees, and Your Bottom Line Will Love You, Says Former CEO

When Todd Patkin ran his company, he was fond of giving hugs to employees, saying that what they craved—more than money—was appreciation, respect and, yes, love

Todd Patkin and his book, Todd Patkin and his book, "Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In"

So it’s Thanksgiving Day. You’ve watched the parade with your kids, stuffed yourself at the annual family feast and are now settling down to watch a little football to cap off the day on which we are all supposed to give thanks for the abundance and blessings in our lives.

You’ve done that, too. But one blessing you might have omitted from your list, says the author of a new book, is your staff. And that could cost you—because remembering to be grateful for, and to, the people who keep your business running smoothly can pay off in ways you might not anticipate, all without costing you a dime.

Todd Patkin isn’t your ordinary everyday businessman. As the former head of 18 stores for Autopart International, a family auto parts business—which was later sold to Advance Auto Parts, leaving him free to pursue philanthropic goals and spend more time with his family—Patkin says he discovered something radical.

That is that people crave three things more than money from their jobs: appreciation, respect, and—gasp!—love. Yes, you read that correctly. Says Patkin, “Starting this Thanksgiving, if you really begin to live out the holiday’s spirit, you’ll also find that happy, engaged employees are the single best way to impact your company’s bottom line.”

Author of the book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95), Patkin says that when working in his family’s business, he always put his employees first. “As a leader,” says Patkin, “I quickly found that if my team was content and their work environment was a positive one, they would be more engaged and motivated, and they would also treat our customers better. Plus, it was even more rewarding for me to see that my employees were happy—and often even ecstatic—than it was for me that we were making money.”

He adds, “It’s more important now than ever before to show your employees love and appreciation, because we’re in the midst of an economic downturn, so you probably won’t have the money to give big raises and holiday bonuses that you once did.”

Stressed-out employees, Patkin points out, are less motivated and more disengaged; the business suffers as they do only what they must to get by. And unhappy employees will be the first to jump ship once the economy improves. But happy ones will go more than the extra mile.

(See Angie Herbers' latest blog on five ways to keep your employees happy.)

Sound unlikely? Patkin tells of when he first entered the family business and started dealing out hugs all around. “The man who ran our 18 stores had a heart attack and my dad gave me the stores [to run],” he recalls. While he “knew nothing about auto parts,” he “worked hard” at his new responsibilities, but part of what made the difference, he says, were the hugs.

Describing himself as short and the other employees as bigger in stature, he says at first they found it strange that he would hug them. But after a year or two, he adds, if he failed to do so, they would call to find out whether he was upset with them. “Big people are the same as little people,” he says. “We all want to be loved.” Describing himself as “all love,” Patkin adds, “Managers think it’s their job to catch people doing things wrong and I think it’s the opposite. Catch people doing something good today,” he urges, “and tell them.”

Hugs aren’t the only thing Patkin advocates—a good thing if you aren’t the touchy-feely type. He also suggests sending “love notes” and leaving voicemails for their families to let employees know you noticed the good work they’re doing and to praise them for it; publicly praising good work—and privately administering reprimands; and forgiving mistakes when an employee is otherwise a good worker and not just a complainer.

Scientifically, it may surprise you to know, Patkin’s notions are borne out. A recent New York Times article reported that psychologists studying the effects of being thankful have found that gratitude produces better health and sleep, lessens anxiety and depression, and makes people both kinder toward others and more content with their lives—all good things when bad news dominates the headlines. Not only that, but a new study reveals a lessening of aggression among those who cultivate gratitude.

In a Northeastern University experiment, participants were given sabotaged computers and it was arranged for another student to fix them. Students whose computers were repaired by these good Samaritans were more likely to volunteer, in turn, to help someone else—thereby paying the good deed forward. Imagine such a result being replicated in your office, whereby employees praised for good work and feeling appreciated and grateful turn that benevolence on fellow employees and on your clients.

Patkin adds, “If there is one thing I would like to tell all leaders at all levels and in all industries, it’s that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain—including an improved bottom line—by making your organization as happy a place to work as possible.”

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