This post is sponsored by Aflac. For more resources, tools, and insights on small business benefits, visit Aflac.com.

The boss—employee relationship is often alternately both incredibly complicated and incredibly simple. On one hand, the formula is, essentially, “you do the work I ask, and I will pay you for it.” On the other, it is a delicate balancing act. The employee should, ideally want to perform at such a level that the boss is satisfied and to keep himself feeling positive and useful. On that same token, the boss needs to keep his employees motivated and on-task, but also keep them satisfied on a personal level, so they want to hang around for a while.

People are complicated by nature, and relationships, even professional ones, are often a complex mix of ingredients. All it takes is one piece of that formula to be out of whack for the whole relationship to be compromised, and one unhappy employee can affect the whole staff. So what steps can someone in the boss role take to keep things humming along?

Well, here are 10 ideas to ponder, some theoretical, others a bit more practical, in no particular order:

  • If you ask for someone’s opinion, be prepared to actually do something about it. Not every idea is great, and not every thought will jive with what you’re looking for, but nothing turns someone’s internal value meter down faster than seeing everything they offer ignored or rejected. It gives the impression that you either aren’t actually interested or, worse, genuinely don’t like them. Alternatively, nothing makes someone feel quite as satisfied as seeing a thought they offered put into action.
  • Lead by example. It sounds like the old cliche, “be the change you want to see in the world,” but the truth is, employees really do draw from your example. If you talk to a customer, client, or other staff member a certain way, consider whether you would want those who answer to you to speak or act in the same manner. Having a different standard for yourself just creates a divide between you and them, which can lead to mistrust and friction. People feed off each others’ energy. If you want positivity, be positive. If you want strong, ethical sales techniques, practice them yourself and make sure others see it. On the same token…
  • Set standards and hold everyone to them. It is tempting to play favorites, especially in smaller businesses where relationships are likely to be more personal. Having a different set of standards for different employees or sets of employees is a recipe for mistrust and bad feelings. Some bosses thrive on friction, but if you want your employees to work as a team, building trust between them is more important than them knowing who you like better.
  • Listen to what your employees are saying. Sometimes this can be as easy as listening to conversation in the break room, back office, or wherever your people talk casually. Other times you may want to be more direct and speak to a trusted employee about the workplace mood and any growing concerns or issues. As with the first point, though, don’t ask a question if you don’t want the answer. If you are going to make the effort to listen, you must also be prepared to respond.
  • Don’t lead them on. A personal anecdote for this one: One of the worst bosses I ever had told me several times, over the course of six months, “I want to talk to you about a raise just as soon as we get past [insert supposed goal here].” The first couple of times, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. After that, his credibility was gone. I would have appreciated him if he actually took the time instead to say, “look, I know I said that, but this has changed and we are going to need to hold tight. I’m sorry.” Treating your employees as pushovers will come back to bite at some point.
  • Give rewards. Even if business isn’t great and raises aren’t an option, you can still do things to reward your employees. Even small gestures like a staff pizza party or something of the sort can make people feel appreciated. Just make sure to do it regularly. Think of it as changing the oil on the engine of good will. Of course, if you can afford raises, then that’s even better.
  • Keep your spaces clean. Some people love clutter, but nobody likes to work in filth. Keep both public and private spaces neat and clean, and make it clear you expect the same of those who work for you. There may be occasional grumbling, but not nearly as much as comes from breathing in unpleasant aromas or stepping on ants.
  • Offer them benefits. Another personal anecdote (last one, I promise!): I was in a store once and heard a young man who was looking for a full time job ask what benefits were offered. The owner’s flippant response of, “free shoes!” did not impress, to say the least. It also made me want to leave the store in sympathy for the others that worked for him already. Employees who are happy and healthy in the long term are productive in the long term. Offering benefits to yours will pay off for your business in the long run by showing you are as invested in their well-being as they are.
  • Back them up. The phrase “the customer is always right” is not a sword to live and die by. But your employees are. Obviously, if the employee has made a mistake, take the steps to rectify it in the most positive manner possible. But if that employee is struggling with a tough situation and you know they are in the right, giving them your endorsement will boost their confidence and help them resolve other issues in the future. It may not win over that one customer, but it will assure that everyone knows you value and respect your people at least as much as your customers.
  • Observe and improve. Your employees aren’t pushovers, but you aren’t either. Make sure they know you are watching for areas where they do things well, and also areas you can work together to improve. Growth is just as important to a good worker as pay. Stagnancy doesn’t help either of you. Setting goals and working together to reach them helps both.

So that’s my advice on being a better boss. I guess if I had to boil it down, my best piece of advice would be this: invest in the growth and well-being of your people and all of you will end up happier.

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This is a sponsored post. All opinions are 100% my own.