What You Need to Know That Your Employees Are Not Telling You

Manager and employee talking
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When you are a manager, the old saying “no news is good news” doesn’t always apply. While it may be tempting to bury your head in the sand (or keep your door closed) and assume that all is well with your employees because no one is complaining, that’s a bad assumption. There may be another reason no one is bringing any issues to you – they may not trust you. 

Do you have one of those “No Whining!” signs in your office? If so, what’s that really telling your employees? To everyone but you, it says: "Just do your job and keep your mouth shut."

In the absence of a solid foundation of trust and open two-way communication, here are eleven things you’re not going to hear from your employees: 

1. I’m looking for a new job. It should never come as a surprise when an employee hands you their two-week notice. Once that happens, it’s too late to counter-offer to retain the employee. There was a reason (or reasons) the employee started looking for a new position. The key to retaining your best employees is being able to uncover those little sources of dissatisfaction before they turn into BIG sources of dissatisfaction and you find yourself in an exit interview wondering where you went wrong. 

2. I’m not really busy and could take on a lot more work. Not too many employees are going to ask their managers for more work. Most people will find things to do to fill up their days. As a manager, it’s up to you to make sure your employees are challenged, productive, and engaged in high priority, value-added work.

3. You really are terrible at ______. Everybody has weaknesses – and blind spots – and it’s risky for employees to be the one to point them out to their manager. Asking for feedback helps, and more importantly, responding in a non-defensive way will open up the door for your employees to help you become aware of your blind spots.

4. You show favorites. Are you “friends” with some of your employees and not others? You may think your relationships with certain employees outside of work is not having an impact on how you treat them, but chances are it’s creating a perception that is impacting your relationships.

5. We wish you would leave so we can relax and let our hair down. Yes, it’s OK to join your crew for a drink after work. However, it’s important to face the fact that you are the boss, and all employees will vent about their managers, even the best managers. When it comes to socializing, follow the “buy one round and out” rule of thumb.

6. You don’t have a clue about what I do and don’t seem to care. While no employee wants to work for a micromanager, they do expect their boss to have a good understanding of what they do. More importantly, they want to know that their work is important and appreciated.

7. My co-worker is getting away with murder and you don’t seem to have a clue. No one likes to tattle on their coworkers. They would rather that their manager is astute enough to know who is pulling their weight and who is not.

8. Hello, I’m trying to talk to you and you’re not paying attention. Are you giving your employees 100% of your attention? Are you in the moment? Or, are you checking emails, multi-tasking, or daydreaming about something else? Your employees deserve your undivided attention and feel disrespected when they don’t think they are getting it.

9. You’re not as funny as you think you are. Here’s a harsh management reality: just because your employees laugh at your attempts at humor doesn’t mean you’re funny. Get over yourself – that’s just what we do around our bosses.

10. I really don’t like you. Most managers really want to be liked by their employees, but wanting to be “liked” is an unrealistic and inappropriate goal as a leader. Leadership isn’t a popularity contest; it’s more important to be respected.

11. I have some great ideas on how to improve things around here but you don't seem to want to hear them. Do you get defensive when an employee offers an idea on how to improve something? Do you respond with "we tried that and it didn't work," or "that's not how we do things around here?" If you do that often enough, you'll soon stop getting those suggestions and you'll wonder why your employees are not being more innovative.

The Bottom Line

While there will always be employee thoughts that better remain unspoken, just be careful that you are not inadvertently shutting down healthy, constructive, open, two-way communication. What you are not hearing might be harmful to your managerial health. 

Updated by Art Petty.