10 Myths Managers Believe … and Why They’re Wrong

Perspectives
Nov 9, 2012
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6 Min Read

Managers have a surprisingly large number of deeply held beliefs that are sometimes just plain wrong. Here are 10 of the most common.

1. Myth: If you want to know what your employees really think, give them an anonymous survey.

Fact: Many employees don’t believe anonymous surveys are really anonymous. And they worry about jeopardizing their standing if they say anything negative. If you really want to know what your employees think, the best way to find out is to create an environment where they know it’s safe for them to speak with you candidly.

2. Myth: Low employee turnover is a sign that you’re doing something right.

Fact: Strong organizations generally have “good turnover”: They let go of employees who don’t meet a high bar while retaining those who do. Little or no turnover is often a bad sign since no one is perfect in hiring, and low turnover can indicate a manager who doesn’t correct her hiring mistakes or hold employees to a high bar.

3. Myth: A good way to reward employees for hard work is with a team dinner out or a party.

Fact: Managers often assume that employees see staff parties or social events as a treat – and some do. But not everyone wants to socialize with their coworkers, especially outside of work hours, and some people resent being asked or expected to attend such events when they’d rather just be doing their work. If you’re seeking ways to reward employees, make sure that you’re not inadvertently giving them something they won’t enjoy and might even resent!

4. Myth: The First Amendment guarantee of free speech means that you can’t interfere with what employees say at work, even if they’re making others uncomfortable.

Fact: The First Amendment prevents the government from restricting people’s speech, but not a private employer. Employers can indeed interfere with employee speech at work – for instance, directing them not to discuss politics or push their religion on others. (An important exception to this is that employers cannot interfere with employees who are discussing wages or working conditions with their coworkers.)

5. Myth: It’s not worth checking references, because no job candidate lists references who will say anything bad about them.

Fact: A surprising number of candidates offer references who end up sharing damaging information about them, or who provide a lukewarm endorsement at best. What’s more, checking references shouldn’t just be about getting a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a candidate anyway; it should be about asking probing questions to ensure you’re really hiring the right person for this particular job. Your candidate might be a lovely person with supportive references, but if her strengths aren’t in the areas you need, that’s information you want to hear.

6. Myth: When you’re called for a reference for a past employee, you shouldn’t comment beyond just confirming the person’s title and dates of employment.

Fact: Giving detailed, honest references is legal. It’s true that some companies, in an effort to avoid the headache of nuisance lawsuits, have implemented policies that they’ll only confirm dates of employment and title. As a result, many people have come to believe that it’s actually illegal to give a bad reference. But corporate policies aren’t the law. They’re often not even followed by the companies that have them. It’s both legal and common for employers to give detailed references – and can be an enormous help in hiring the right person.

7. Myth: An employee can agree to waive overtime pay when they work extra hours, as long as it’s truly voluntary.

Fact: Non-exempt employees – those who are legally entitled to earn overtime when they work more than 40 hours within a week – must be paid overtime. They can’t waive that right, no matter how voluntarily. Nor can you substitute comp time, unless it’s taken within the same week. If you manage non-exempt employees, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the laws around how they must be compensated, since it’s not always intuitive.

8. Myth: It’s okay to put off doing performance evaluations or even skip them altogether, since employees hate them anyway.

Fact: Many employees crave feedback and are counting on the evaluation process to give them a formal opportunity to discuss their work. Plus, if you procrastinate on evaluations and don’t provide them on time (or at all), you signal that you don’t care about your staff members’ performance or development. That's not a signal you want to send.

9. Myth: If you let people work from home, you won’t be able to tell if they’re really working or not.

Fact: You don’t need face time with someone in order to know if they’re working or not. If you focus on what results they’re achieving, you’ll be able to measure their performance whether they’re sitting down the hall from you or miles away. And you’ll often have a more productive, more satisfied staff as well.

10. Myth: It’s okay to call someone while they’re on vacation if you don’t do it regularly.

Fact: Employees might tell you that you can call them while they’re away, but they’re generally not happy about it if you do. Unless something is an earth-shaking emergency, respect employees’ need to truly unplug and relax – and protect them from coworkers who might interfere with their time away too. Not only will you make them happier to be working for you, but you’ll probably see a pay-off in productivity when they return. Most people do better with breaks now and then.

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