10 Things Your Employees Won't Tell You But Wish You Knew

Sep 6, 2012
8 Min Read

Think your employees will tell you what they really think about the workplace? Think again!  While in an ideal world, employees would speak up about difficult or awkward topics, in reality most people won’t raise such issues, for fear of harming their relationship with their employer.

Here are 10 things most employees won’t tell their bosses, but wish that they knew.

1. They really, really hate sitting in meetings. There's nothing worse than knowing you have a looming deadline but being forced to sit in a long and needless meeting—but it's also incredibly common. Most employees report that they waste far too many hours a week in meetings without clear agendas or purposes, and that they're forced to sit around listening to idle conversation when they could be working productively at their desks.

2. They don’t always want to attend office social events. Managers frequently assume that employees will view office social events, like staff happy hours or holiday parties, as a treat—and then get offended when employees don't want to go. Most employees would prefer that employers make it clear when events are mandatory, rather than implying they're optional and then penalizing people who don't attend. And managers should realize that not everyone wants to socialize with their co-workers. Requiring employees to attend events that are ostensibly to build their morale may have the opposite effect.

3. They resent being asked to chip in for gifts or workplace charity drives. Charity drives are great, but participation needs to be strictly voluntary, both officially and unofficially, and in too many offices there’s inappropriate pressure to participate. And many workers don’t want to budget for going-away or shower gifts for coworkers and resent being asked to give up their hard-earned cash.

4. They might say they’re willing to take your call while they’re on vacation, but they’re not happy about it. Too many managers take their employees’ vacations lightly, calling or emailing them for things that are far from earth-shattering emergencies. When this happens, employees end up feeling that their managers don’t care about their personal space and don’t respect their boundaries. They may take your call, but they’ll resent it.

5. That team-building exercise? They hate it. Workers often complain about team-building events, activities that friends might enjoy together often aren’t appropriate for the workplace. And if the activity is meant to fix a morale or communication problem, they can actually make things worse, by signaling that management doesn’t understand the root causes of the problem.

6. They really want feedback. Good employees want to know where they’re doing well and where they could be doing better. A common complaint is about bosses who only provide feedback in annual evaluations, rather than steadily throughout the year.

7. They’d like to give you feedback too. Solicit feedback. Ask for input on everything from how the staffer thinks last week's event went to what you could be doing to make her job easier. Good managers know their employees have a different perspective to share, and they value it, rather than ignoring it or feeling threatened by it.

8. They want you to be straightforward. Hinting, rather than speaking straightforwardly. Some managers feel kinder or more polite sugarcoating a difficult conversation, but it's not at all kind to let someone miss an important message. When a manager sugarcoats to the point that her message is missed, or presents requirements as mere suggestions, staffers end up confused about expectations. And the manager ends up frustrated that their suggestions weren't acted upon. Most employees prefer straightforward communication so they don't need to figure out what they're really supposed to hear.

9. They want you to make hard decisions. As a manager, your job is to solve problems, not avoid them. And while you might think that your employees don’t particularly want you to have tough conversations, make decisions that may be unpopular, or enforce standards and consequences, the reality is that managers who avoid these things usually end up upsetting good employees – because good employees will get frustrated and disgruntled by a manager's passivity and avoidance of conflict. Think, for example of managers who won't address performance problems or fire under-performers; if you've ever worked somewhere where laziness or shoddy work was tolerated, you know how frustrating and demoralizing that can be. And it plays out in other ways as well, such as a manager who hesitates to make necessary course corrections mid-way through a project but then is unhappy with the final product. Good managers know that their job is to solve problems, not avoid them, and good employees know that too.

10. If you don’t ask about what’s going on, you might not know. Don't assume you know what's going on. Probe around and ask questions; you might be surprised what you uncover. Things you want to know: How satisfied are your employees? How's their workload? What would improve their quality of life at work? What part of their job are they struggling with? What can you do to help them improve and/or manage around this? Are there obstacles that are making their jobs more difficult? What are their goals for their job and their longer-term future, and are there things you can do to help with that?  And if you don’t go out of your way to encourage people to talk to you about these things, many won’t speak candidly to you without encouragement.

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