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OWNER'S MANUAL

7 Things Your Employees Will Never Tell You

What your employees won't say could be what you most need to hear.

Your employees have a lot of thoughts. Most of those thoughts they don’t share-- especially with you.

At times their silence is a good thing, especially where your ego or their employment status might be concerned, but their silence also may keep you from understanding what your employers really think and what they really need from you.

Consider whether your employees might be thinking one or more of the following:

1. “Please don’t talk to me about your personal life.” Talking about subjects that aren’t work related helps build a personal relationship, but many people fall back on talking about themselves when they don’t know the other person well. Employees, especially new employees, have no interest in hearing about your go-to topics like your last vacation or your antique collection or your beach house.

New employees want to feel like they belong, but more importantly they want to know how they’re doing. Long-term employees want to know you care about them; talking about yourself only shows you care about yourself.

2. “Can’t you see I’m really busy?” Here’s what happens. You stop by to talk, the employee stops what they’re doing to chat with you… and when you walk away they’re behind and have to catch up. Employees want to talk to you, but they have work to do, too. Sometimes there’s an easy answer, especially if the employee’s job involves physical tasks: Help out while you talk. Not only will your employee appreciate a little help, your conversation will be less forced. In other settings, pick your spots carefully.

Never interrupt an employee who is busy simply because today you’ve decided to “check in with the troops.”

3. “I can tell you really don’t care about my personal life.” Walking up and asking an employee a generic question like, “Hey, how are your, um, kids?” or, “Are you doing anything fun after work?” or, “Hey, who do you think will win the NBA championship this year?” comes across as forced and insincere, at least to your employees. Either take the time to get to know your employees well enough so you can have a decent conversation or just stick to work-related subjects. (Employees definitely prefer “all business” to “pseudo-personal.”)

One way to show employees you care about them as people is to follow the 20% rule: When you’re talking to employees, never talk more than 20% of the time. The single best way to show you care is to listen.

4. “You claim you respect me… so give me something important to do.” Assigning an employee a critical task is a definite sign of respect. Do it as often as you can.

5. “You claim you trust me… so give me something important to do and let me decide how to do it.” It’s only natural to tell your employees how to do their jobs; after all, it’s your business. Still, when you assign a project without providing a lot of direction your employees instantly know you respect their abilities and trust their judgment.

Employees appreciate respect; they love trust.

6. “Actually, I would like to work here a long time.” The average person switches jobs a number of times before they’re 30-years-old.  Some leave for money, but many leave because they can’t stand their boss. No matter what your industry, high employee turnover doesn’t have to be a fact of employment life. Find out why employees leave and address the causes. It’s stressful to change jobs, so most employees won’t start job searching until you give them a reason to.

Watch, listen, take smart actions… do your job right and most of your employees will stay.

7. “That gift card is nice, but a simple ‘thanks’ is really all I need.” Sure, every time you hand out paychecks you’re implicitly saying thanks, but not really. Find reasons to thank your employees as often as you can. Look for an accomplishment, however small or fleeting, and express your appreciation. “Thanks for taking care of that difficult customer.” “Thanks for jumping in and helping Mike.” “Thanks for letting me know we have a problem in the warehouse; I hadn’t realized orders were consistently shipping late.”

Say thanks benefits both of you: The employee feels appreciated, and you get a great way to start a meaningful conversation.

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Last updated: Jan 6, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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