What your employees aren’t telling you (but wish they could)
Engagement 5 minute read

What your employees aren’t telling you (but wish they could)

Megan Orr | January 26, 2023

Do you know what your employees aren’t telling you? Chances are there are lots of things they wish they could say to you, but keep to themselves instead. Continue reading to learn how these untold truths may be impacting your ability to lead and your employees’ overall engagement.

Employee feedback is an essential part of being an effective manager. Leaders should always have a finger on the pulse of how their employees are feeling. However, when you ask employees for feedback, they probably won’t be comfortable sharing the whole, unvarnished truth with you. So then, how do you find out what your employees aren’t telling you?

As reported by Canadian Business, a survey asked approximately 1400 workers “what they would say and to whom if they were given a consequence-free opportunity to say anything they wanted to one person at their place of work. Management was the group that respondents were most likely to conceal their grievances from, with 41.5% saying they had something to say to their boss. And more than half (56%) reported that they’d been hiding their problem for at least a year”. 

This lack of transparency may not have anything to do with you (the manager) directly. It could be a general fear of retaliation, the fear of being perceived as negative, or any number of other factors. Although employees have many reasons to not want to share feedback directly, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want you to pick up on what they’re not saying. 

“Hey, I got this.”

If you’re the type of manager that spends a lot of time giving instruction and feedback to your employees, they might want you to take a step back and understand that they usually know what they’re doing and that you don’t always need to keep an ever-watchful eye on them. 

Remind your employees to ask for help if they need it. If they don’t ask and you think they might need help, you can always reach out to them. Asking if, instead of assuming, an employee needs help is a better course of action. It shows your employees that you trust their capabilities, but that you’re also there for support if they need it. 

“If you don’t give directions, I don’t know where we’re going.”

As much as some employees might like to have autonomy, they do also need to have clear direction when it comes to bigger picture concepts for the company. Forbes writes that “you may say you trust your employees to make their own decisions, but they will only truly be empowered when they understand which decisions are theirs to make”. 

You should practice giving employees enough information so that they can make sure that the work they’re doing is helping to meet the company’s goals. Transparency helps to build trust, and employees who feel trusted are less likely to feel demotivated or quit.

“I’m not paid well enough.”

Compensation is a common concern for employees. With predictions of an oncoming recession and increased pricing for nearly everything, financial insecurity has exacerbated worries about income and savings. If you aren’t paying competitive wages—or, at the very least, explaining your reasoning for not paying market rates—your employees may decide to leave to work for a company that does. 

Inadequate compensation also speaks to a lack of recognition. You should make sure that your wages are fair and that salary increases happen regularly. Don’t wait until an otherwise good employee quits and you counter-offer them more money. In fact, many employee advice columns, such as Ask a Manager, advise employees to not even consider taking a counteroffer, so it is often literally too little, too late. 

“I’m doing too much.”

Employees who experience burnout at work are far more likely to feel disengaged. Be mindful of the signs of burnout such as cynicism, disinterest in tasks, and low productivity. Your employees are not likely to outright share with you that they’re being given too much work, but it will show in their performance. 

Burnout can also manifest when an employee finds that the work is repetitive, disinteresting, or has little meaning. Be sure to distribute tasks fairly between your direct reports and offer support when needed. 

If you want to know what your employees aren’t telling you, here are some things you can do: 

  • Ask for feedback. This can be done one on one, anonymously through surveys, or through an employee engagement solution that offers check-ins.
  • Build a relationship with your employees. Check in with them regularly and learn to actively listen. 
  • Make sure to actually consider and use the feedback your employees provide. If you keep asking for honest feedback but nothing changes, employees may feel discouraged that their concerns don’t matter.

It’s also important to consider how you respond to feedback, because your reaction may not be inviting further feedback in the future. 

In a recent Inc. article by Ask a Manager’s Alison Green, she writes that “most people think they want feedback, but then don't always like the reality. People often want to be the sort of manager who would welcome feedback—because that feels like a good thing, and no one wants to think ‘I'm the sort of manager who shuts down different opinions.’”.

Green points out that a good manager knows that they don’t necessarily have to act on all feedback they receive—and they shouldn’t—but they do need to engage with it. If you’re consistently wondering what your employees aren’t telling you, you might need to consider the way you usually react to their feedback and how you can change it to continue to encourage their sharing.

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