According to that frequently quoted study from Gallup, only 15 percent of people are engaged at work. And some 70 percent do not show up to work ready to do their best. That’s not just bad for company cultures, it’s bad for business. Organizations that do keep their employees engaged at work benefit from an average of 27 percent higher profits and 38 percent better productivity, a scenario dissected in 12: The Elements of Great Managing.
Then there's the truly negative side to all this: Because if there’s one sure-fire way to build a company culture with disengaged employees, it’s by making them resent you -- the manager, founder, CEO or general leader. If they despise you, they won’t work harder, stay longer or commit to your cause.
But how do you know if your employees feel this way? How do you know if they, well, can't stand you? Here are five common managerial habits that may be the problem -- because they create simmering resentment among employees.
1. Responding defensively to employee criticism
When an employee offers feedback, do not respond defensively. Regardless of how the employee presented that feedback -- calmly, angrily or with frustration -- the worst thing you can do is be defensive and argue against what they're feeling.
I first learned this lesson when I was dealing with a disheveled employee who had feedback on a process we’d just introduced to my business, VividTech, for onboarding clients. It was a process that I felt particularly proud to introduce.
The employee, though, had experienced frustrations, and came to me saying, “This isn’t going to work -- the process takes too long, it has too many bottlenecks and it’s making us fall behind.” I responded by explaining to her why the process worked fine and how other big companies were doing the same thing. (I was, in fact, basically invalidating her claims). Immediately, you could see her walls go up. “All right,” she said and walked away, likely feeling that I hadn’t listened to her feedback.
In fact, I never got feedback from her again.
In hindsight, I understand that she had a great point; that when you run a startup, you'll find that it’s often unhelpful to adopt enterprise-grade processes when you don't have the need for it. Actually, such high-level processes can slow things down. Today, I no longer respond defensively to criticism from my employees, no matter how harsh. I regard all feedback as worth listening to.
Plus, listening instead of automatically defending shows your employees that you value their input.
2. Giving feedback on a project you didn’t fully review
Leaders are busy. Managers, CEOs, founders -- they have to create new, cleaner processes; introduce those processes to their employees; create a company vision; keep an eye on finances; coordinate internal changes; keep clients happy; and carry out a whole laundry-list of other to-dos.
It’s tempting then, when an employee has put sweat and tears into a project, to quickly skim over what he or she has done and jot down some feedback without really taking an in-depth look at what this employee has put together.
As Ryan Peck, founder of Cold Email Kings, explained to me in a phone call, “I’m so busy that I used to just quickly skim over what employees would bring to me once they finished a project. Then I’d give feedback to them. I thought it was fine. But then a rather bold employee came up to me and said, ‘Okay, did you even look at the article I gave you? Your feedback -- I already did everything you’re telling me to do.’
"They then pointed out everywhere within the article that they did, everything I was saying they hadn’t done. Because I hadn’t taken a closer look at the article, I provided irrelevant feedback that wasted the employee’s time and hurt our relationship. Needless to say, I now spend much more time reviewing projects that my employees turn in.”
3. Providing necessary information after a job has been finished
Perhaps nothing frustrates employees as much as putting loads of time into a project, presenting it to your boss and receiving information which should have been provided before the project even began. That doesn’t just hurt trust between you and the employee, but many workers will walk away fuming with frustration.
I talked about this with freelance writer Mike Blankenship. He said, “Nothing makes me want to stop working with a client faster than when they don’t provide the information necessary for me to do my job well. If a client provides necessary information for sales copy or a blog article after I’ve already written it -- happens all the time, by the way -- that’s really frustrating. I’ve found that making the process slower and allowing everyone the time to make pertinent suggestions in the outlining phase can save me and my clients a big headache.”
So, don’t rush it. To save your employee’s time and build trust, slow down the precautionary phase of each project. That will ensure that you have time to give employees all the information necessary for them to perform their job to the best of their ability.
4. Expecting a job to be done the same way you would do it
Everyone is different. Some employees enjoy going the long way around a project, ensuring that every detail is in order. Other employees want to automate as much of their job as possible and enjoy creating new processes which allow for that.
The best thing you can do as an employer is to put employees in positions which fit their tendencies and allow them the freedom to do work the way that they want to do it. After all, if the job gets done, what does it matter how it got done (legal breaches and unethical practices aside, of course)?
Plus, discouraging people from creating new processes for their job by trying to force them to do it the way you would do it is a sure-fire way to build resentment and kill trust.
As Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” I suppose the key, then, is to hire smart people, people you can trust, and then let them do their job how they want to do it.
5. Casting a vision that your employees don’t care about
It’d be easy to assume that the vision in your head will inspire everyone. It inspires you, after all. It’s what keeps you going after a long, hard day. Wouldn’t it do the same for your employees? Not necessarily. Every employee is motivated by something different. Some likely will be motivated by your vision. Others just want to get a raise. And others want to hone their individual craft.
One thing’s for sure, though: Constantly talking about the vision that motivates you without first consulting your employees' individual desires will get annoying fast.
That’s not to say that vision-casting is worthless -- it isn’t. In fact, vision-casting is critical. But the vision you use to motivate your team should be a mutually agreed upon thing, something that anyone on the team can veto. Ryan Dossey, founder of Call Porter and Ballpoint Marketing, explained this principle to me as it relates to high-level executive management.
“When we’re creating a vision for an individual team or for the company as a whole," Dossey said, "it’s a long process, it’s something that everyone will contribute to and anyone can veto. We take our time creating a company vision because we know that everyone needs to look at it and personally think, ‘Yeah -- that gets me excited.’”
In the end, lots of people are dissatisfied with their jobs. And perhaps the person who has the most impact on employee satisfaction is you, the direct leader, manager, CEO or founder who hires and overseas those employees. You have the ability to inspire your employees, make them love their workplace and increase productivity. You also have the ability to unintentionally make your employees despise you.
Sadly, many managers are doing just that with the above five mistakes. Are you one of them?
Compiled by Olalekan Adeleye