What Employers and Employees Wish They Could Say

Have you ever wished you could tell your employees what you were thinking, but couldn’t? Here are some ideas for communicating to employees on several issues, and ideas on how they might communicate to you.

Messages from Managers to Employees
On selection and promotion

When it comes to selecting people for promotions or special assignments, it’s tough to win. Tough, that is, if I pay attention to what the candidates are thinking.

Here’s the scenario: Ten people are competing for one promotion. No matter who I choose, one person is going to feel I made the right decision, and the other nine are going to think I screwed up. If you’re the one who gets selected, you’ll probably suggest that I pay no attention to what the others think. Of course, if you aren’t selected, you’ll undoubtedly question my motives in making a selection that so many people think is wrong.

There’s a lot more to selection decisions than you might think. Sometimes it may seem that I merely pick the people I like. Well, here’s a shocker for you: It’s true! But who I “like” is determined by weighing many factors, such as technical skills, people skills, what we need now, what we’ll need in the future, past performance, seniority, diversity considerations, interest, ability and much more. You don’t have to use those same criteria in determining who you like.

So if you’re ever tempted to second-guess my selection and promotion decisions, remember this simple fact: I have to live with the people I pick just as you do. There’s no way I’d select someone I didn’t feel could handle the job well.

On being “objective, consistent and fair”

At times, I’ve been accused of being aloof, stand-offish and downright hard to get to know. Well, I admit it … sometimes I’m guilty as charged. But before you go assuming that I’m an elitist or maybe just plain arrogant, I’d like you to consider the real reason I frequently keep a distance between us: It’s tough to supervise your friends. If you’ve ever been placed in a lead worker position, you know exactly what I mean.

“Bosses” inevitably must do things that don’t mix well with friendship. Whether it’s confronting work problems, doing performance evaluations or even giving recognition, it’s difficult to be objective and fair when dealing with a pal. The more distasteful the task, the greater the likelihood that I’ll feel forced to choose between doing my job and keeping a friend. That’s a heavy burden for anyone to carry. Making the “right” choice isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Equally difficult is meeting the expectation that I be consistent and fair in my dealings with you. You expect both, and so do my bosses. Therein lies the dilemma: Consistency basically means treating everyone the same while fairness means treating everyone the way they deserve to be treated based on their particular circumstances. Since few situations I face are exactly alike, if I’m 100 percent consistent with everyone, I will inevitably be unfair to someone. And if I’m 100 percent fair with everyone, I’m consistent with no one; I end up treating people differently. No matter which way I go, somebody’s going to gripe. The best I can do is simply do the best I can do … and somehow try to strike some balance between the two. I work on it every day. Welcome to my world!

Messages from Employees to Managers
On Loyalty and Job Security

It used to be that if you worked hard, kept your nose clean and were loyal to the company, you were pretty much assured of a job for life … or at least as long as you wanted it.

No more! I read the papers and watch the evening news. I see a growing amount of evidence that job security is becoming a thing of the past. The “guarantees” our parents and grandparents enjoyed (or at least thought they enjoyed) are disappearing, and that’s frightening. It plays games with my mind. I feel like I’m running scared a lot.

When I hear terms like “restructuring,” “reengineering,” “buyout,” “merger,” “downsizing,” etc., I can’t help but wonder if they will happen here. I worry how they might affect me. That’s natural … I’m only human. And quite frankly, it’s an awful think to have hanging over your head. I try not to think about it and just do my job, but it’s hard.

I bet you share many of these same fears. It’s obvious that managers are no more immune to changing trends than employees are. I hope that you’ll be as sensitive to my concerns as you want others to be to yours.

If there are times when you feel I need to be more loyal to you and the company, please understand that I’m struggling to define what “loyalty” means in today’s ever-changing business world. Like you, I’m searching for some degree of stability—something I can hold on to—in what seems to be unstable times.

If you could find some way to reassure me that hard work does pay off, I’d really appreciate it. It’s getting harder and harder to believe. But I do want to believe it.

Consistency basically means treating everyone the same while fairness means treating everyone the way they deserve to be treated based on their particular circumstances.

On job motivation

There are many positive aspects to my job. Here’s a list of just a few of the workplace “turn-ons” I experience:

  • Doing good work that I can be proud of … and being recognized and appreciated for it
  • Having my ideas on how to improve the business taken seriously … and occasionally adopted. I really like it when you ask, “What do you think?”
  • Having you trust my work ethic and competency enough that you don’t feel the need to constantly look over my shoulder
  • Being respected as a decent employee, and more importantly, a decent person
  • Being part of a team in which everyone pulls together and carries his or her share of the load
  • Making a contribution—feeling that things came out different and better because I was involved
  • Achieving an adequate balance between my job and my personal life

When it comes to the above, I’m guessing you feel the same way.

On respecting my time

So much work, so little time! If you’ve ever felt there’s just not enough time in the day to get your work done, you’re not alone. I may not work long hours as frequently as you, and yes, I do sometimes take off as soon as my shift ends. But that doesn’t make my time any less valuable than yours.

I’ve got a job to do, and you expect me to do it well. Part of my job involves doing things you need done. Many times you expect me to drop whatever I’m doing in order to meet your needs. That’s okay if the tasks to be done are truly important. But I get frustrated when you take a “top priority” approach with every assignment. Sometimes I’m still in the middle of one “do it now” when you give me another one. And somewhere in all that I’m expected to do my regular work, too.

Ask me what I’m working on before you give me an assignment, and I’ll be much more likely to believe that my work truly is important. Ask if I have a few minutes to discuss your needs instead of walking up and telling me what to do, and I’ll be much more inclined to believe that time is a precious resource that must be respected and used wisely. Act like my time isn’t important, and I’ll resent it. Even worse, I just might follow your lead.

Workforce Extra, November 1998, pp. 14-15.