Are Your Employees Telling You Something? Five Messages for Managers
What Employee Behavior Says About a Business’s Health
Have you ever really paid attention to what your employees are telling you? Of course there are the actual conversations, but as the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. Sometimes non-verbal behavior in the workplace says a lot about a business or you, the manager. Maybe employee behavior suggests something about their workload. Perhaps a question posed by and employee is a sign of a bigger concern. Many managers are simply too busy to focus enough time meeting with employees individually to evaluate concerns on a frequent basis. However, there are simple things managers can watch out for that will help. For managers to gain an understanding of hidden issues or challenges in the office, it’s important to be observant and to realize that our employees are always telling us something, somehow.
Here are five messages your employees are sending you:
Attrition – Ok this one is obvious, so I figured we’d start here. Very rarely does an employee quit on a whim and without a specific reason. There are typically three reasons why an employee will leave. First, some employees simply depart for a fresh start, or for personal interest reasons that may be independent of the company. Second, and far more likely, it is often said that when an employee leaves an organization, they’re really leaving their boss. Perhaps there is friction or there are things you as the manager are not doing well such that an employee looks for opportunities to leave. The third reason why an employee usually leaves an organization is because he or she is leaving the organization itself. Perhaps the vision, the decisions or culture of the organization does not reflect or meet the needs of the employee.
If you’ve ever had an employee depart, you’ve always wondered if it was something you had said or done, no matter what their cited reason may have been. If an employee submits his or her notice, in most cases it is a sign that he or she felt some level of dissatisfaction or lack of fulfillment. You may want to take a survey of employees to solicit employee views on things like career growth, interest of the work and compensation. Leaving a company represents a number of challenges and discomforts for the employee, so if one does leave, it means circumstances were compelling enough for them to take action.
‘Is there a Plan? – Employees need to know that their managers and leaders have their best interest in mind. Knowledge that there is a vision for the future, a plan of action, or at least the perception of one, goes a long way towards keeping employees engaged and hard at work. By contrast, if employees sense a lack of alignment or knee-jerk reactions by senior managers it leads to concern. Further, if employees actually feel compelled to ask ‘Is there a plan?’ it’s a sign that employees have become skeptical of the organization’s leaders and are becoming concerned with the broader vision.
There are two ways to curb these concerns, the first of which it to actually make sure you have a plan. It’s natural for businesses and companies to change over time as a reaction to changes in their market or industry. By having some level of a plan, it will automatically make things better because even outsiders will see that decisions and actions are reasonably consistent and aligned to some degree. The second means of curbing softening confidence is management’s decision is to simply communicate – both frequently and effectively. Clearly articulated newsletters once a year are not enough, and frequent but cryptic messages from management and leadership will just frustrate people.
What Time is It? – A strong indicator of morale or engagement concerns is an employee’s work hours. If you work in a flexible work environment as many companies do nowadays, disenfranchised employees will tend to abuse working hours. For example, you may see an employee leisurely stroll in at 10AM when everyone else arrived at 8. An employee may frequently take long lunches, or just pack up and slip out the back door immediately at the end of the day, leaving some tasks unfinished. Busy managers can’t be everywhere at once, obviously, so this behavior is sometimes tough to correct or enforce when not directly observed.
A similar story exists with the amount of hours an employee works. If your company works a standard 40 hour week, for example, you may notice employees working just the bare minimum week after week. While managers should never expect employees to work excessive hours, a couple extra hours here and there at least would suggest employees are not simply watching the clock. After all, when an employee is engaged and satisfied at work and enjoying their purpose and impact in the office, they are more likely to stay late and work extra hours from time to time. If you have employees exhibiting these behaviors, stop them and ask how they are doing the next time you see them in the hallway. A quick conversation may go a long way in determining the cause of the problem.
Multitasking Through Meetings – A strong indicator of your employee workload is the frequency with which employees work through meetings. I’m not talking about quickly checking an iPhone that buzzed with a new email, but rather, blatant pounding away at the keyboard working. If employees are sitting through meetings with laptops open and not paying attention, it leads one to easily conclude that maybe the meeting is not as important as whatever else they’re doing. A similar trait is when important meetings are repeatedly rescheduled, suggesting that people have conflicts and are unable to free themselves up enough to support an important discussion.
From a manager’s perspective, this behavior may be a sign the workload is too high or expectations of what’s important is not clear. Are your resources over constrained? Or do you need to better define boundaries and protocol for what’s expected when an employee attends a meeting? In most cases, when employees multi-task through meetings, it not intended to be a show of disrespect, but simply that the employee is trying to use the time to get other work done because there is no other time available to do so.
‘How do I…?’ – I am always amazed by how poorly businesses and managers teach their employees about the business, how it operates and other various bits of protocol. I once had a 27-year veteran of a company ask me how to submit a travel request. I had only been in my role for a couple months, but was surprised that this was not a well-understood need. Unfortunately, many companies merely provide a brief overview of the business and how it runs only when it first hires an employee but never again, leaving it up to employees to figure it out as time goes by.
If you are finding that a number of employees are asking questions regarding how your business works – the budget planning calendar, how the expenses related to a project are accounted for, or protocol for submitting a travel request – it might be time to have a refresher discussion (or maybe a more formal training) to help employees see the big picture. While you don’t necessarily expect an employee who specializes in developing software to do the company accounting and vice versa, it certainly helps everyone see how the pieces fit.
Certainly, these are just a few of the clues about your team and organization that you can get just by watching and listening carefully. The fundamental here, though, is that by watching and observing carefully the behavior demonstrated by your employees, you can gain great insight into the health of your business as well as things like the state of morale and employee engagement.
What other behaviors do employees demonstrate that managers should watch out for?
Six Tips for Performance Reviews (Article)
The Importance of Being Human (Article)
Should Manager’s Apologize? (Article)