Sujan Patel is the co-founder of Content Marketer and Narrow.io, which provide tools to help marketers scale their content marketing and social-media efforts. Here, writing for Inc, he takes on the touchy topic of communication, always a big issue in any survey!
For modern businesses, employee engagement is key. High engagement leads to reduced turnover, higher productivity, and increased profitability. However, the latest research from Gallup shows that less than 30% of employees are engaged at work. Management is one of the top reasons cited for lack of engagement in the workplace, representing 70% of the variance between high and low engagement.
That’s a big deal. Of the factors that contribute to manager-led engagement, communication tops the list. If you can’t communicate effectively with your employees, you can say goodbye to engagement, productivity, and retention.
To drive engagement among team members, managers have to learn how to communicate effectively. And if you want to become a better communicator and manager, you have to know what types of communication are getting in the way of trust, engagement, and morale.
Are you making any of the following deadly sins? Be honest - and then take action to be better.
Sin #1 - Focusing on Weaknesses
Whether you’re conducting annual reviews or discussing progress in regularly scheduled one-on-ones, focusing on an employee’s weaknesses and failures can tank your engagement.
According to Gallup, of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths, 67% are engaged at work. Among those that strongly disagree, 71% report that they are actively disengaged.
Ratings systems, performance reviews, and goals handed down from leadership can encourage a focus on employee weaknesses. Rather than spending time discussing successes, managers and employees focus on fixing areas where employees are failing to meet expectations - leaving employees feeling as if they’ll never do right in their managers’ eyes.
Instead, focus on strengths, placing employees in positions that rely on what they’re good at rather than encouraging them to improve in areas of weakness in their current roles.
“Although we label weaknesses ‘areas of opportunity,’ brain science reveals that we do not learn and grow the most in our areas of weakness. In fact the opposite is true: we grow the most new synapses in those areas of our brain where we have the most pre-existing synapses. Our strengths, therefore, are our true areas of opportunity for growth.”
- Marcus Buckingham, Harvard Business Review
Sin #2 - Disregarding Professional Development
Millennials - who are expected to represent 75% of the workforce by 2020 - are often considered the least loyal generation of employees. But while a 2016 survey conducted by Deloitte found that two-thirds of Millennials have plans to leave their employers soon, it also found that Millennials who are satisfied with their professional development opportunities are twice as likely to stay with a company.
A common mistake managers make is focusing all of their communications with employees on their current roles. You’ll motivate employees more if you show them you understand their aspirations and work with them to develop a plan of action for meeting those goals.
By providing employees with information about professional development, mentorship, and learning opportunities, managers who focus time on discussions about advancement can increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.
Sin #3 - Being Unapproachable
There are several reasons why employees may find their managers unapproachable: some react negatively to employee complaints or concerns, some do not allocate enough time to one-on-ones, and some take too long to respond to employee questions or emails.
Employees may feel their manager is too busy for them - or fear retribution for admitting a mistake - and attempt to hide problems or resolve them without consulting with management.
Employees who hesitate to talk to their managers leads to mistake-laden workplaces with low engagement and high conflict. Ultimately, the burden of resolution falls on the manager who must investigate the cause of issues and begin damage control - both of which make busy managers even more unavailable.
To avoid being perceived as an unapproachable manager:
Respond to employee questions and emails as soon as possible - no more than 24 hours after the communication was delivered (barring vacations and other reasonable delays).
Schedule regular team meetings and one-on-ones with employees, encourage honest communication during these sessions, and avoid cancelling scheduled meetings.
Keep your office door open when not in a meeting, and encourage employees to drop by when they need to communicate with you.
Sin #4 - Being Uninvolved
Some managers see their role as an escalation point - someone to resolve situations only when employees are no longer able to handle them.
The problem with this “available when needed” approach is that it leaves managers out of the loop on the day-to-day issues employees face. Employees begin to feel as though managers are incapable of resolving issues, or they feel as though managers don’t want to be bothered.
Take it from John Reed, writing for CIO:
“A lot of managers embrace this philosophy that if they [employees] have a problem, they’ll tell me. If they’re not telling him there is a problem then he assumes everything is good. That’s not always the case and this is a recipe for employees to become disenchanted and disengaged.”
While managers have to be an escalation point for employee issues, they should also be familiar with employee’s day-to-day tasks and projects.
With regular discussion of and participation in employee’s roles, managers are better suited to resolve problems when they arise. In turn, employees will be more likely to seek the advice of managers, who can then offer tips and suggestions to employees to prevent problems before they occur.
Sin #5 - Being Too Involved
Managers must walk a fine line when involving themselves in employees’ jobs. Perhaps worse than managers who are uninvolved are those that are too involved - you probably know them as “micromanagers.” Micromanagers demoralize employees by questioning all of their decisions, excessively scrutinizing all of their work, and demanding detailed summaries of completed tasks.
If you’ve ever found yourself working under a micromanager, you know what a pain in the a** that can be.
Often, micromanagement is the result of one of two things: either the manager is struggling with finding their own role as the leader of a team, or the manager is skeptical of their team’s ability to work effectively.
For those in the former category, leadership courses can be an effective way to learn how to move from the role of employee to that of manager. For the rest, allowing employees to make mistakes can be an effective coaching technique.
Sin #6 - Exhibiting Pessimism
In a study of leadership effectiveness published in Forbes, pessimistic managers were rated in the 19th percentile for effectiveness, while optimistic leaders were rated in the 89th percentile. Optimistic managers inspire progress and innovation, while pessimistic leaders plague employee morale.
When employees bring complaints to their managers, they’re usually seeking solutions. While it may be tempting to commiserate with employees when they bring known, unsolvable issues to the table, try to focus instead on brainstorming potential solutions. Employees will appreciate the extra attention, and they’ll be motivated to take the same approach to problem solving in the future.
Sin #7 - Using Passive-Aggressive Communication
When communicating with employees, I’ve found that clarity is key - and trust is crucial. Passive-aggressive behavior is destructive to both of these key elements of effective workplace communication. Passive-aggressive managers hide feedback in humor, provide conflicting direction, and place blame on employees, leaving them confused, discontented, and disengaged.
Passive-aggressive management can be the result of multiple factors, but it’s most commonly the result of managers who lack skill in providing criticism or feedback. Managers who struggle with assertiveness or who don’t feel equipped to provide criticism may benefit from taking emotional intelligence courses. Better yet, consider emotional intelligence training for your entire team to improve overall communications.
No manager is perfect - I’ve been guilty of many of these mistakes myself in the past. What matters, when it comes to employee engagement, isn’t perfection. It’s identifying your faults and taking clear, consistent action to improve them that’ll boost overall office morale.
CREDIT: Getty Images