As a small business owner, you need to accept that your employees are going to talk about you — whether it’s to colleagues in the break room, loved ones at home, or friends over coffee. What employees say about you when you’re not around represents how they really feel. And, while it’s hard to please everyone, there are a few things you never want employees saying about you.
The five complaints below, in particular, illustrate what happens when something has gone wrong with your management style (which 37% of employees say is the reason they leave a job). Here’s how each statement represents missteps you may have made, and what you can do to avoid giving employees reasons to say any of these things about you.
1. “I only hear from my boss about my work when it’s something negative.”
No employee likes to make a mistake, but it happens. When it does, it falls to the small business owner to point it out. That’s never a pleasant task, but it’s a required one. Where small business owners can get into trouble is when that’s the only thing they ever say about an employee’s performance.
The reason employees will complain about this is because all that negativity will start to demoralize them. A Gallup poll found that, among employees with managers who focused on weaknesses and negativity, more than half became disengaged with their work. What’s more, negativity breeds a culture of fear where your employees can be anxious about submitting work. They’ll be bracing themselves for failure, which can create an anxiety that will lead to them second-guess any work they do.
What you can do: You can avoid this managing misstep by first checking to see if you do this. It can easily be something managers aren’t even aware of. A quick way to check is to search your emails for the words “good job.” If no emails pop up, you’re in trouble. Be sure to praise good work. Writing or saying “This was great work” only takes a few seconds, yet it can produce a long-lasting impact on morale and create a healthy praise/criticism equilibrium. What’s more, by highlighting what good work looks like to employees, you give them a frame of reference for what to do moving forward.
2. “They’re always looking over my shoulder.”
Nobody likes a micro manager. Surveys show it’s the most disliked trait in a boss and 68% of employees say it ruins their morale. The reason employees dislike micromanaging is because it conveys that you don’t trust them. What’s more, it also means [warning: incoming tough love] that you’re doing your job wrong. Employees are there for you to delegate tasks to, so you can focus on the big picture tasks.
If you’re micromanaging your employees’ work, you are neglecting your own responsibilities. And don’t think employees don’t see that. It will shake their faith in you as well as the business and, if you keep it up, that can lead to expensive turnover. In fact, a survey published in Harry E. Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide found that 69% of employees consider changing jobs because of being micromanaged.
What you can do: Trust your employees to do the work you spent good time hiring them to do. You may also choose to review your instructions with them to ease your mind that they’ve got it under control.
Now, if this doesn’t come naturally to you, here’s a fix: Sit down and think of all the work your small business needs done that only you can do. Write it all down, then pack it into your to-do lists so that your calendar is so full that you can’t spare the time to do anything else — let alone hover over employees. This can help slowly rewire your brain to the benefit of you, your employees, and your business.
3. “They don’t give me credit for my work.”
The best employees are as invested in the success of your business as you are. They want to feel as if they’re contributing to and sharing in the accomplishments of the work. If you take that away from them, they will quickly call you a credit-stealer and, according to a BambooHR survey, 57% to 77% of employees find that behavior unacceptable.
Managers who fail to reward employees with acknowledgements of their individual contributions will quickly spark resentment because 82% of workers don’t think they’re recognized as often as they should be. Yes, small business owners ultimately represent the face of a company and its success. However, silencing those who help make it possible will have demoralizing consequences.
What you can do: Aim for little gestures that can go a long way. Announcing improved quarterly sales? Don’t say something vague like, “We had a great quarter.” Take a few seconds to specifically acknowledge the salespeople who made it happen. Are you giving a PowerPoint presentation to potential investors? Acknowledge the employee who helped put it together. Above all else, don’t accept any employee’s work as a given contribution to the company. Celebrate it.
4. “They never ask me about myself.”
The line between personal and professional in the manager-employee relationship can be tricky to navigate. That’s why some small business owners may respond to this complaint by thinking, “They’re my employees — not my friends.” But here’s the thing: Employees don’t want to be treated like faceless cogs in your small business machine, grinding away to increase your bottom line.
Employees are people who aren’t defined solely by what they do, but also by who they are outside of work. If you forget that, and never ask about even small things like weekend or holiday plans, you risk coming off as an impersonal and unapproachable boss who doesn’t care about them. You also risk becoming a manager who forgets that employees have lives they cherish, and can slip into asking them to sacrifice evenings or weekends for overtime.
What you can do: Be sure to be personable and interested. It has a big payoff: According to a Gallup report, 54% of employees who strongly agree that they have approachable managers are engaged in their work (as opposed to only 2% engagement from those who strongly disagree). You don’t need to become their BFF. Just inquiring now and then about who they are as people outside of work will make them feel seen as human beings — which will, in turn, make you more of a human being to them. The result? They’ll be more relaxed around you, and even more invested in keeping you happy as a boss because they feel that you genuinely care about them.
5. “They expect me to be a mind reader.”
A good small business owner always knows what the big and small picture needs of their operations are. But just because you know, doesn’t mean your employees do. In fact, nearly 50% of employees in a Comparably survey said that communication is the number one thing their direct manager needs to improve on. If workers are complaining that you expect them to be a mind reader, this means you have a communication problem. What you want isn’t clearly making its way to those who can make it happen.
The reason “They expect me to be a mind reader” gets said is because a small business owner is assigning tasks without clear instructions, and then punishing employees for work that doesn’t meet expectations. Employees can’t know what you expect of them unless you tell them. The negative consequence of this can be poor communication, a souring manager-employee relationship, and inefficient workflow. Every party involved will become frustrated.
What you can do: Your job as a small business owner is to lead and delegate. That requires detailed instructions. Your employees can’t be at their most efficient if you’re not telling them how. Invest more front-end time. Try having a meeting with employees to lay out general workflow processes and expectations. You can do the same for big upcoming projects. Or, if you’re just assigning a task via email, try creating a specific breakdown of everything you need the employee to do. Lastly, encourage employees to ask questions. Then reply happily, and helpfully, so they don’t feel like they’re imposing.
That happy and helpful attitude can go a long way — not just toward improving communication, but also bettering yourself as a manager who, in time, will find their employees are no longer saying bad things behind their back. If you heed the warnings above, they may start singing your praises instead.