Employee Feedback

5 Things You Never Want Employees Saying About You

Alexander Huls

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 possible bad manager traits you may have, 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. 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.

We want to hear from you. How do you prevent your employees from saying any of these negative things about you? Or what else do you fear your employees could be saying behind your back?

23 Responses to "5 Things You Never Want Employees Saying About You"
    • Sara Deaton | June 22, 2022 at 11:07 am

      These are good practices, but I believe you are missing a BEST Practice even small businesses should do to ensure the person performing a given task is meeting the objectives of the business and their managers/leadership expectations. Every business will benefit from documented processes that represent the way the business performs its work. These can be simple documented processes for a small business. By documenting corporate business processes, employees are ensured they are meeting the managers/leadership objectives when they are performing their work. This documented process approach minimizes rework and maximizes the business return on investment (expectations are in alignment). Also, employees are happier when there is less rework and management appreciates their work/work products, which occurs more frequently with documented processes!

      • Small Biz Ahead | June 23, 2022 at 8:31 am

        Great point, Sara! Thanks for the comment!

    • Vanessa Repass | June 16, 2021 at 11:20 am

      This was a nice reminder of what to do and what not to do.

      • Small Biz Ahead | June 16, 2021 at 1:57 pm

        That’s awesome to hear. Thank you for the comment!

    • Sreen Munukutla | June 16, 2021 at 1:35 am

      Very good analysis on if you do the same thing. I observed that the employees have a habit of veering away from their immediately targeted work frequently and I always used to be very critical about it. But, I found I do the same upon some deep analysis and was shocked to see that I have to keep reminding myself on immediate objectives all the time! Overall, very good points to understand and follow through for business success!!!

    • Arlene | June 15, 2021 at 12:54 pm

      Great Article! Thank you for sharing…it’s a good point to always check and see
      if you are doing those things to your employees or coworkers.

      • Small Biz Ahead | June 15, 2021 at 1:16 pm

        Hi Arlene, thanks for commenting! We’re so glad you liked our article!

    • Larry Curran | August 13, 2020 at 9:21 am

      There are certainly many ways to recognize quality work. The key to a good working relationship is respect. If you don’t have mutually respect, it’s unlikely the relationship will develop to it’s full potential. The best way I’ve found to develop mutual respect is for Owners and employees to spend more time in the hiring process really understanding the “fit” between the goals of the organization and how the employee can contribute to those goals.

    • Jerry Houston | August 12, 2020 at 10:18 am

      In our practice, we have a mantra that has driven our behaviors for almost 28 years. We believe in Mutual Benefit, Respect and Trust in all our relationships. When you share these three things with your cohorts, everything else becomes easier….that doesn’t mean it is easy! It addresses each of the concerns that you have raised in this excellent article. We believe that everyone has a responsibility to communicate when there are issues of clarity. Communication is not a one-way street. Our objective is always to have clarity and we work on that everyday. In my first book, The Eccentric Entrepreneur, scheduled for release in late September, I talk about many of these issues and what it takes to be a sustainable and successful business. We enjoy the articles that THE HARTFORD publishes and often share them with others. Thanks for all that you do.

      • Hannah Stacy | August 20, 2020 at 3:35 pm

        We appreciate your comment. Thank you for reading and sharing!

    • Dahlia Fahmy | August 12, 2020 at 9:24 am

      As a small business owner I think employees forget that this should go BOTH ways. I do all these things but it’s not reciprocated. I can give bonus after bonus and only 10% of staff will even say thank you. If you think employees get demoralized so do owners even staff is not appreciative, when staff have no drive, and when staff complain when the truth is you are doing everything right and they still think it’s not good enough

    • James Hovis | August 12, 2020 at 9:20 am

      I learned, after 2 years of frustration, that as long as the outcome is right and no time is wasted, allow the employee to do the job the way they feel comfortable with. My way is not the only way. I have always been the person that can’t stand to watch someone fold the map wrong. I have had to learn NOT to take it from them and fold it right!

    • cyndi | August 12, 2020 at 6:33 am

      thank you for that. all are very true. eye opener

    • Marianne | October 1, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      I enjoyed this article and agree with all of the things mentioned. I finally left a job after 3 months of going back and forth and justifying to myself the exact behaviors mentioned from my manager and boss. After the liberating decision to leave the company, I have asked myself why I allowed myself to be mistreated for so long.
      One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article but constantly happened to me and I believe many others is this: As your business grows, don’t just keep piling the same employees with the added workload of the growth. You need to realize that with growth of income comes growth of employee expenses…..HIRE adequate help for the workload. If you think your employees are kicking butt and doing an awesome job, don’t just assume they can handle whatever you throw their way just because they are good employees. Value those kick butt employees and the awesome work they do by asking what they can handle and if more help is needed. And when they voice it, LISTEN. Also, watch for signs you might be overworking someone…..like a jump/increase in hours or OT, less socializing at work (happens when employees feel like they never have enough time to get the work done no matter how much they work….they don’t want to waste precious minutes socializing with co-workers) and overall facial expression (you can tell when someone who used to be happy has flipped the switch….PAY ATTENTION). Sometimes a great employee doesn’t want to seem like a complainer or is scared to speak up for fear of jeopardizing their job. It’s your job as a manager/boss to look out for those you employ and not put them in the position where they feel that way.
      The hole that I left went public and went thru some insanely huge changes. Immediately after implementing a new payroll/HR system and benefit conversion, they immediately fired my direct supervisor who had put in 3 months of overtime making that system conversion as smooth as it was. Not only was that a smack in the face, but then they didn’t replace her. Right after firing her, they pulled me into a meeting where I felt like I must be getting fired too, but instead I was told that she wasn’t pulling her weight and they felt like she was holding me back from my potential and they needed me to do her workload, as well as my own, while they searched for a better fit for her role. IT TOOK 2 MONTHS for them to fill that role and then 1 1/2 months to fire the person they hired to fill it, leaving the insane workload solely on my shoulders again. Plus, it was during the time the company was going thru an acquisition that added almost another 200 employees to my plate since I was in payroll/HR. After the first 2 weeks of having the extra workload dumped on me, it didn’t matter how much I kicked butt or not……there was no coming back from the damage they had done. By overloading me, I couldn’t do a great job at anything and many things fell thru the cracks. In spite of me saying over and over that there is no possible way for me to do it, they didn’t care. Then they had the nerve to complain about the 20-30 hours per week of overtime hours. Seriously!?!?!

    • Dan Rose | September 25, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Good stuff….I have 60 employees and make a point of walking through the plant every day and saying good morning to each employee.

    • Jane Kammerzelt | September 25, 2019 at 9:19 am

      You can also add #6:
      The boss never asks for my input.

      It’s telling when an employer doesn’t ask the employees what they think about a given situation, especially when it involves them.

    • johnny | September 25, 2019 at 7:26 am

      these things happen because most small business today think their going to be rich in 6 months and are not going to wait 20 years for it

    • Pete Hamel | September 25, 2019 at 6:24 am

      Worthwhile read.

      • Chloe Silverman | September 25, 2019 at 8:24 am

        Thank you for the comment, Pete!

    • Donna Dorsey | September 25, 2019 at 6:10 am

      I am doing quite well except for number 2. I am a micro manager. This something I really have to work on. I was away four weeks this summer and by the grace of God that made it without me micro managing.

    • Sandra | September 24, 2019 at 10:53 pm

      I often use Sunshine/Rain comments to praise or need to improve during the last pay period

    • Lynette B Robinson | September 24, 2019 at 10:26 pm

      Fantastic article! Thank you!


      • Chloe Silverman | September 25, 2019 at 8:24 am

        Thank you for the comment, Lynette. We are glad you enjoyed this article!

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