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What your employees are afraid to tell you

January 1, 2010
by Bernie Reifkind
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If you are a boss, then chances are that you have no clue what your employees would like to tell you. In every organization, large and small, there is a direct and proportional relationship between how high up you are on your employee organizational chart and how little you truly know about what your subordinates are scared to tell you.

So what is stopping your employees from being frank with you? Fear. Fear of losing their job, their title, their bonus, their raise, their status, their future. It's a scary thing to talk to the boss. Of course, it's completely normal to hold back things from the boss, but isn't it a little troubling? Fear is a powerful emotion and some employers are phenomenally skilled at exploiting their power over their employees. They rule by fear.

You probably treat your employees better than you treat your own family, yet I am sure that your employees are exceedingly anxious about saying out loud what's truly on their mind. So what are some typical things that employees are afraid to tell you? Jane Cranston of http://EzineArticles.com offers the following five examples:

  1. “We want specific direction.” Though you may know what to do, most people would rather be directed.

  2. “When you give us detailed praise, we understand it, remember it, and work harder for you.” Rather than saying “great job” or nothing at all, try, “I really appreciate the amount of thought and effort you put into this project. Thank you.”

  3. “We know our jobs better than you do.” Once you can accept that there are skills you do not have, you can focus on what will make real money.

  4. “You do too much.” Most people are capable of more than you think they are, but if you insist on micro-managing or doing tasks yourself, you will never find out just how much. Micromanagers never have time to look at the big picture and are constantly putting out fires. Good workers get bored, insulted, or leave.

  5. “There are slackers we wish you'd get rid of.” Everyone knows X doesn't pull his/her weight, is late, calls in sick, dumps work on others, is negative, or is just incompetent. You may be the last to know but your staff wants (expects you) to do something quickly and decisively.

Cranston brings up some valid points but the bottom line is: What information are you being deprived of and more importantly, what are the immediate and long-term risks associated with not knowing what your employees are afraid to tell you?

Statistics are useless. How about a little common sense?

It certainly helps to remember that each of your employees is a human being trying to earn a living-whether or not they are doing a good job-it's ultimately about the paycheck. Most people would rather be doing almost anything else other than work, but even for those who are financially secure, most of us need to know that we belong to something larger than ourselves. In this we find stimulation, hope, and achievement. Open your eyes.

Ultimately, just knowing that there are things that your employees would like to tell you just may be enough. Maybe you can allow them the space to come forth and speak, but if you're like most of us, understand that the feeling of fear is very real and concealed within that fear is the key that unlocks the future of your facility.

Bernie Reifkind is CEO and founder of Premier Search (

http://www.psihealth.com), a healthcare executive search firm in Los Angeles. He can be reached by e-mail at

bernie@psihealth.com or (800) 801-1400. Long-Term Living 2010 January;59(1):16

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