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8/1/2004 | 4 MINUTE READ

What Do Employees Want?

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A survey of workers in various industries confirms what most supervisors have long suspected—communications between them and their people could be vastly improved.


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A survey of workers in various industries confirms what most supervisors have long suspected—communications between them and their people could be vastly improved. The workers were asked to appraise their supervisors’ methods of communicating with them and to offer suggestions for improving those methods. Their answers shed some useful light on what kind of communicating subordinates expect from their bosses.

They were virtually unanimous on one thing: the way their supervisors communicated—or failed to—had a major influence on their performance.

Here are some guidelines that emerged from their comments:

Share more information with employees. Workers who have to guess about what’s going on in the department rarely remain silent—they feed the grapevine with rumors based on their hopes or anxieties. It’s up to the supervisor to share information with the crew to eliminate misunderstanding and rumor.

Conduct better appraisal interviews. Many employees felt they were on trial during appraisal interviews. They were afraid to bring up problems they were having on the job—problems that the supervisor might have helped them solve. This suggests that supervisors should try to establish a climate in which employees will feel free to say what’s on their minds.

Some employees felt that in appraisal interviews their supervisor too often deals with vague generalities that could apply to anyone. They want to be appraised in terms of their own performances and problems. This means the supervisor should be well prepared for each interview and deal in specifics.

Employees would also appreciate more frankness during appraisal interviews. Even if something unpleasant is involved, these employees prefer that their boss come right out with it instead of beating around the bush.

Give praise as well as criticism. Many employees complained that supervisors talked to them only when something went wrong. These employees agreed that they should be corrected when they make mistakes, but the majority wanted equal time allotted for praising good work.

Be available. It isn’t enough for the supervisor to have an “open door” policy. They find that when they try to discuss a problem with their supervisor, constant interruptions by telephone calls and other people make it impossible to hold a meaningful, coherent discussion. Employees would like to consult their supervisor in a more relaxed atmosphere. True, this is frequently difficult to arrange, but supervisors might set aside time when they can give their undivided attention to an employee.

Talk to everyone. More than 75% of the people surveyed were concerned about supervisors who consistently fraternized with a few favorite employees and ignored the rest. They felt that the supervisor should spend some time talking with each employee.

Discuss, don’t argue. When an employee and a supervisor disagree, the employee is more likely to see the supervisor’s point of view if it is presented in a reasonable, non-dictatorial way. That was the opinion of 90% of the workers surveyed. They said that when a supervisor uses an informal, democratic approach rather than an “I-know-best” approach, they tend to have more confidence and belief in what is said—and this helps them accept new ideas, too.

Give Assignments that Train

Most assignments are viewed simply as a means of sharing the work burden with employees. That’s certainly their primary function, but it’s not the whole story. They can serve another, sometimes more important function: training your people for bigger and better things. To add this vital ingredient to your assignments, give your people the following kind of assignments whenever possible.

Assignments they need to strengthen special weaknesses. In order to get work done, it is only good sense to give it to the most competent worker, but among your responsibilities is that of “stretching” your people. So, fully aware that the job may not be done as well as you would like, give an occasional assignment designed to challenge the employee. Watch his progress from a distance if possible, so that he will not be nervous about your supervision.

A variety of assignments to test their versatility and add interest to their jobs. Variety in the details makes the whole job more palatable. But take care not to overspice a job. Too many and too diverse details will overburden your people and kill their interest altogether.

Assignments arranged on a rising scale of importance. Make each hurdle a bit higher than the last, assuming that the last was successfully negotiated. It will boost self-confidence, give you a group of people who are ever more valuable.

Assignments that make them feel important. Often, all employees require is a vote of confidence from their supervisor to turn in superior work. Most of us tend to live up to what others expect of us. Set high standards, show workers that you do not doubt their abilities and they will move heaven and earth not to let you down. In the process, they will often discover new strengths that even they didn’t suspect they possessed. Occasionally, then, give an assignment designed to demonstrate that you believe your people have what it takes to outperform themselves.

Dealing with pressure

Are you swamped with work and impossible deadlines? Do you sometimes feel that no matter how hard you try, it just isn’t good enough?

Pressure is a part of life. Everyone feels a certain amount of pressure to get things done. Handled properly, however, pressure can be a great motivator.

One way to handle pressure is to draw a timetable of accomplishment—a list of what you must do, when you must finish it and the amount of time you can afford to spend on each part.

Getting this information down on paper can be a tonic, for you can track your progress and identify precisely what remains to be done. It also helps to convert the sometimes overwhelming feeling of pressure into words you can study and understand.