Hey managers, yes you, this post is for you. I know what you are thinking, “I’m a manager so I must be doing something right!” It is true that you must be doing something right but everyone has areas of improvement and your impact has significant organizational ripples. The only managers that probably don’t need to read this post are already reading it and trying to figure out how to improve their employee engagement. So trust us, this is about you.
During economic downturns, employees are less likely to voluntarily leave a position which can make organizations complacent about their retention and engagement programs. But an organization can lose an employee without the employee actually walking out the door. Unhappy people are less productive and right now no organization can afford a workforce that isn’t producing as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Managers should be working as hard on employee retention and engagement now as they have during economic upturns. Replacing people is incredibly expensive. Over the years different studies have placed the cost of replacing an employee anywhere from 70% of the employee’s salary to 200% of that salary. Neither of those costs is easily absorbed by organizations, regardless of the economic climate.
So what are you doing to lose your employee’s engagement and, eventually, their talent? Here are ten fatal strategies:
Don’t Remove Barriers
If you want to frustrate your employees, let barriers such as bad processes, outdated equipment, workplace bullies, or overwhelming workloads remain in place preventing your employees from being successful. If you really want to frustrate them, actively work against any work-arounds they have in place to deal with the barriers. Your employees want to do a good job and they are inventive. But if their solutions aren’t allowed and you aren’t providing a solution, they’ll end up leaving the problems behind.
Don’t Set Clear Expectations
Vague instructions and goals may make your life easier at first but everyone is going to be disappointed when the end result isn’t the desired output. Your employees have tremendous incentive to make you happy. They want successful careers and earning power. By not telling them what success looks like (and you have to tell them more than “do better” or “try harder” because that means something different to all of us), you are gambling with the results. Without direction your teams are feeling like they may have failed and are planning an exit strategy.
Don’t Protect Their Credibility
Your people hear when you have thrown then under the bus. Word gets around. Talk bad about them and they will stop trusting and protecting you. If someone approaches you about a project that one of your employees is working on, whatever you do, don’t pull that employee into the meeting to help answer questions. Communicating to the organization in general that your people actually own their projects and that you don’t have to “manage” them reflects on you because it speaks to your leadership and ability to help your employees grow and develop. An employee that feels they don’t have a credible reputation in the organization will opt to go where they have some ownership and respect so that they feel like they may be successful in the future.
Don’t Respond to Their Requests
It is one thing to tell your people that they can come to you whenever they need help but it is another thing to actually do something to help them. If you are always dismissing what they say, not providing advice or help, getting angry at them for not taking care of this on their own (without giving them the tools), you are actually punishing them for keeping you in the loop and asking for coaching. You have now become one of their barriers giving them no other option than to move on.
Make Everything a Priority
It is a leader’s role to prioritize workloads. As the leader you are supposed to have your eye on the big picture while your employees see their parts. Helping your teams prioritize their work does not mean they can’t manage their workload. It means that as the leader, you have additional information they don’t and you can guide the work most efficiently. Making everything a priority results in a lot of wheel spinning and missed deadlines. Everything can’t be a priority and maintain any kind of real productivity.
Don’t Accept That Your Employees Know Something You Don’t
If things are done right, your skill set is in leadership and your employees’ skill sets fit their job descriptions. This may mean your individual contributors know more than you do about some subjects. Think of the value of a team with such a varied knowledge set. But if you really want to get rid of valuable employees, don’t listen to their experience or education. Be sure to dismiss them and their ideas. One of the top reasons an employee feels happy at a job is because they feel valued. The great thing about this tactic is that the more experienced and educated the team member, the more likely they are to take that talent elsewhere.
Don’t Provide Feedback Immediately
People make mistakes and often they are learning on the job. Part of your role as their leader is to help them develop. The most effective strategy for that is to provide feedback to guide your employees’ behaviors. Providing feedback immediately helps an employee understand exactly what they need to do different (or the same) because they just exhibited the behavior. Be sure to save your feedback so that the employee is less sure about your direction and may even take the feedback badly because they repeated the behavior additional times out of ignorance. If someone feels like they are failing they will decide their chances at your organization are over and they should go somewhere else.
Don’t Trust Your Teams
Be sure to examine their projects in minutia with the objective of finding what they did wrong. This may seem like constructive feedback but ultimately it is demoralizing. If you look hard enough you are always going to find something that could be done better. The same could be said for your own projects. The only employees who will put up with this for long are the employees who don’t really care about doing a great job. If that is the workforce you want, this is the strategy for you!
Don’t Demonstrate the Behaviors You Demand from Your Employees
Are you late to meetings? Do you prepare for meetings? Do you answer your phone or IMs during those meetings? Do you ignore emails and repeatedly ask for the same information over and over? Do you expect your teams to do none of these? Some leaders believe they are exempt from these “niceties” because they are busy managers. But your employees aren’t kids and they don’t respect you because of this contradiction. They want to work with someone they respect and they are probably deciding that is in another organization.
Don’t Allow Mistakes
No one is perfect and the more hectic and pressurized an environment the more mistakes people will make. If you don’t allow for honest mistakes, something that isn’t likely to happen again, you are inhibiting innovation and entrepreneurialism. Your teams could be great but their energy is spent watching minutia and their backs. Your people will also start turning on each other to keep out of the cross-hairs. The employees that want to focus on doing a great job don’t have the patience for this strategy of yours.
Unhappy employees are polishing that resume to take quick action when opportunities arise. Look at your strategies to see who you are nurturing and who you are driving away. No organization or manager can afford to drive away their good employees. An economic downturn means it is even more important to keep employees and engage them. They are the best strategy for surviving.