What you should never say to your best employees
Employees are the lifeblood of any company. Whether you’re a brand new startup or a fairly well-established brand, your ability to achieve your goals is ultimately going to depend on what you get out of the people who work for you.
This requires more than just hiring the most talented people available. A lot of it has to do with ensuring that you create an environment where your employees feel motivated to give their best effort and will actually want to stick around for the long haul.
The problem, of course, is that all too often, managers are so focused on certain end results that they forget their essential role as a mentor for their staff. In my first “real job” after college, I experienced firsthand how management that doesn’t value its employees ends up suffering from massive turnover and fails to be as successful as it could otherwise be.
In the end, I left that company in large part because of the things management would say to me and other employees. I didn’t feel valued or appreciated, and that ultimately led to my decision to go off on my own entrepreneurial adventure.
To ensure that I wasn’t just coming at this from my own perspective, I decided to speak with a few fellow entrepreneurs to get their insights into what things employers should never say if they want to keep their top employees around for the long haul.
1. “You don’t have what it takes to do _______.”
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur — to create a business that I could really call my own. I wasn’t shy about sharing this as an eventual goal when I was given those standard “Where do you see yourself in five years?” questions, either. This was my dream, and I knew that learning the ropes in an established company would be a great launchpad for that goal.
So, imagine how I felt after sharing these goals with my boss when I was immediately told that I didn’t have what it took to succeed on my own. In fact, I was frequently belittled (not making this up) for daring to think I could start my own business when, according to my boss, I clearly didn’t have the skills to pull it off.
Needless to say, this rubbed me the wrong way, and it made me want to leave the company that much sooner. The truth is, when 62 percent of millennials “have considered starting their own business,” you probably won’t hold on to your top talent forever. But, by being a supportive mentor rather than a negative back-biter, you’ll keep them around to learn from you (and contribute to your own growth) that much longer.
2. “I don’t have time to talk right now.”
As the manager, you have a lot on your plate. Chances are you’ve got meetings with important clients, investors and other individuals who are certainly deserving of your time. But, if you brush off your employees when they approach you with a question or concern, you’re only going to build resentment.
Evan Luthra, founder and chief strategy officer of Almora, had this to add: “Employees understand that sometimes you’ll be too busy to talk. But, they expect you to take some time out to address their needs. If you don’t have time to talk with an employee during a particular moment, don’t just say you’ll ‘chat later.’ Set up a specific time when you can meet and discuss their concerns.”
Taking time out to speak with your employees helps them feel valued and important — and in some cases, it could even help them avoid making a serious mistake!
3. “That’s not important.”
After taking the time to speak with your employees, it’s important that you validate their concerns. Kirby Darcy, co-founder and chief technology officer at Pay Per Growth, a blockchain marketing agency, explains, “An employee’s concern might not seem like that big of a deal to you. But, if they think it’s important enough to bring to the boss, then it’s always deserving of your attention. Listen to their concerns, validate them and try to find a solution that will work for everybody.”
It really doesn’t matter what your employees want to talk to you about. It could be something as mundane as an office policy or they may be asking for insights on a major project. When you actually listen to what they have to say and give their concerns appropriate consideration (especially when they’re suggesting a new way of doing things), they’ll leave each meeting feeling like you value their contributions and care about their well-being.
4. “We could always find someone else to do this job.”
You’d think these kinds of threats would be an obvious no-no to employers, and yet these comments were all too common in my first post-college job. They didn’t have to be made directly to the employee in question to have a negative effect, either. I actually sat in meetings where my bosses would ask me things like, “Do you think we could find someone better to do X’s job?”
Yikes. For one thing, I generally had a pretty good relationship with the people they were talking about, and so my first instinct was to warn my coworkers to start polishing up their resumes. But, it also left me feeling very insecure about my own employment situation. If my bosses had these conversations in front of my face, who was to say they didn’t say the same things about me when I wasn’t around?
When everyone in the workplace hears about these kinds of comments, even your top employees begin to doubt their job security. You can’t expect anyone to stick around long in that kind of environment.
5. “You’re doing perfect!”
You might be thinking, who doesn’t want to hear that they’re doing a great job? But, while validation is always appreciated, your best employees know there’s always room for improvement. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study found that 72 percent of employees “thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.”
Social media authority and fellow Entrepreneur contributor, Natalie Zfat, puts it this way: “Don’t forget to compliment your employees on the effort they put in — not necessarily the outcome achieved. When you emphasize that you value effort — agnostic of outcome — it inspires hard work and creates a culture of positivity.”
Encouraging feedback is what will ultimately help create the next group of leaders within your company. Help your best employees improve, and they’ll pay you back by lifting the results of everyone around them.
Say the right things
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own work experiences, it’s that the best managers hang on to their top employees by helping them feel valued and inspired. They use positive motivation tactics rather than threats to get the best out of their team.
Sure, your top employees value honesty and directness, but at the same time, they need you to validate their experience in the workplace. As you make a point of replacing these negative statements with a more positive, supportive attitude, you’ll be better positioned to create future leaders within your company.