What Your Employees Are Dying to Hear From You

Revive Wilting Engagement


What were your last 10 or 15 employee conversations like? Chances are, they included phrases like, “I need you to finish that project by the end of the day,” or, “I’m putting you on the Brown account,” or, “How much longer do you think it’ll take to finish that PowerPoint?” 

After all, you can’t run a business without addressing these types of issues. And chances are, unless they were delivered in a, shall we say, forceful tone of voice, your employees don’t mind hearing pertinent instructions and questions. So why does their morale seem to be, well, wilting? 

The problem might not be what you’re saying, but what you’re not saying. The good news is, with a few well-chosen words, you can nurture employee relationships and help their engagement blossom. 

In the midst of the everyday chaos of running a business, leaders often don’t think about what they could or should say to motivate their employees. Often, they assume their employees know how they feel. Usually, though, that’s not the case.

There are certain phrases your employees really want to hear from you. Some have to do with affirmation; others center on encouragement, reassurance, respect, gratitude or trust. When you verbalize these things you will notice a big change in your employees’ motivation, commitment and productivity.

“I need your help.” 

The age of rule-with-an-iron-fist, top-down leadership is fading fast. More and more, organizations in all industries are realizing that there’s an almost magical power in the synergy of teams. Your employees all have unique skill sets, experiences and ideas — so tap into them!

The next time you’re facing a difficult decision or brainstorming options, ask your team for help. They’ll appreciate that you treated them as valued partners.


“How is your family?” 

The truth is, people don’t care how much you know (or how good you are at your job) until they know how much you care. Your employees will be more loyal and more motivated if they feel valued as individuals, not just as job descriptions. So get to know each team member on an individual basis and incorporate that knowledge into your regular interactions. 


“I noticed what you did.” 

Every day, your employees do a lot of “little” things that keep your company running smoothly and customers coming back: refilling the copier with paper when it’s empty, smiling at customers after each transaction, double-checking reports for errors before sending them on. Unfortunately, in many organizations, these everyday actions are taken for granted, which (understandably) has a negative effect on employee morale.


“Thank you.” 

Yes, your employees may crave recognition for doing the mundane parts of their jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t also appreciate a heartfelt “thank you” for bigger accomplishments. 

Make sure that you praise and acknowledge your people in a positive way more often than you criticize them. That’s because negative feedback tends to stick in most people’s memories longer, so you need to counterbalance it.


“Hey, everyone — listen to what Riley accomplished!” 

Everybody loves to be recognized and complimented in front of their peers. So don’t stop with a “mere” compliment when an employee experiences a win — tell the rest of the team, too. 


“What would you like to do here?” 

Sure, you originally hired each of your employees to do specific jobs. But over time, your company has grown and changed — and so have your people. That’s why it’s a good idea to check in with each one of them periodically to ask what they’d like to be doing. You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that your administrative assistant would like to be included in the next marketing campaign design team. 

Annual performance reviews might be a good time to discuss this topic with your employees. Whenever possible, keep job descriptions within your company fluid and allow your people to have a say in matching their skills to the company’s needs. 


“I have bad news.” 

You certainly don’t mind sharing good news with your employees, but bad news is a different story. Your instinct might be to play down negative developments, or even keep them to yourself entirely. Nevertheless, your employees deserve to hear the truth from you as soon as possible. They aren’t stupid and will be able to tell when something is “up” — even if you don’t acknowledge it. By refusing to share bad news, you’ll only increase paranoia and anxiousness — neither of which is good for engagement or productivity.


“That’s okay. We all make mistakes. Let’s talk about how to fix this.” 

In business, mistakes are going to happen. And in many instances, the impact they have on your company revolves around how you as a leader handle them. Sure, lambasting an employee who has dropped the ball may make you feel better in the short term, but it’ll negatively impact that employee’s self-confidence, relationship with you and feelings for your company for much longer.

When your employees have made an honest mistake … take a deep breath and remind yourself that the employee feels very bad already, and that yelling or lecturing won’t change the past. Focus on figuring out what went wrong and how to keep it from happening again. 


“You deserve a reward.” 

Simple things like gratitude, respect and autonomy make people far more happy than, say, big salaries and corner offices. But there’s no denying that more tangible rewards like bonuses, vacation time, prime parking spaces, benefits and more have their place in raising employee engagement. When resources allow, look for ways to reward your employees for their hard work. Remember, nobody wants to work for a Scrooge! 


“Here’s how our company works and where we stand.” 

In many companies, employees in sales don’t know much about what’s happening in accounting. Likewise, the folks in accounting aren’t really familiar with how things in the warehouse work … and so on and so forth. Helping your employees make connections regarding how your company works from top to bottom will streamline internal processes, reduce misunderstandings and promote team spirit. 


“What do you think?” 

Maybe you’ve never put much emphasis on the thoughts and opinions of your employees. After all, you pay them a fair wage to come to work each day and perform specific tasks. As a leader, it’s your job to decide what those tasks should be and how they should be carried out, right? This unilateral approach to leading your team sends the impression that you’re superior (even if that’s not your intent) and also contributes to disengagement.

Make your employees feel like valued partners by asking them for their opinions, ideas and preferences. 


“This task is in your hands — I’m stepping back.” 

Most micromanaging leaders don’t set out to annoy or smother their employees. The problem is, they care and want to make sure everything is done just so and that no balls are dropped or opportunities missed. The problem is, excessive hovering can give employees the impression that you don’t trust them or have faith in them — a belief that actively undermines engagement. 

Todd Patkin is the author of “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and — Finally — Let the Sunshine In,” “Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People” and “Destination: Happiness: The Travel Guide That Gets You from Here to There, Emotionally and Spiritually.” For nearly two decades, he was instrumental in leading his family’s auto parts business, Autopart International, until it was bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2005. One of his most reliable growth strategies, he reports, was proactively nurturing his employees’ attitudes about their jobs by engaging them in conversation. Now, Patkin translates that experience into consulting with organizations to help them build corporate morale and promote greater productivity.

Categories: Management, Startup