What were your last 10 or 15 employee conversations like? Chances are, they included phrases like, “I need you to finish that projection 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 the client requested?” 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 this spring.
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, leaders assume that their employees know how they feel—about each person’s individual performance and about the company’s health in general. Usually, though, that’s not the case.
They’d never bring it up themselves, but there are certain phrases your employeesreally 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—which takes only a few seconds of your time!—you will notice a big change in your employees’ motivation, commitment, and productivity.
If you start incorporating these phrases into your at-work vocabulary your employees’ engagement will “blossom” this spring:
“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. Here’s how that applies to you: Your employees all have unique skill sets, experiences, and ideas—so tap into them!
“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. For instance, if you know that John in Accounting has a daughter who’s applying to college, ask him which schools she’s considering. Or if Susanna in HR just came back from vacation, ask to see a few pictures.
“What do you need from me?” Often, employees are anxious about asking the boss for what they need, whether it’s updated office equipment, more time to complete a project, advice, etc. They may fear a harsh response, want to avoid looking needy, or simply feel that it’s “not their place” to ask for more than you’ve already provided. By explicitly asking what you can give them, you extend permission for your people to make those requests—and they’ll certainly appreciate it.
“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. And so forth. 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. Whether it’s “Thanks for staying late last night,” “Thanks for being so patient with Mrs. Smith—I know she can be a difficult customer,” “Thank you for making our first-quarter marketing campaign a success,” or something else, your people will treasure your appreciation more than you realize.
“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! Whether correctly or incorrectly, many employees feel that their leaders point out only their mistakes in front of the group, so make it your daily mission to prove that perception wrong.
“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 Patkin says 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. You might be even more (pleasantly!) surprised to find that her social media engagement ideas yield impressive results.
“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. Nobody wants to be the person who says, “We’re going to have to eliminate some positions over the next six months,” or, “Unfortunately, our company can’t afford to provide raises or bonuses this year.” Nevertheless, your employees deserve to hear the truth from you as soon as possible. When you treat your people like responsible adults by being honest and open, they will appreciate your transparency…and often, you’ll find that they’re willing to voluntarily double their efforts to help you turn the tide.
“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? Well, yes—strictly speaking. But 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.
“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. Generally, this state of affairs doesn’t cause too many problems. But helping your employees make connections regarding how your company works from top to bottom will streamline internal processes, reduce misunderstandings, and promote team spirit.
“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. Did the employee (or the company as a whole) learn something? Should a process or procedure be tweaked going forward to reduce the chances of something similar reoccurring? Never forget that mistakes are an essential part of growth.
“You deserve a reward.” Simple things like gratitude, respect, and autonomy make people far more happy than, say, big salaries and corner offices. However, he isn’t denying that more tangible rewards like bonuses, vacation time, prime parking spaces, benefits, and more have their place in raising employee engagement. The truth is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an employee who doesn’t appreciate these things.
“I know you can do it.” Of course you should try to hire employees who are confident and self-directed. But even the most self-assured individuals appreciate an explicit vote of confidence from their leaders!
“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—a lot!—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.
Remember, business is always personal. Specifically, it’s about reaching and motivating each of your employees on a personal level so that they care about contributing to your organization’s ultimate success. This spring, which phrases will you be adding to your at-work vocabulary?