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7 things employees hate

4 min read


Do you want to get your business off to a fresh start in 2013? Focus on the issues your employees hate. There’s always a good reason for their discontent, and their gripes will reliably point you toward ways you can improve your leadership. Here are seven things employees hate and the quick lessons leaders can learn from them.

Employees hate surprises.
Employees like to know what they’re getting into; they want to get through a busy day without having to guess what mood the boss is in or what new changes in the schedule are going to be handed down after lunch. Lesson to leaders: Turn the core value of transparency into everyday behaviors — you’ll have an ongoing dialogue with employees, and everyone will be on the same playing field at all times.

Employees hate unfairness.
Employees hate when a manager or leader operates by his or her own set of rules, but demands a different set of standards for them. They hate when one individual or a team is a perceived favorite. Lesson to leaders: In your professional and private behavior, be a role model for your employees. Be consistent in how you administer rules and consequences for when those rules aren’t followed — and demand the same of all managers.

Employees hate unclear goals.
Employees hate when grand goals are announced from leadership but they have no way of knowing what, specifically, is expected of them. For example, a manager makes an announcement that she intends to reduce costs in her department by 10%, but then leaves employees to figure out how to cut corners. Lesson to leaders: Make certain that for every business objective, you involve employees in coming up with concrete procedures and behaviors that will contribute to achieving it.

Employees hate policy disconnects.
Employees hate when there’s a gap between official rules and the informal ways people go actually about their work each day. For example, an organization establishes best practices for particular processes and procedures, but then skimps on them because of budget or scheduling pressures. Lesson to leaders: Have a hard look at the social norms of your company culture to make sure that formal rules and the way those roles get carried out are in sync.

Employees hate empty talk.
Employees hate when leaders don’t do what they say they’re going to do. Nothing frustrates employees more than having critical matters sit undecided because a leader, often offsite, hasn’t gotten around to making a decision. Lesson to leaders: If you say it, be accountable and do it. And empower your managers. Employees want managers to have the authority to make decisions that affect their work groups, and they want those managers to step up and make those decisions.

Employees hate being lectured on values.
Leaders don’t need to tell employees which values they need to have. The majority of employees already have the right values, such as integrity, transparency, commitment, fairness and teamwork. Lesson to leaders: Your job as a leader is to remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of your employees living those values at work. If integrity is a core value, for example, then make sure that employees are rewarded for reporting problems rather than intimidated.

Employees hate isolated leaders.
Even in organizations that have rock star CEOs, employees tend to harbor resentment when they feel that their leader is out of touch with the “real” people who are keeping the company going day-to-day and the real issues going on. Lesson to leaders: If you stay inside your ivory tower, pretty soon people will start telling you what you want to hear, rather than what’s really happening. Create safe ways for others to express concerns and report contrary views. Appoint a “devil’s advocate” to bring up hard truths at meetings.

David Gebler is the founder and president of Skout Group, a consultancy that helps companies evaluate the cost-effectiveness and scandal-potential of their corporate cultures. He’s a lawyer specializing in business ethics and has written two books on value-based cultures, including his latest, “The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance” (2012, Jossey-Bass).