Here is one of the best management tips available: Learn how to filter what you say. They may just be words, but make the mistake of saying the wrong thing to your employees, and you may experience serious blowback. Just a few words – the wrong words – can kill morale, undermine your respect and, ultimately, make employees look elsewhere for work.
The Seven Deadly Statements
Let’s get the worst out of the way first. Being thoughtless in what you say is bad enough, but being purposely hurtful or demeaning to an employee is never acceptable, and may actually be illegal:
- Vulgar language, especially when accompanied by physical misconduct. Keep it clean.
- Racist or ethnic jokes or statements. Have respect for employees.
- Comments on how old someone is or looks. Just do not go there.
- Threats to hurt someone in your office. This is a crime. It is called assault.
- “Physical” statements, such as unlawful offensive physical contact with someone in the office. This is also a crime. It is called battery.
- Comments about someone being fat or ugly.
- Statements about gender or sexual orientation.
Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination. Everyone realizes that the workplace is not nursery school. Someone saying something vulgar does not automatically beget a federal lawsuit. However, is it worth taking the chance?
The “Because I’m the Boss and I Said So” Cavalcade of Stupid Statements
The Internet is rife with postings by employees describing the thoughtless and often stupid things managers and bosses say at work. Employees also hate how bosses never seem to listen to anyone. Dismissing the input of a productive insurance agent tips the balance of workplace moral and not in a good way.
Why tell an employee, “You’re lucky to have this job at all”? It serves no purpose except instilling fear and anxiety, things not generally recognized as effective emotions for employee success. The same is true for “I can find someone else to fill your position in minutes.”
Fear-based management fails at all levels. Here are a few other prime examples of the dictatorial style of employee management:
- "You have no idea what stress is."
- "Do you see my name on that door?"
- “Because I said so.”
The “Victimized” Boss Deserves no Sympathy
"It’s not my fault" is an excuse only suitable for use by children. Yet many managers use this phrase and, in the process, throw one or more employees under the bus. After all, someone must take the blame, right? Get over the idea of sacrificial lambs and making an employee “take one for the team.” If you are in charge and anything goes wrong on your watch, it is your fault. Own up to it, or at least admit you missed the chance to correct the problem. Then fix things, engaging employees to assist in the process. In addition, do not forget to thank them for their help in resolving the matter.
Treat Employees Like Children and They May Start Acting Like Children
Perhaps you really want to take care of your employees. On the other hand, perhaps you just do not want to deal with others’ opinions on running an insurance agency. Keep it up, and you may end up with an office full of recalcitrant middle-aged teenagers. People want the opportunity to participate in the growth of a company. Stifling their ideas and input only stymies your firm’s growth.
Do not tell your employees that something is “none of their business.” Obviously, there are business matters requiring strict confidentiality, and if that is the case, take time to explain why they cannot have more information on the matter. Unfortunately, in most cases, bosses say, “It’s none of your business” when they want to dismiss the employee and their thoughts outright.
Open up lines of communication. Tell your employees how things really are in the business. You may be surprised at the wisdom available for the picking. As an employer, tips from employees may be priceless.
Never Play Employees Off Each Other
Sometimes bosses ostracize one employee by making an example of them. Granted, some employees are not good for business: They are lazy, dishonest or ineffective. Publicly berating them does nothing for anyone, except perhaps the boss doing the berating. Often, someone does this thinking it is a way of “teaching” other employees. Remember that Management 101 adage, “Praise in public, discipline in private”? It really has a lot of truth to it.
Sometimes it is a case of an otherwise “loyal” employee voicing their distaste for a particular situation. Rather than questioning their loyalty, take the time to figure out why they feel the way they do. It may be they are upset about something else and are taking the opportunity to vent about it in the office. Perhaps they do not understand all facets of the issue, so take the time to explain your position. Just do not make a scapegoat out of them.
Employees Deserve a Personal Life
Unless they are highly compensated and took on the position with your agency fully knowing they were signing away any right to a personal life, you cannot expect anyone to be at your beck and call all time. Let them live their life outside the office without office business interruption.
Never Generalize an Employee’s Need to Improve
Do not tell an employee to just “shape up.” If you cannot specify the problem you see, how do you expect them to remedy it? If you are responding to other employees’ general comments about a particular person, it all may just be office politics run amuck. Unless you are prepared to provide names of complainants and specific examples, do not approach an employee with “general” concerns voiced by “co-workers.” Additionally, when speaking to someone about performance concerns, try to do it in a constructive way without condescension or rancor.
Keeping the Peace
Treat your employees with respect. That includes each and every assistant, clerk and agent. Tips for success, encouragement during projects, and praise when it is due are all vital tools in creating a workplace where your employees want to do their best for the good of the business. As the old song says, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” (Now that’s going to be in your head all day. Success!)