George Thorogood vs. Employee Engagement

George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone has been the driving beat in many movies and television shows over the last 30+ years. While this song can create an upbeat mood and increase viewer engagement, the same cannot be said regarding managers who treat employees this way.

In the first article of this series, we examined the importance of employee engagement and I introduced you to the three types of managerial behaviors –The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Now, let’s look in-depth at “The Bad”.

The essence of “bad” behavior is that employees perceive their supervisors’ actions as undesirable and unintentional. In other words, employees experience some level of disengagement when managers are straining the working relationship but not appearing to do so out of habit or malicious intent.

A primary catalyst for this type of scenario is ineffective communication. No one is perfect so it happens! Managers can benefit from being aware of common pitfalls and how to avoid them. They should also be willing to talk openly and honestly with their employees about communication styles and needs on both sides of the table.  If you are looking to get the ball rolling, the list below will get you started (queue the music):

Clarity

Some managers are amazing subject matter experts (SME’s) but they have not mastered the ability to share this knowledge with others. The more they try, the longer the explanation becomes. Frustrated employees stop listening.

Other managers supervise teams whose job duties are very different than their own. Although they attempt to share “helpful” information with their direct reports, they are not be well-versed enough in the employee’s skill-set to provide the assistance needed.

In both scenarios, managers benefit from recognizing this potential roadblock to success and finding alternate solutions. For example, ask someone else to teach specific skills or to answer certain types of questions.

Frequency – Over or Under Communicating

If employees receive a lot of communication from managers, the true call to action can get lost in the mix. While the reasons behind over-communicating can vary, it most commonly occurs with managers who like to share their thought processes (ex. high-level extroverts) or who are experiencing anxiety (ex. about making the right choice or completing work to standard). Habitual over communication can also be the result of perfectionist tendencies. The more extreme the behavior, the more the employee will feel micromanaged.

The reverse of this is when managers leave their employees alone. I once attended a coaching skills class where the first question was, “Are we going to talk all day about PIP’s (performance improvement plans)?” As soon as I heard this, I realized the managers were only communicating when something negative needed to be shared. I wondered if good employees received silence or if performance concerns were only addressed at the point of no return. Neither thought was encouraging, so I was glad they came to class!

Wrong Information

In a world of multitasking, wrong information abounds. Consider the days when your phone is ringing, you are texting and answering emails at the same time you are updating an Excel spreadsheet. Wait…is that an online meeting that you need to get to? And, who is this person at your door with a “quick question”? You are multitasking.

Ever get an email where the person calls you by the wrong name? Answers just one question on your list of ten? Or gives you an answer that seems irrelevant? They are probably multitasking.

Feeling exhausted and distracted from multitasking or from reading about it? Now, take a deep breath and consider one more thought. When managers and employees feel this way, communication mistakes are bound to happen.

Distracted Listening

If managers do not know how to effectively recognize or address potential distractions (such as those listed above), they can be tempted to answer email while having a weekly one-to-one with employees. Or they will pick up their phone during a conversation. Worse yet is when they mentally check out of the conversation (perhaps to think of their next task) and the employee believes the manager has heard and understood what was said. If this results in a very unpleasant “surprise” for the employee, the negative effects can be resounding within the relationship.

Managerial focus is critical. If managers know that time and/or attention span is very limited during a conversation, they should be upfront with employees and give them at least a few minutes of undivided attention to share what matters most. If it is not possible, then offer an alternate time to meet instead.

After the employee shares his/her viewpoint, it may only take a moment for the manager to express empathy (if needed) or to restate the information or action plan (if the matter was new or complex). The more the manager practices this, the easier it becomes to improve communication even in the shortest moments.

One Last Thought

Up until this point, we have focused on the managers’ role. However, communication by nature requires at least two people. As employees, we can also work to improve the clarity, frequency and accuracy of what we share as well as how well we listen. And, when in doubt regarding what our manager communicates, we can kindly ask him or her for clarification or explanation.

If you are wondering about the really bad managerial behaviors, join me in the next installment of this series where we will examine “The Ugly” behaviors that can create active disengagement with employees.

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