Employee Wish List: You Walk the Walk, But Do You Talk the Talk?

employee wish list

No, the title is not an error.

While small business owners are often warned to focus on “walking the walk,” a new study by TinyHR suggests that talking may be equally important.

The New Year Employee Report polled employees for their employee wish list for the workplace. While you might expect bigger salaries or smaller workloads to dominate the list, surprisingly, three of the top five answers expressed a wish for better communication, particularly between bosses and employees.

Here are the top five responses:

  1. Improve communication (15 percent)
  2. Want the boss to quit or retire (11 percent)
  3. Want improved empathy and people skills in the workplace (10 percent)
  4. Higher wages (8 percent)
  5. Better team leaders (7 percent)

So how can you improve communication at your workplace?

Start with your own communication skills.

Take Notes

Begin taking note of interactions with employees and how well they go.

Do you frequently find yourself explaining things multiple times, feeling frustrated or not getting the results you want from your communications? Do the same issues crop up again and again?

If communication problems happen with all types of employees, the problem may be with you, not them. Ask employees who you feel will be honest with you to assess your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication.

Improve Your Listening Skills

Communication is more about listening than talking, but most of us talk more than we listen. Keep your mouth shut while employees are talking; let them finish what they need to say and instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, rephrase what they said. This not only ensures you understand them but also makes them feel “heard.”

Be Accessible

Hold an open-door policy at least part of each day when employees know they can drop in to talk to you. Make time to walk around the office and talk to your team—not only about tasks or work, but about their lives. By holding conversations, you’ll understand how different workers communicate, which will help you communicate with them better.

Manage Your Emotions

We all have likes and dislikes, and sometimes an employee just rubs you the wrong way, or you’re having a bad day. Nonetheless, it’s important to manage your emotions when communicating and not allow personal feelings about individuals to enter into the equation.

Communicate about the business, too.

Share Information About the Company

Employees feel kept in the dark when they don’t have key information about a project or task. By sharing information about what the company is doing, why and how it’s going, you’ll spur employees to work harder and engage more with their work. For example, if everyone needs to put in overtime for the next month, explain why (you got a huge new client and need to deliver the first order), why it matters (if they like the first order, they might triple the next one) and how that affects the company and employees (this could potentially double our sales and lead to new opportunities for employees).

Set Clear Expectations and Assignments

An employee manual is the first place to communicate expectations and standards for the workplace, but also make sure that employees are verbally informed of them when they’re first hired. When employees receive new assignments, make sure they are clearly stated and that workers have the opportunity to ask questions along the way. It’s a good idea to put assignments both in writing and verbally (discussing it in person, then following up with a Next Steps or confirmation email to make sure everyone’s on the same page).

Hold Regular Meetings

Meetings communicate information but also build team bonds. While many corporate employees suffer from too many meetings, small business employees often have the opposite problem—their managers get too busy to keep regular meetings going. Make sure to make meetings a priority and keep them from getting overwhelming by limiting time and attendees. For instance, you could have a 30-minute weekly meeting with your key managers, and then have them relay the information to their staffs. Depending on your business, a weekly or even daily “all hands” meeting can be appropriate—something as simple as a 10-minute standing-up meeting in the lobby to let everyone know about today’s top issues and start them off energized is a great idea.

Last, but not least, encourage better communication skills among others.

Promote Openness

Make sure employees feel comfortable giving feedback or suggestions to their supervisors and to you. Let them know the results of the feedback so they don’t feel that their comments went into a black hole.

Assess Self and Share

Include assessments of you in your performance reviews so people see how important this is. You can even do a 360-degree review where employees review the communication skills of their supervisors and managers.

Find a Communicator

Make communication skills part of what you look for in employees when hiring and in managers when promoting them. Often, employees get promoted to management because they’re good at a task (like accounting) when what’s more important is being able to communicate effectively. A focus on communication will help you avoid this common error.

Office Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.