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Heard it through the grapevine

Employees' dishing reveals what you may be missing

By Elaine Varelas, 4/2/2007

Here at The Hire Authority, we know your employees' secrets. No, we're not mind readers, and we aren't tapping their phones or covertly reading their e-mails. But we are privy to the things that aggravate them at work -- things your employees aren't telling you. In fact, your employees are coming to us.

During the several years this column has run, we've received feedback from readers-questions, concerns, predicaments, and stories-much of which illustrates the frustration, anger, and discouragement these employees feel about their jobs.

Here are three of the most common questions we receive from readers:

Question #1: Did my company do me wrong?

Most of the comments and questions we get from readers are about being mistreated. And many of those pertain to salary, benefits, vacation time, or some other aspect of compensation. Am I getting paid enough? Why aren't I getting paid for maternity leave? Why can't I use my sick days for vacation? Did my company dock my vacation days unfairly? Why am I paying so much for health insurance?

While these are all legitimate questions for employees to ask, it is obvious that at many local companies, the answers aren't clear. At your organization, are your policies easy to understand? Do they make sense? Are they fair? The best way to gain trust in an organization is through transparency. All company policies and procedures should be easily accessible and available in hard copy and electronic format, and someone should be on hand to answer employees' questions. Changes in policy should be communicated quickly. In fact, communication about benefits and compensation should be built into HR programs. Are you talking to your employees and asking for feedback? If so, are you listening, or just going into justification mode?

Question #2: Why aren't I moving ahead?

Employees usually ask this question when they are passed over for a promotion, or to head up a project, even though they have satisfactory employee reviews. There's a disconnect between the employees' salaries and responsibilities and the feedback they get from management. Employees often feel like they are stuck in limbo and wonder why they can't advance, and they may believe it is personal ("My manager doesn't like me.").

Many times this happens because managers don't want to have the difficult conversations. Managers feel uncomfortable addressing thorny issues-the employee is condescending to co-workers, or has an anger problem-so they avoid the conversations altogether. Unfortunately, these employees are left to flounder and question their abilities. With the proper assessment tools (a 360 for instance) managers should be able to broach difficult topics, and implement training and coaching programs to help employees overcome their work challenges.

On the flip side, some managers will offer coaching and training when they really want the person gone. Coaching is an important and valuable tool when it is used to help the employees develop their skills and careers, not instead of helping someone to leave an organization. The employee and the organization benefit from coaching used correctly, but only when the employee is the right fit for the organization.

Question #3: How can I get management to recognize me?

This is a classic over-achiever question. The over-achiever profile is often the same: "I've only worked at the company for a short time, but I picked up on things quickly. I work long hours, and my responsibilities have steadily increased (all good things, right?), but I haven't been promoted or gotten a raise, or even been recognized. I'm treated just like everybody else."

How does your organization care for its super-performers? These are your most valuable employees, both the young up-and-comers, and the seasoned workhorses. Do you treat these employees differently? Hopefully, your answer is "yes."

Does your organization manage to a group or to an individual? Some companies institute policies, such as step and grade pay scales, geared to treat everyone the same. But the same is not always fair-especially to the organization. These policies often discourage employees from excelling, and create an environment where nobody does more than is necessary.

Does your organization have these stringent policies? If not, are your middle managers equipped to recognize and cultivate stars? Or do they need training to help them hold on to and grow the careers of key talent?

HR managers, do you recognize your employees or your organization in any of these scenarios? While there is no way of knowing whether these questions are from your employees (names have been omitted to protect the innocent), it might make sense to pay attention to avoid having your employees feel this kind of desperation about their jobs.

What aren't your employees telling you? This column may have you looking over your shoulder and itching to eavesdrop on water cooler conversations. Are there ways you can avoid your employees feeling shortchanged at work? If you could read minds and did know your employees secrets, how would you make their experience at your organization better? That's a secret worth sharing.

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