I used to walk up to people and ask them how they are doing. I still do this. Only now, I no longer expect an honest or insightful answer. Because like any sane person, if someone asks me how I’m doing I say, “good,” “great,” “awesome,” regardless how I feel.
As we started adding more employees, I realized I wanted to keep them and keep them happy. I began asking them how they are doing, how they were feeling and if there was anything I can do to make their job more pleasurable. They gave predictable answers that were easy for me to consume and continue with my day. But, wait just one minute man-boy –I said to myself as I often do– isn’t that the exact same bull you would tell your boss so they would stop bothering you? On more than one occasion, I remember looking superiors in the spectacles and saying I was really happy when I was unequivocally unhappy.
We don’t tell people how we feel. We don’t tell our kids we had a crap day, we hide from our spouses when we don’t get our bonus and we definitely don’t tell our bosses when we’re discontent. Not because we’re fibbers, but because we’re protecting ourselves or our loved ones from something potentially worse. So, when you ask your employee in passing or even in an intimate sit-down, don’t expect them to tell you the truth. However, if you’re vigilant, they will likely show you the truth.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a previous employer and a bit of a local legend around our town. She gifted me parcel after parcel of wisdom on how to sustain, grow and thrive as an agency. It was a lot of fun and I should have done it a long time ago. The most noteworthy moment was when she asked me for advice, “How do I keep these millennials around longer than a year or two?” She was genuinely perplexed. She is also actively efforting to keep them with more parties, flexibility and recognition. I didn’t give her any advice because I didn’t feel I was in a position to do so. But, I think this whole issue of the transient employee has less to with moving up, millennials, or even money. It has to do with options, and options are always a good thing.
It was harder to see what else was out there before the internet. Company culture at a competitor was unclear before Glassdoor. Instagram can make the grass look really green on the other side. It’s harder to hide your flaws and easier to show your successes. And if an employee believes they can go somewhere better for them, then why the heck wouldn’t they?
I thought I had one such employee. She said she was feeling good. She does a great job, but I know 5 + 8 is not her dream job. One day, I came across her dream job. I called her in, told her about the job, and said I would give her a recommendation that glowed*. She considered it seriously, took a beat and politely said, “No, I’m good. I feel like we’re really on the brink of something here.” Will you look at that? Here I am thinking I am giving this gal a free pass and a gift to follow her dream and she flipped the script and gave me a gift I never saw coming– trust.
So, don’t waste your breath asking people how they’re doing. They won’t tell you the truth and neither would you. Even if they did tell you the truth, what the heck would you do if they said the truth, “I’m miserable and I think you’re a mook.” Not much you can do with that but let them go. Words are empty** and actions are everything. We all need to focus less on what people tell us and open our eyes to what they show us. Or better yet, employers and bosses need to stop telling people they’re important, and focus on showing them.
*Ironically, learned this from previous employer.
**Aware of the irony