Published May 2002

Managers, take time to listen, appreciate employees

Our company, Personnel Management Systems Inc., is fortunate to have smart, skilled, talented professionals supporting our business. Throughout their careers at PMSI, our professionals have counseled, cajoled and mentored many managers at our clients’ work sites on the best way to treat staff, supervisors and co-workers.

Tapping into their collective experience and knowledge, we asked the following question, “What is the one piece of advice you would give to a manager?” We have summarized their answers below.

Listening should be easy, but it isn’t. As a manager, you are concerned with operational goals, budgets and workload. Simply meeting the demands of your own manager can consume your day. However, as a supervisor, you must also ensure that the needs of company employees are met. This requires listening.

People want to be heard — they have concerns about co-workers, clients and the work environment. They need assurance that their contributions are valued. They have ideas about process improvement, the direction of the company, new product lines and marketing initiatives.

Taking the time to listen (and this does not mean having a conversation in the hall where the employee may feel rushed) improves your understanding of the business and of the people who work with you. The only way you can be aware of what is happening is to listen to those who are making it happen. So, be attentive, be caring and be interested.

Provide opportunities for growth
As discussed in an earlier column, training and opportunities for growth improve productivity and increase loyalty. Our Recruiting Department reports that training is also a tremendous retention tool; many people leave previous positions because of a lack of professional growth.

Professional growth is not always tied to a formal promotion. Growth can occur if an employee is put in charge of developing a new process or is encouraged to cross-train in another department. Development opportunities can be provided so employees are prepared for their next promotion (e.g. management training for employees whose next position may be in a supervisory role).

The idea is simply that people want to learn new skills, techniques and ideas. When you provide these opportunities, you support future career moves, allow employees to explore other possibilities and keep boredom at bay.

Show your appreciation
While there are many ways to show your appreciation, the following ideas always work:

  • Be generous with your praise. You expect a lot from the people who work with you. You expect them to work hard, be creative, be energetic, solve problems, deal with frustrated clients, correct errors and treat each other with respect. By providing encouragement, thanks and praise, you demonstrate that you recognize their contributions to the company’s success.
  • Share success. When the company has a success, share the excitement and the rewards of the success — don’t hoard the thrill of victory. Make sure everyone knows how his or her contribution helped.
  • Address employees’ needs. If an employee gives you feedback, address it appropriately. For example, an employee may complain about the noise level in the office. Or, an employee may mention that a co-worker or other manager is belittling him or her. Realize that these issues are important and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation when possible.
  • Treat employees with respect. Regardless of the position held, each employee deserves your respect. You can show your respect in many ways. Treat employee concerns and suggestions thoughtfully. Ask for input about projects or larger company decisions. Keep employees informed — have regular staff meetings. Keep personnel or sensitive situations private.

Don’t be afraid to discipline or coach
Many managers are great at acknowledging employees’ extra efforts but ignore the need to address underperforming or difficult employees. Regardless of how uncomfortable it may make you, a manager’s job includes correcting problems and giving people the information they need to succeed. This may mean discussing deficiencies in quality or quantity of work. It also may mean discussing proper workplace behavior with your highest-producing employee.

Before addressing any issue with an employee, make sure you have clear expectations and can articulate where the employee is falling short. The main idea is to set the stage for future success. Neglecting the problem and failing to hold the employee accountable simply postpones resolution of the issue and results in increased frustration. Not only will you be frustrated, but so will everyone who works with the difficult employee. In addition, they will become irritated at your unwillingness to fix the problem.

Jack Goldberg is President of Personnel Management Systems Inc., with offices in Everett, Kirkland and Tacoma. The PMSI Web site is

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