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3 Keys to Improve Your Employee Relationships


{#/pub/images/3KeystoImproveYourEmployeeRelationships.jpg}The stats about employee engagement are dismal, there’s no doubt. Up to 70% of employees appear to be disengaged at some level. 75% of employees cite their manager as being the biggest source of stress in the workplace. 


And it’s been well documented that employees leave managers not organizations. 


So perhaps as a middle manager you are eyeball deep in not only working to execute the objectives you have, but keeping your precious team on board, and working productively to move the ball forward.


In addition, research also shows that the majority of managers are not groomed, trained, or developed prior to taking on a manager role. So you might even be in the learning and development process as a manager yourself. 


I’d like to discuss 3 keys that will let you start addressing the engagement, retention and happiness issues you may have in your workplace. 


They can be downright overwhelming. And, as a manager, you might find yourself paralyzed with what exactly to do about addressing these issues, and the sad statistics that exist in the workplace. 


Are these complex theories with lots of new models and learning curves? No, I’m not going to discuss a change. 


Instead, let’s get back to basics.


I do a good deal of coaching for people in the workplace. In nearly every single conversation, the quality of the manager relationship comes up. That’s right. We talk about you.

Too many people are trying to figure out how to deal with their managers. But are they telling managers? 


I suspect not. So based on what I hear from clients, here is what I suggest you do to get back to basics, and engage your team in the workplace. 


3 Keys to Improve Your Employee Relationships


1. Build quality, high-trust relationships.


Whether I’m working with new graduates, talking about onboarding, or helping experienced professionals in the workplace, we are ALWAYS talking about the quality of relationships.


You need to get work done through the efforts of other people. One of the ways you will do that is by having good relationships with them. 


Quality relationships enable trust, create a safe space for feedback, and enhance the speed and quality of communication – and the work. All essential to your mission. 


I’m not saying you have to be best buds with your employees. But you do have to understand that they are people, they have lives, goals, values, and concerns. Relationship building has to be as much a priority as delivering your work on time, on budget and as expected. 


They spend the vast majority of their waking lives at work, and they want it to be a place that has its own opportunity for creating meaningful relationships and doing work that matters. 


Here are some tips on how to build a relationship with your employees.


  • Schedule regular one on one time to review performance and other work-related matters. Spend the first part of the session talking about them; what’s going on with them, how it’s going for them personally, talking sports or whatever your common ground is. Get to know this person, not as “human capital,” but as a person. 

  • When you meet with them, be completely focused and present. Use eye contact and open body posture. No texting, email, phone calls, or multi-tasking. Give them your full and undivided attention. 

  • Greet people in the morning and the evening. As the boss, people look for you to set the tone around how you treat one another.



2. Ask them what they need from you.

One way that I explain a boss-relationship to clients is the “mutual needs” lexicon. That is, good relationships are based upon mutually meeting one another’s needs in a generative, constructive way.

You hire someone because you believe they have the ability to meet your business needs. Likewise, someone takes a job on your team because they have needs (compensation, meaningful work, positive team environment). 


However, I see many employee-manager relationships go awry because one or the other’s needs are not being met. Typically an employee may not tell you. Instead they call someone like me and say, “I think I need to find another job.” Usually I can help them design a conversation that helps. But you probably won’t hear about an issue until they’re giving their notice. 


So to avoid that surprise, I’d like to see managers ask more need-based questions of their team. For example:

  • What do you need from me, as a manger, that you’re not getting? 

  • What other kind of feedback do you need that would be helpful in the workplace? 

  • What kinds of skills do you find yourself struggling with, and what can I do to help you develop them?

  • What kind of adjustments do we need to make to our working practices so that we’re both more productive and focused? 

  • Is there anything about my behavior or actions that confuses you, that you’d like more clarification on?


3. Focus on their strengths. 


The 2013 Gallup workplace poll concluded that managers could move the needle drastically on engagement, if they focused on people using their strengths. 


I’d have to agree with this, and, it’s often complicated to do this if your team isn’t already perfectly aligned to deliver work that engages their strengths.

Even starting the discussion about what strengths are can be a good start:

  • Conduct an all team assessment on individual strengths.

  • Share the attributes and workplace implications as a team. It’s always interesting for people to understand how others are strong, and how they complement one another. 

  • Identify where people are/are not in alignment with their strengths. 

  • Identify opportunities to shift responsibilities that better align.

  • Keep your team strengths inventory in mind when hiring new talent, so you can develop a palette of strengths that complement one another. Strengths are great, but you need more than one on a team. 



As a middle manager you’re handling expectations from the top-down, and the bottom up. Getting your team aligned with you so that it flows more and pushes less is a good first start to relieving organizational pressure. 



{#/pub/images/LeaMcLeod.jpg}Written by Lea McLeod, M.A., Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition 

Lea works extensively with new grads who are tackling the job search for the first time.  She is a guest speaker, as well as facilitator of the “Find a Job Faster” Job Search Program and “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop & Webinar series, bringing over 20 years of director level experience, most recently with Hewlett-Packard, managing, leading and serving worldwide employees. She holds a degree in Marketing from St. Bonaventure University, and a Master of Arts in Organization Development from Seattle University.


Do you have a question for Lea?  Post it in our Middle Manager Community, she will be happy to help: Ask An Expert 


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Do your employees feel like you listen to them?