What Your Employees Really Mean When They Say… (the hidden message your employees are trying to communicate to you)

Strategic Growth Concepts is pleased to present articles from time-to-time written by Human Resource related experts.  This article is from LaToya M. Palmer, an HR professional with  over 10-years of extensive experience in all aspects of Human Resources. She is President of the Michigan-based consulting firm, Palmer Solutions, LLC., which specializes in innovative HR solutions while also providing creative benefit management and payroll administration services.


I’ve had many managers come to me and tell me that they are having problems with their employees and they haven’t the faintest idea why.  I love this…okay maybe I really don’t, but humor me.  Any good HR person will use this gem (that’s what I like to call coachable HR moments) to give the greatest advice any human resources professional can give; always listen to what your employees don’t say.  I know you are scratching your head, trust me, the HR Gods are smiling down on you.

Employees can definitely be, let’s say, cryptic in their communications with company management. For example, I had a manager come to me and say that he was having problems with a normally good employee who had come to him and informed him that she was really concerned about a co-worker because she had been missing a lot of days lately. After asking a few more pointed questions, it came out that this “concerned” employee had been picking up the slack.  So do you see the hidden message?  What the employee was really telling the boss was, “My co-worker is not pulling her weight and I’m getting left holding the bag.” Needless to say, the manager hadn’t realized he was adding more work to the “good” employee, and that he wasn’t addressing what appeared to be an attendance problem within his department. Had he been listening more intently to what she wasn’t saying in his earlier conversations with the “good employee”, he would have picked up on the real situation during those earlier conversations.

Here are a couple more “translations” for those of you who haven’t yet mastered the language of Employee Speak.

  1. You’re giving a very simple explanation and instruction to your employees about a decision that was made by you or the Executive Team, and your employee says, “I don’t understand.”  Translation: “I totally disagree with what you’re saying. I am going to continue to say I don’t understand so that when I do the exact opposite of what you’re instructing us to do, I can use my lack of clarity as the reason.”  Action:  You should take this person aside and ensure thru a private conversation that they really “get it” by allowing them to walk through the parts they “don’t understand”, and encouraging them to give voice to their disagreement so that any potential “lack of clarity” is resolved and no longer an issue.
  2. You get a “petition” from your employees stating they want to change something within the company. Translation: Alarm bells should be ringing in your ears!  Your employees are telling you that they don’t feel comfortable coming to management individually to voice their opinions. They only feel comfortable doing so in numbers. This is a ripe climate in an hourly environment for unionization and should not be taken lightlyAction:  There is a communication gap within your organization that needs to be bridged; you should initiate communication between appropriate management and employee representatives as soon as possible to address the reasons that this climate has developed within the organization and work to diffuse the situation to allow for easier communication between the parties in future.

Employees give you “hints” at their “hidden meanings” more often than you realize. It’s imperative for company management, and HR professionals in particular, to listen closely to determine the “real” message that employees are trying to get across in order to prevent problem situations from occurring.


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