Ever wonder why your managers never ask if you’re happy?
It isn’t because they don’t care, although they probably don’t. And it isn’t because they don’t have the time, because they definitely do. Nope, the real reason they don’t ask is because they don’t know how.
And how do I know they don’t know? Because I read “How to Ask Whether an Employee Is Happy at Work,” a recent article by Christopher Littlefield in the Harvard Business Review.
With so many people quitting jobs, you would think that employers would be somewhat curious about their employees’ state of mind. This lack of interest is especially mysterious when you consider that a “research poll conducted by Gallup showed 52% of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or their organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job.”
Something radical, like asking their employees if they’re happy.
Because it is important for you to understand your managers, here’s a sneak peek at how Harvard is teaching your befuddled leaders to act like human beings.
No. 1: Set the context
Once a meeting has been scheduled, the manager should “let the employee know this is not a performance conversation.” This is essential. The manager can then point out that the performance conversation will come later with three security guards and six HR people present.
The employee should also be informed that while there is no specific agenda, there are a few specific items “you would love to have them think about.”
The article suggests limiting these conversation starters to three or four items, focusing on how the employee feels about assignments, co-workers and work-life balance. In other words, the very matters that anyone who wants to keep a job knows better than to ever discuss, even with their psychiatrist.
My own potential questions for the manager to ask are:
“Do you like me?”
“What do like most about me?”
“Do you like me, or do you really-really like me? “
To get the most useful information, the employees should be counseled to be honest and to forget that their annual salary review is right around the corner.
No. 2: Mentally transition to the conversation
Because the manager’s high-powered brain is, as always, involved in high-priority matters, like where to eat lunch, our author advises they “take a few minutes to reflect on questions to help them get present to the person they are meeting with and why.”
I completely agree, but my suggested questions are slightly different. I recommend:
“What is it that you do?”
“How long have you worked for me?”
“What’s your name?”
The manager is further advised to ponder “what would be the impact on me and our team if this person left tomorrow?” If it turns out the employee is performing a useful function and is of value to the company, fire them immediately. They’re making you look bad.
No. 3: Start the meeting off right
Before starting a meeting, the manager is advised to put away the computer or phone, which is an especially effective technique if the meeting happens to be on the computer or phone.
My personal recommendation is that managers do not pause their video games, especially if they are playing “Mortal Kombat,” lest Shang Tsung sabotage Shao Kahn’s invasion of Earthrealm, breaking the Elder Gods’ rule and enabling Shinnok’s return.
No. 4: Probe, then really listen
If you can’t fix a problem — or you can but just don’t feel like it — try “celebrating and reflecting on what’s working.”
For example, if an employee admits they’re overwhelmed by work and feel they no longer have a life, the manager should remind the employee that if they did have a life, they’d have to make decisions, which is something the employee is not equipped to do. Point out how the employee has less stress when their generous manager does the thinking and makes all the decisions for them.
The manager should not expect a thank you, even though they certainly deserve one — or two.
Hopefully, by understanding what is going on in your manager’s mind, you will be prepared when they call you in for a meeting to discuss your feelings. And if by some remote chance you find your manager actually does care, congratulations! You’ve got leverage and you should use it.
Demand more money. Insist on fewer hours. And, most of all, make it clear that you want no more meetings about whether or not you are happy.
It’s just too weird.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at