Why Your Employees Aren’t Honest With You – And What to Do About It

Why Your Employees Aren’t Honest With You – And What to Do About It

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Guest article by Gabby Baglino, Vispato

You want your employees to be open and honest with you. You want them to give you real, candid feedback. You want to create honesty in the workplace.  

Unfortunately, many employees don’t feel comfortable giving their managers bad news, negative or honest feedback because they believe that doing so will damage the trust between them and their boss. They are afraid that by criticizing an idea or offering a new perspective on something, they will appear critical of their manager’s judgment and their job security might fall as a result.

With this in mind, it makes sense that some of your employees may avoid honest communication with you because it might hurt them personally if they question the reasoning behind a decision, or offer an alternate solution for a problem. 

As a leader, it’s important for you to help ensure your employees aren’t taken advantage of and that there is a company culture where they are encouraged to share their true thoughts and opinions. After all, this is how organizations improve employee engagement and in turn, their business. This can be difficult for both leaders and employees alike, but there are steps you can take to encourage honesty in the workplace, which we will cover in this post.

Giving and Receiving Honest Criticism 

Why does receiving criticism sometimes lead to negative feelings and reactions? Whether we want to believe it or not, we care about what other people think about us and thus seek their approval. This is only logical because in our careers, our success is often determined by what other people think about us and how they perceive our work.

This makes it increasingly difficult for employees to be open with their employer or manager. When calculating the risk internally, they may feel like there is nothing to gain by telling you something you may not want to hear, but everything to lose from a negative reaction. 

The negative reactions we sometimes experience after receiving criticism are often caused by our limiting beliefs. A limiting belief stops you from reaching your full potential. Some common examples of limiting beliefs are “I’m awful at public speaking” or “I’m not charismatic and could never be a great leader.” 

When received criticism confirms a limiting belief, we feel demoralized and our limiting beliefs take hold. Aristotle once said criticism can be avoided by doing and saying nothing. However, in the workplace, we don’t have the option of doing or saying nothing, so it’s inevitable that we will face criticism.

While it will always sting our egos to receive criticism, we can improve how we give and receive it. Employee surveys are one such way in which we can improve how criticism is given and received. Download the information sheet here to see how WorkTango can help. 

How to Give Criticism

Be helpful and humble when giving criticism to employees. It is important not to be mean but rather understand a team member’s perspective. If you don’t know what the world looks like from their perspective, then they will not trust your suggestions and you won’t get results. A feedback style such as radical candor is ideal to create honesty in the workplace. 

Give criticism privately and praise publicly. Criticism should be given face-to-face if possible, and right away. If criticism or praise can’t be given in person, setting up a video conference is the next best thing. Remember that criticism isn’t about your employee personally; it’s about an action or habit that can be improved in a professional setting. Confidential conversations are a great way to give and receive anonymous feedback in real-time. 

Giving specific praise is an important part of giving feedback. If their sales skills go above and beyond, or if they’ve rescued the company from a major setback in R&D, public thanks is well deserved.

If people feel that their efforts are not acknowledged or recognized, then they may feel as if their work is going unnoticed. Not only may they think twice before going out of their way for the team again, but they may also become disengaged from their work, which can be costly for your organization.

Workplace Honesty Is a Two-Way Street

Leaders need to practice honesty with their employees to first encourage open communication. If you are honest with your employees, they will be more comfortable being honest with you in return. When leaders say what they truly think, they can expect open communication from their staff and by effect, improve and promote honesty in the workplace.  

If you don’t like something, then by all means say so. Be direct with your employees while understanding that you might not be right. However, think about what you’re going to say beforehand to avoid saying anything brutal and heartless as this may negatively affect the employees’ motivation.

Be humble about your opinions; your employees will respect you for it later on. When all is said and done, if the criticism is unwarranted, don’t be afraid to apologize. After all, workplace honesty goes both ways. 

Let your employees, especially new hires, know your expectations for their work. Also keep in mind that if you don’t set clear performance goals with your employees, they won’t know when they have completed a task correctly or sufficiently enough to pass your evaluation. 

Often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln, influential public speaker William J. H. Boetcker famously wrote, “You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.” This applies to your employees as well; if you always step in and take over, you are preventing your employees from taking ownership of their work. This will only stifle their growth within your company, and the growth of your company itself. 

Set high expectations from your employees but understand that they might not attain those goals and will sometimes make mistakes. If you are open and honest with your employees, they’ll be honest back and your business and people will be better off for it.  

Be Honest About Mistakes

If employees know you will allow them to make mistakes, they will feel more comfortable coming forward when something is wrong. While admitting a mistake to your boss is hard, many times employees get points for taking that risk and putting themselves out there.

Similarly, if workers see management always covering up or ignoring problems rather than facing them head-on, they may think it’s all right to do the same. As a leader, be open about problems you are facing and mistakes you have made to show that you care and are honest with your employees. This can go a long way, especially for remote employees that may not see what goes on behind the scenes.

However, don’t conflate caring personally with being too personal. Respect the privacy of workers and don’t pry into their personal lives unwarranted. For many employees, this barrier is important to their work-life balance.

By not talking about problems in the workplace, it’s as if they don’t exist. This may seem like a good way to avoid conflicts or tension but in fact, this makes the problem worse and can be a reason employees feel disrespected and disconnected from management, and eventually, disengaged. Responding to problems openly and with empathy helps build trust with your employees.

People get frustrated and angry when management doesn’t acknowledge a problem or lacks the courage to deal with an issue. Problems don’t disappear just because you don’t talk about them. Instead of wasting time putting up a facade that everything is fine when it isn’t, responding quickly and taking steps to correct the issue shows employees that you have acknowledged the problem and are actively working toward solving it.

Employee surveys are a great way to find, acknowledge, fix and subsequently communicate the work that you are doing to improve the situation. 

How to Encourage Open Conversations with Employees

Encouraging open communication with employees is not always easy. However, it is required in order to have a successful, healthy and honest work environment. You need to create an atmosphere where employee feedback is accepted and valued.

Try out these four steps to become more open with your employees and improve honesty in the workplace:

  1. Be open with all of your employees and listen and collect feedback frequently. You can’t fix what they don’t tell you, and in today’s world, things move very quickly. 
  2. Understand an issue in depth before entering a conversation or attempting to find a solution. 
  3. Share news, both good and bad. It lets employees know what is really going on rather than assuming, and it creates a more personal connection to senior leadership.
  4. Let them know they aren’t alone and help them find alternatives or resources to help them with any troubles. Let employees attempt to solve or provide solutions themselves. This leads to ownership, which makes employees feel more invested in the outcome and the business.

For employees who are less willing to be transparent in their feedback, or who need to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves or others, surveys are a great way to elicit anonymous feedback. Also consider a whistleblowing channel so your employees can report sensitive issues without fear of reprisal.

Create Workplace Honesty and You’ll Get Honesty in Return

Honesty is a critical requirement for a successful team. If your employees feel like they will be judged for their thoughts and feelings, then they have nothing to gain by being open and won’t be comfortable doing so. But if you as a leader are able to demonstrate transparency and show that you care personally for your employees, they will feel comfortable doing likewise and you will take advantage of unrealized gains.  

Don’t punish employees for giving negative feedback or pointing out issues. Instead, try to find solutions for their problems and work with them. This way, you’ll be on the path to helping your employees become more open with you.


Author Bio: Gabby Baglino is a digital marketing specialist for Vispato, with several years of experience in business marketing, writing, and content creation.