8 Things Employees Definitely Talk About (Even Though Their Bosses Think They Don’t)

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You try to do everything right. You actually follow an open door policy. You regularly ask for feedback. You regularly encourage your employees to tell you what they really think.

So you think you know how your employees are thinking and feeling.

You don’t.

They’re talking, but they’re not talking to you — especially where the following are concerned:

1. How much money they make.

Many companies actively discourage staff from talking to each other about their salaries. I even know companies that require employees to sign agreements stipulating they won’t disclose pay, benefits, etc. to other employees.

Doesn’t matter. Employees talk. I did, both when I was “labor” and when I was “management.” Generally speaking, the only employees who don’t share details about their pay are the ones who are embarrassed by how much or how little they make.

Never assume raises, bonuses, starting salaries, perks–basically anything related to compensation–will stay confidential.

2. How much money you make.

I know. You don’t think employees should care what you make. After all, if they’re paid fairly for the work they do, isn’t that all that matters?


Everywhere I’ve worked, employees have talked about their boss’s (and their boss’s boss’s) pay. They wonder. They speculate. Sometimes they even find ways to find out.

Why does it matter? Because most people feel they work harder than other people. Most people mistakenly assess their skills and talents as much higher than they really are.

And most people definitely think they work harder than their bosses… and feel it isn’t paid you get paid a lot more. (Because most people also assume their boss’s pay is higher than it actually is.)

You can’t stop people from speculating about your salary, but you can work extremely hard so that no one can legitimately question your value — with “no one” including yourself.

3. What kind of car you drive.

Does it matter what kind of car you drive? Not for practical reasons, but for perception reasons? Sometimes yes, because what you drive can make a statement.

For example, I have a friend who says:

Don’t assume your employees will be inspired by and hope to emulate your success. They won’t. Leave your Porsche in the garage.

I’ve done consulting gigs for a number of businesses, and in almost every instance, sometimes after being on-site less than a day, at least one employee will tell me they resent how “good” the owners have it — at the expense of underpaid employees.

Is it fair for employees to resent your success, even if you don’t flaunt it? No. Is it a real issue for employees? Absolutely.

So resist the temptation to talk about your vacations, and your second home, and whatever else you do to reward yourself for your hard work. Sure, you definitely earned those things… but still.

4. Why you haven’t taken care of a problem employee.

You know the one. The guy who’s always late. The guy who loves to say, “That’s not my job.” The ones who take credit for other’s work and blame others for their own mistakes.

Yep. That guy.

Why haven’t you dealt with him? Maybe you are. Maybe it’s in process.

But maybe it’s taking too long.

Every employee, no matter how poorly they perform, has the right to confidentiality and privacy. So while the last thing you want to do is tell people you’re dealing with the issue… the next to last thing you want to do is let a bad situation drag on.

Work extremely hard to help a sub-par employee succeed — but also know when you’ve done everything you can and it’s time to make a change.

5. What is happening when your door is closed.

Sometimes a major decision — layoff, expansion, organizational change, etc — is made but isn’t announced for weeks or months. Sometimes waiting makes sense. (Sometimes it doesn’t.)

Regardless, once employees know that you knew but didn’t say… they stop trusting you. Fall back on platitudes all you want, but most employees feel their need to know trumps your need to maintain confidentiality.

After all, sometimes it’s not just business, it’s their lives that are impacted.

Once that happens, every closed door is a potential sign of impending doom.

You can’t always share what you know about certain decisions, but you can share the factors that affect those decisions. If revenue is down, talk about it long before layoffs are necessary. If business is booming, talk about that long before an expansion or reorganization is necessary.

Give employees the information they need about their performance, your company’s performance, your competition, your industry… and they won’t worry about what you’re talking about behind closed doors. They’ll already know — and when you do have to make tough decisions, they’ll understand.

6. What they really thought during the meeting.

You have a meeting. Issues are raised. Concerns are shared. Decisions are made. Everyone in attendance fully support those decisions. Things are going to happen.

But then people hold the “meeting after the meeting.” They talk about concerns they didn’t share in the actual meeting. They disagree with some of the decisions made in the meeting.

Never assume you’ve heard everything your employees were thinking or feeling. You rarely will.

So have the meeting… and then spend a little time checking in with employees on an individual basis to make sure they’re still on board and see if there are things they want to share privately that they weren’t willing to share publicly.

7. How you make their day harder.

Here’s what happens. You stop by to talk. The employee has to stop what she’s doing to chat with you… and when you walk away she’s behind and has to catch up.

Employees want to talk to you, but they have work to do, too — which often means “bonding” with you is the last thing they have time for.

There’s an easy answer, especially if the employee’s job involves physical tasks: help out while you talk. Not only will they appreciate the help, the conversation will be a lot less forced.

In other settings, pick your spots carefully. Never interrupt an employee who is busy simply because today you’ve decided to check in with your team.