10 Things You Should Never Say to Employees

When managing employees, your patience is sometimes tested by lack of motivation, resistance to your requests and particularly stubborn individuals. However thin your patience gets stretched though, there are things you should never say to employees.

Real leaders speak carefully. Unlike the average worker, the onus falls upon the boss to keep their nose clean when it comes to verbal communication. As a manager, you don’t have the luxury of saying something off the cuff when you are frustrated.

The last thing you want is for your verbal mishaps to demotivate your staff and cause team friction, bringing about bigger problems for your organisation.

Trust takes so long to build in an organisation and yet can easily be lost forever. An off the cuff comment can great damage your reputation and destroy any trust your employees have in you, possibly beyond repair. Here are some phrases you should never say to employees, especially in the heat of the moment.

“This wasn’t an easy decision.”

This is such a tired, empty statement. Employees have heard this over and over again and know it’s often followed by unexplained disappointment. What they hear when you say this is, “Sorry not sorry.”

Yes, delivering bad news is tough but instead of using a cliché, tell the employee exactly why and how it was a tough decision. If you’re passing them up for a promotion, go through why each candidate was more than qualified for the promotion and what made the selected candidate stand out among the rest.

Annoyed employee

Image: Pexels

“There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Congratulations on your elementary level spelling skills. You should actually steer clear of sports metaphors as a whole as they often don’t really mean anything in particular.

Everyone knows that teamwork is important but individuals are important too. This phrase is one of those you should never say to employees because it discounts the unique contributions each employee makes to your team.

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“We have to do more with less.”

No matter how tough business may get, the solution is never to overwork your employees. And although the higher powers in the organisation may be dictating the circumstances, it’s never okay to set unrealistic expectations for your employees. They are just human beings at the end of the day.

What every employee hears when you say, “We have to do more with less” is, “You’re going to have to work for longer without getting paid more because the rich people upstairs have lost a little money.”

“If you don’t like it, I’ll find someone who does.”

As the manager, you call most of the shots, but that doesn’t give you a license to be a jerk. Threatening your employees with losing their jobs, as a way to get them to do what you want, is not sustainable.

Sure, they may do what you demand at first, but sooner rather than later they will become demotivated and start aiming to do just the bare minimum to get by. And in the meantime they will be browsing for their next job opportunity so that they can quit and move on as soon they get the chance.

“You’re lucky to have a job”

If you hire an employee, it is on the basis of their skills and knowledge and because you do actually need them to do that particular task. They do not need to be thankful to you for hiring them. No one works well in an environment where they are made to feel like somehow they are indebted to their employer.

If you are having issues with a particular employee then you should be a professional about it and deal with the issues at hand directly. Find a way to correct them or part ways with them immediately.

“I don’t want to listen to your complaints.”

This is another phrase you should never say to employees because it shows you have this management thing backwards. You do want to listen to employees’ complaints. That’s a key part of your job.

You should actually be actively seeking out employee feedback in all its forms, even the negative one because employee complaints often point to where your processes and practices need improvement.

And even if you have no solution whatsoever to offer to the problem raised, just the mere act of allowing your employees to vent can go a long way toward restoring staff morale and building loyalty.

never say to employees

Image: StockSnap

“I was here on Saturday afternoon. Where were you?”

You may choose to work seven days a week. That’s your call. But your employees shouldn’t have to. This kind of “subtle” pressure to work all day every day is just a straight path to burning out your employees.

You won’t get that much more productivity out of them by making your employees work 24/7, and yet you will definitely destroy whatever morale they have. We all need a balance in our work and personal life and spending more time in office doesn’t always translate into working harder, often the opposite.

“This is how we’ve always done it.”

No matter what the situation, this is another phrase you should never say to employees. It tells them that the company never plans to change. It lets them know that you are not open to creativity. It tells the employee that they are just a cog in a machine, rather than a unique piece in the puzzle.

It’s dangerous anytime a leader tells an employee to stop thinking. And in reality, just because it’s the way you have always done it, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. There is nothing worse than outdated policies that continue to exist in an organisation just because nobody has bothered to change them.

“I’ll take it under consideration.”

Many bosses use this to get out awkward conversations and yet part of being a leader is having tough, up-front conversations with your team.

If for some reason you won’t be taking an employee’s suggestion under consideration, tell them exactly why so that they can learn from it. It also reinforces to them that you respect them fully as a person instead of infantilising them just to get rid of them.

If you are truly planning on taking something under consideration, you should choose a different set of words because many employees have come to understand the phrase “I’ll take it under consideration” as “I have no intention whatsoever of considering what you just said. Now get out of my office.”

“Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

This is another phrase you should never say to employees because when an employee hears this one, they more or less see it as a straight up lie. You’re the boss. There’s always something you can do.

Even when you really have no immediate solution that you can offer for the issue raised, at the very least, you can hear the employee out in and discuss the issue in detail with them so that they feel heard.

And then, if there’s really nothing you can do about it, tell the employee why. Explain to them exactly why a particular policy is in place, for example, and the reasons why it can’t be changed or bypassed. Employees will appreciate that and are very likely to understand the situation you have on your hands.

In Summary

Managers seeking substantial, professional relationships with their employees need to communicate with them honestly and effectively. That starts with dropping meaningless clichés and insensitive remarks.

Ridding your speech as well as your thinking of the above phrases that you should never say to employees is one step toward strengthening your leadership qualities and management style.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.