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December 18, 2023

The Top 10 Things Every Employee Wants from Their Leader


What do employees really want from their managers? Big picture, it’s less BS and more humanity.

Employees are going through a lot today, particularly given the state of the world.

Leaders have an opportunity to make the workplace better for their teams. Here’s a list of what employees want most from their leaders – and it doesn’t cost a thing.  

From our research and decades of experience in this area, here are some of the most common employee wishes and those that come up most often as unmet:

  1. Be humanA key lesson from the pandemic is the need to lead with heart. First. Heart First is about championing empathy, humanity, and authenticity to build more authentic, trusting relationships. The pandemic taught us that we’re all human and anyone, no matter their position, faces challenges in their work and personal lives. No one has all the answers, but we can work through things together. Employees truly want you to let your humanity show.
  2. Less fluff and more transparencyEnough beating around the bush, or worse yet, “spinning” of messages. Employees want to know what’s happening and why in a direct way. Tell them what you know when you know it. Chances are you’re currently waiting too long after getting key information or waiting until you have the complete picture to communicate.
  3. More listening (to them)Listen and ask for input and feedback. In other words, stop the monologues. Employees want to feel heard, and they are more likely to support things they help create. Make sure you’re having real, two-way conversations with your team members.
  4. Empathize with themPause and imagine how they’re feeling. Better yet, ask. Show you hear them, and validate their feelings. The payoff is an employee who knows you care – and is more likely to stick with you and the organization when other opportunities come knocking.
  5. Prioritize employee well-beingGet to know your employees as people and be mindful of their well-being and stress levels outside of work. More than 50% of workers rank employee well-being as one of the top 3 leadership challenges for the next five years, according to a research study by PSI Talent Management. Make sure you’re addressing this challenge by checking in and respecting employees’ needs. In doing so, you’ll reduce burnout while helping them thrive both in and out of the workplace.
  6. Give them flexibilityIf there is one thing that has emerged near the top of many employees’ wish lists over the course of the pandemic, it’s a need for flexibility. Employees want to be trusted to do their job well while also making time for family and personal needs. Whether that means working from home some of the time, adjusting their schedule to accommodate childcare needs, or taking an hour out of the week for a doctor’s appointment, you’ll be well served to extend trust and flexibility where possible. Employees will feel more engaged, happier, and more motivated to do their best work if their needs outside of work are also met.
  7. Take action on employee suggestionsThe action might be to loop back with the employee to share appreciation for their thoughts and help them understand why you are or are not implementing their suggestion. The action is closing the feedback loop, which can be as worthwhile as implementing an employee’s suggestion. Either way, you’re saying that their ideas and perspectives are valuable. This will motivate them to share their suggestions in the future.
  8. Recognize and show appreciationSay “thank you” for a job well done. Reinforce the specific behaviors you want to continue to see. Share recognition in front of peers for great work, unless you know the employee dislikes the spotlight. At a communication training recently, a woman asked whether she needed to reward and recognize someone on her team for “just doing their job.” My answer: Absolutely, jobs don’t inspire and motivate people; leaders do.
  9. Thoughtful, timely feedbackOffering timely, candid feedback goes a long way. This includes celebrating and reinforcing good behaviors as well as providing specific, constructive guidance on areas for improvement. Why wait until an end-of-year milestone to share feedback if they’d benefit from adjustments along the way? Employees who receive purposeful and thoughtful feedback feel more supported and confident in their work.
  10. Clarify your expectationsPeople rise to the expectations set for them. Many problems in business are caused by a lack of understanding of expectations or a misunderstanding of what’s needed. Have you developed and clearly articulated your expectations? Do your employees know what they can expect from you in return?

So that’s my short list. Best of all, everything on the wish list can make a clear difference for employees and overall engagement.

Which of these skills, if focused on, would have the greatest impact with your team?

—David Grossman

Get must-have insights on how to help promote the well-being of your employees and drive engagement. Download this quick guide, 11 Tips for Manager Conversations on Employee Well-Being, today. 

Quick Guide: 11 Tips for Manager Conversations on Employee Well-Being

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