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10 things managers should never ask employees

Being a great manager means creating an environment where your employees feel part of a team. You empower your people and help them understand the value of their contributions. You serve your employees and ask how you can best support them. Through ongoing conversations about each person’s role on the team, you learn what’s most important to your employees and how to keep them engaged.

You have a handle on the things you know you should be doing to motivate, inspire and guide your team. But great leaders also understand that there are certain boundaries that should not be crossed. And while close relationships with direct reports can undeniably strengthen your workplace, make sure you’re also aware of what bosses should never ask employees to do.

Here are 10 “asks” to stay away from as a manager.

1. Ask employees to lie for the company

Whether it’s a major piece of fiction or just a half-truth, lying is never appropriate in the workplace. Managers set the standards, and encouraging employees to mislead customers or coworkers could create problems down the line.

For example, in sales environments, it might be tempting to stretch the truth in order to hook a prospect, over-promising on something to a potential client that likely can’t be delivered.

But instead of allowing or asking employees to take liberties with what’s possible, good managers:

  • Emphasize integrity (over sales numbers, in our example)
  • Communicate the repercussions of misleading information (e.g., the need for service recovery efforts if a client comes on board and doesn’t get what was sold or promised)

2. Ask or pressure employees to attend optional events

As a manager, it makes you look good when your team makes a strong showing at company-sponsored events, like your office holiday party, a retreat or team building activity. But ultimately, for optional events and opportunities, it’s up to your employees to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.” They shouldn’t feel forced to take a work trip for the sake of being a team player (or worse, to keep their job) if they have legitimate reasons for not participating, such as feeling uncomfortable or having another obligation.

To successfully walk the fine line between encouraging and pressuring employees to participate in non-mandatory company events, focus on sharing the benefits of opting in – what’s in it for your employees. After clearly conveying that an event is optional, tell your employees what they can get out of attending. For example, they might gain visibility with senior leaders or get to network with customers. After sharing the benefits, close out your invitation with more reassurance that if employees aren’t able or don’t want to attend, there won’t be negative consequences.

3. Ask employees to reveal personal information

Effective leaders see their employees as individuals and want to get to know them. But building relationships with employees can encroach into overstepping if you’re constantly checking in on them or asking too many personal questions about:

  • Family and friends
  • Relationship status
  • Other topics employees simply don’t want or need to discuss

So, how can managers learn about employees without getting too personal? The key is to ask open-ended questions instead of asking about specifics.

For example, suppose one of your employees seems distracted or down. In a regular one-on-one meeting or while out for lunch, you could say, “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem like yourself.” Then, give a few examples because the employee could reasonably become defensive if it isn’t clear what you mean.

Let the employee know you’re just checking in to see what you can do to support them or if they need anything from you. Then allow them to say as much or as little as they want. Your concern for their wellbeing opens a door for them to share a personal situation that may be affecting their work.

And as for connecting with your direct reports on social media, it’s best practice to stick to LinkedIn when you’re the one sending invites.

4. Ask employees to work longer hours for extended periods

It may be okay to occasionally ask your employees to work longer hours to meet a specific deadline for a time-sensitive project, but leaders shouldn’t demand longer hours as the standard workplace practice.

Instead, aim to be in touch with how productive your employees are during busy times by having regular check-ins where you discuss projects, workloads and also a formal performance review process.

If an employee isn’t meeting your productivity expectations, instead of asking the employee to work faster or to work longer hours, take time to find out what’s slowing the work down. You could tell the employee you’ve noticed it’s taking a bit longer than you expect to get work completed. Try to find out where the employee is getting stuck, and see if you can eliminate any unnecessary steps. Often, employees are simply spending too much time prioritizing the wrong tasks.

5. Ask employees to donate money

Perhaps your organization is raising money in support of a worthy cause. Or maybe your team is going in on a wedding gift for a coworker who’s getting married. Corporate culture abounds with opportunities for employees to contribute money, but should managers ask their employees to donate?

For starters – no, don’t ask directly. But here’s what you can do instead:

  • Let your employees take it upon themselves to collect money for group gifts.
  • Pick a date to celebrate special moments, and show your support by asking what you can contribute.
  • Announce an opportunity without suggesting that employees give. Just a simple comment or note will do: “We’re collecting coins for the House of Hope. If you want to get involved, you can drop off your spare change at Mike’s desk.”

6. Ask employees to use PTO for sick days (in states where they’re separate)

Some organizations lump PTO and sick days together. But that’s not an option if you’re in a state that requires you to provide employees with a certain number of hours of paid sick leave each year – separate from PTO.

If these two types of time off are separate at your company, and you have an employee who’s exhausted all sick days, don’t ask the employee to use PTO. Instead, check your PTO policy and speak to someone in your human resources department about the next steps. The employee could be eligible for another type of medical leave, such as FMLA. Having sound HR policies eliminates confusion and helps you avoid compliance issues when employees need to miss work.

7. Ask employees to work during lunch

Can you ask your employees to work during lunch? Tread lightly with this request, and make sure you’re aware of your state and local break time laws. If you manage exempt employees, or if it wouldn’t otherwise create compliance issues for your employees to work during the lunch hour, it’s still a request that you should make only rarely.

If you find yourself in an all-hands-on-deck moment, provide food or snacks for your employees and stay positive. Acknowledge that you’re asking a lot, and invite them to rise to the occasion and over-deliver. But keep these requests few and far between to help maintain a work-life balance.

8. Ask employees, “Can you talk later?”

If you need to chat with your employee about a performance-related issue, recent workplace disruption or even just to review an upcoming project, never begin the conversation with “Can you talk later?” This open-ended question, even if the pending conversation is one of a positive nature, might leave your employee feeling anxious and stressed.

Chances are, your direct report won’t be productive or focused while they’re waiting to find out why exactly you want to talk.

Instead, plan the timing of your conversation ahead of the request to talk. Even sending a direct meeting invite is better than an ominous email or message. If you can share ahead of time what the discussion will include, don’t leave that information out. “Can you chat later about next week’s projects?”

If the discussion may cover more sensitive topics like performance, try to wait for your scheduled check-in. Or ask at a time when the conversation can happen immediately. “I see your calendar is open, can you jump on a call?”

9. Ask employees to end a meeting because of disruptions

If you manage a distributed team that collaborates with you remotely, disruptions will happen during your calls. But as a manager, don’t be the one who asks to cut a meeting short when an employee’s work environment gets distracting. Instead, be understanding about the personal life of each employee and model resiliency in the face of interruptions.

If you recognize a need for clearer boundaries between work and home during conference calls, develop a simple plan of action ahead of time for when disruptions happen. For example, lay out expectations up front that if there’s a visual distraction (e.g., a child who comes onscreen), employees can turn off their cameras. If there’s a distracting noise in the background (e.g., a barking dog), they can mute themselves when they aren’t speaking.

10. Ask employees to evaluate or talk about coworkers

If a leader wants to know something about an employee, is there a better option than asking that person’s coworkers for information, which can create a standard of gossip and discomfort among team members?

Unless your employees are involved in a formal complaint investigation, they shouldn’t be asked to evaluate or talk about their coworkers.

Here are some better options when you have concerns about an employee and are seeking more context:

  • Speak with the employee directly. Addressing the situation head-on is the fairest approach.
  • Use open-ended questions. For example, you could ask, “How did you think that meeting went?” instead of a question about a particular person. If someone shares about a coworker’s actions, be very respectful, not sharing the information with the employee in question to maintain trust with your direct reports.

Healthy communication in the workplace

Great managers know what not to ask of their employees. Instead, they build cultures of healthy communication and constructive feedback that their teams highly value by:

  • Frequently sharing their expectations
  • Planning regular check-ins with direct reports
  • Tailoring communication so that it resonates with each employee

Looking for more ways to be a better boss, manager or all-around leader? Download our free magazine, The Insperity guide to leadership and management

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