What Your Reports Say (and What They Really Mean)

What Your Reports Say (and What They Really Mean)

If only people could just say what they mean. Unfortunately, in the workplace, absolute candor is often a ticket to the unemployment line. As a result, even the most intuitive and caring manager can find themselves flying blind.

If it feels like you’re the last person to know when your employees need something – whether it’s more money, a reality check, or insight into how the company works – don’t feel bad. Understanding the possible unspoken subtext of what your reports are saying out loud can help you foster real communication and head off issues before they derail productivity.

How To Tell What Your Reports Really Mean

Here’s what your team might be trying to tell you:

They Say: “I need a raise.”

They Mean: “I feel underpaid.”

Hopefully, your reports are a little more elegant and data-driven in their approach, but no matter how they put their request, the bottom line is that they feel like they deserve more money. And they might, but the real message here is that you can do more to communicate your company’s compensation policies, as well as to make sure that your employees are being paid what they’re worth.

Every worker at the organization should know how compensation is determined, when raises and promotions are awarded, and what they need to do to get top dollar and a chance to move up the ladder. If you don’t know the answer to those questions, it’s time to talk to HR about find out. If they don’t know, this is a signal to everyone at your company that they need to think hard about compensation strategy.

In this, you’re protecting the organization as well as your team. Companies that rely on workers to negotiate salary during the hiring process or the annual review are companies that wind up paying women and minorities less. That’s not just wrong; it also potentially exposes your organization to bad PR and legal action.

On that note, if you have pull, it’s a good idea to get ahead of this issue by advocating for a salary equity review to make sure your company is paying employees equally for equal work.

They Say: “I don’t have time for X project.”

They Mean: “I perceive myself to be overworked.”

Note that we say “perceive.” Your report may indeed have too much on his plate, and you want to go into the discussion open to that possibility, but he may also have time management issues. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s lazy or bad at scheduling himself; it could mean that his time is split between too many projects (and thus project managers) or that his job involves monitoring social media and he finds it hard to disengage to attend to other tasks, or any one of a number of issues.

The first thing to do is to ask him to tell you how he spends his day. The goal here is not to micromanage his time by asking for a minute-by-minute diary – although you might suggest he keep one for a few days, for his own use – but to determine where his time goes, generally. You’re looking for percentages here, e.g. “10 percent of my time goes to managing the Twitter feed.”

As his manager, you’ll have a better idea of which projects are priorities, and working together, you can realign his efforts with the goals that should be at the top of his list.

They Say: “I’d be happy to take on X project.”

They Mean: This one is tricky, because it could mean exactly that – your report is interested in the project, has the bandwidth, and wants to take on something else. But before you jump for joy, make sure he really has time. Don’t let your team member over-commit.

This statement can also mean that he’s looking toward a promotion down the line and wants to make sure he’s seen as a team player. That’s the right move, but only if he really can deliver. In any case, you need to know his goals, so having a conversation about this is a good idea on many levels.

They Say: “Why did Jane get that promotion?”

They Mean: “Why didn’t I get that promotion?!”

Again, transparency and communication are your friend. Your team should know what the company values and what the possible career paths are for workers who stay on for a few years. Also, you should know what your employees are aiming for, in terms of their own career goals.

Having regular one-on-one meetings is helpful, as is having the kind of rapport where your reports feel safe confiding in you about their professional aims. If your report surprises you by complaining about a raise or promotion you didn’t know he wanted, you both have some work to do to get to a point where you’re communicating openly.

They Say: “I don’t think I’m ready for a promotion.”

They Mean: “I don’t want that job” or “I don’t want to manage people” or “I want that job desperately, but I don’t feel qualified.”

It can’t be overstated: regular communication is the most important tool for the manager-report relationship. You need to know where your teammate wants to go in his career. Otherwise, you could wind up trying to force a square peg into a round hole or allowing a great resource to go underutilized, due to lack of confidence or skills development.

Suggested Reading: Best Tips for Writing Emails | 7 Ways to Get the Boss on Your Side

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  • February 1, 2022