Actions Trump Your Words: 5 Messages to Avoid in Bringing Employees Back to Work

Returning to the workplace after COVID 19 shutdown may be the most critical point in your business. Every business needs to make money but be careful about what you say and how you act in bringing your team back to the workplace. Given that most employees, according to Gallup, are disengaged, assume they will hear a different message than you intend.

In this post, we will discuss the five messages that will disengage even the most loyal team members if your actions do not match your words.

Murfield Coaching works with individuals and organizations to solve significant problems through disruptive thinking. One of the most prevalent but overlooked problems is poor communication that disengages team members.

Team Member Pain

We are all on edge. This COVID virus and the subsequent shutdown has created fear and frustration. We want our lives normal again. Unfortunately, the forecasts don’t predict normalcy for at least a few months. Returning to work brings a bit of relief but also amplifies that pain that will be voiced through a number of fears.

Many are afraid of being too close to others. They also fear being ostracized by those that are not afraid. Some have legitimate health concerns and fear what the virus could do to them. They also may fear losing their job. There are many ways

Making the transition back into public and back into the workplace will be critical for building and maintaining an engaged team. It will require considerable compassion from you as a leader.

Compassionate Leadership

Compassion is coming alongside another to help alleviate their pain. Compassionate leaders notice the pain of the team, then feel their pain from the team member’s perspective. Those two elements create empathy. While empathy is nice, it does not motivate workers. Compassion adds strategic thinking and action alleviate those pains. The four steps are notice, feel, think, and act.

Compassionate Communication

We often communicate to reduce uncertainty, and there is a lot of uncertainty right now.

Communication is defined as “negotiating shared meaning between two very different people.” In our aim to help alleviate their pain, we need to understand how different we are and how much we need to listen to understand their pain. We also need to be aware of how our words may misunderstood if we have not built trust in the past.

Disengaged employees are created by leaders who haven’t taken the time to help alleviate their pain.

What you DO will say far more than the words you use. The actions you take will tell every member of your team whether you value them or if they are simply cogs in the organizational machine. If you want an engaged culture, weigh your words and actions very carefully.

As you bring your team back to the workplace, consider each of the five statements very carefully. Disengaged employees will hear something totally different than you wanted. You may need to change the words you use and the actions you take.

First, “It’s Your Choice.”

The message you want them to hear: “We care about you and don’t want you harmed. It’s your choice whether to return to work now or later.” You want your team to know you care and don’t want to push them into a decision.

The message disengaged employees hear: “Sure it is. You may say the choice is up to us but will there be repercussions for choosing to stay home or deviate from returning when you say? I’m not sure I can trust you.”

If your organizational culture expects team members to sacrifice for the good of the organization, they don’t really have a choice. They know you don’t mean what you say. To do anything other than what you want means choosing to look for another job.

The only way, “it’s your choice” is valuable is if you have already established that the team member has a legitimate choice and there will be no repercussions for doing what they think is best.

Say instead: “Given your situation, what do you think is best to do?”

Second, “You are a valuable part of our team.”

The message you want them to hear: “The most productive teams collaborate and sacrifice to achieve incredible results. I’m assuming you want to be on a winning team.”

The message disengaged employees hear: “You don’t really care about me, you just care about results. So what do you want me to do now? What sacrifice do you want today?”

Developing an engaged team requires trust. Once the team trusts each other, they will gladly sacrifice. But requiring sacrifice without trust breeds contempt. What do your team members hear when they hear this?

Say instead: “We value the work you do and what you bring to the team. However, we want you to be comfortable returning to the workplace. What concerns do you have?”

Third, “We have your best interest in mind.”

The message you want them to hear: “We care about you. You can come to us with any of your concerns.”

The message disengaged employees hear: “Yeah right. You have never had my best interest in mind. You just care about how much work you can get out of me.”

If your organizational culture has never had the best interest of your employees in mind, it is best to avoid this phrase. Earn the right to say it. Feel their pain from their perspective.

Say instead: “What concerns do you have about returning to the workplace?”

Fourth, “You don’t need to worry.”

The message you want them to hear: “We have it under control. You don’t need to worry about anything.”

The message disengaged employees hear: “That’s why I worry. You have proven you don’t have it under control and when it goes bad, as it usually does, guess who has to pick up the pieces. Me. Yeah, I’m worried, as from our history, I should be.”

Telling another not to worry is dismissing their pain. Very few trust another just because they say, “You can trust me.” Actually, if you have to say it, they probably cannot trust you. Trust is earned.

Say instead: “What are you most concerned about?”

Fifth, “We think it’s best.”

The message you want them to hear: “Our management team has this under control and you don’t need

The message disengaged employees hear: “Ok, this is yet another time where you make the decisions and we don’t have a say. We should just obey you and assume everything will turn out fine. But you won’t pay the price if I get sick or have to find daycare for my kids who are home from school. You haven’t even considered my concerns yet you claim to know what’s best for me. What do you think I am, an idiot?”

Claiming to know what is best for another is anything but compassionate.

Say instead: “What do you think is best for you?”

Communication is not an exact science. Leverage your leadership power by matching your words and actions.

(c) 2020 Murfield International, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

Dr. Murfield holds a PhD in Communication and works with leaders and organizations to solve significant problems with innovative thinking. What problem is frustrating you? Contact us today.

Check out my two podcasts, “Holy Crap, How’d They Do That?” and “Trends, Bends & Opportunities.”

Learn how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just-released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Click here to purchase your copy of “Leading with the Power of Compassion.”

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