Your employees have a lot of thoughts. Most of those thoughts they don't share, especially with you.
At times their silence can be a good thing, especially where your ego -- or their employment status -- is concerned. But their silence also may keep you from understanding what your employees really think -- and what they really need from you.
Especially if they're thinking the following:
1. "You say you respect me, so give me something important to do."
Assigning an employee a critical task is a definite sign of respect. Do it as often as you can.
2. "You say you trust me, so give me something important to do -- and let me decide the best way to do it."
It's only natural to tell your employees how to do their jobs. Still, when you assign a project without providing a lot of direction your employees instantly know you respect their abilities and trust their judgment. People appreciate respect; they love trust.
3. "Please don't tell me all about your personal life . . ."
Talking about subjects that aren't work related helps build a personal relationship, but many bosses fall back on talking about themselves when they don't know the other person well. Employees, especially new employees, have no interest in hearing about your go-to topics like your last vacation or your antique collection or your beach house.
New employees want to feel like they belong, but more importantly they want to know how they are doing.
Long-term employees want to know you care about them; talking about yourself only shows you care about yourself.
4. ". . . because it's obvious you don't really care about my personal life."
Walking up and asking an employee a generic question like, "Hey, how are your, um, kids?" or, "Are you doing anything fun after work?" or, "Hey, who do you think will win the NBA championship this year?" comes across as forced and insincere, at least to your employees.
Either take the time to get to know your employees well enough so you can have a decent conversation or just stick to work-related subjects. (Employees definitely prefer "all business" to "pseudo-personal.")
One way to show employees you care about them as people is to follow the 20 percent rule: When you're talking to employees, never talk more than 20 percent of the time.
The single best way to show you care is to listen.
5. "Can't you see I'm really busy?"
Here's what happens. You stop by to talk, the employee stops what they're doing to chat with you, and when you walk away they're behind and have to catch up.
Employees want to talk to you, but they have work to do, too. Sometimes there's an easy answer, especially if the employee's job involves physical tasks: Help out while you talk. Not only will your employee appreciate a little help, your conversation will be less forced. In other settings, pick your spots carefully.
Never interrupt an employee who is busy simply because today is the day you decided to "check in with the troops."
6. "Actually, I would like to work here a long time."
The average person switches jobs a number of times before they're 30. Some leave for money, but many leave because they can't stand their boss.
No matter what your industry, high employee turnover doesn't have to be a fact of employment life. Find out why employees leave and address the causes. It's stressful to change jobs, so most employees won't start job searching until you give them a reason to.
Watch, listen, take smart actions. Do your job right, and most of your employees will want stay.
7. "That gift card is nice, but a simple 'thanks' goes a really long way."
Sure, every time you hand out paychecks you're implicitly saying thanks, but not really.
Find reasons to thank your employees as often as you can. Look for an accomplishment, however small or fleeting, and express your appreciation. "Thanks for taking care of that difficult customer." "Thanks for jumping in and helping Mike." "Thanks for letting me know we have a problem in the warehouse; I hadn't realized orders were consistently shipping late."
Saying thanks benefits both of you: The employee feels appreciated, and you get a great way to start a meaningful conversation.
Jeff Haden is a writer, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer and contributing editor for Inc. His books include TransForm: Dramatically Improve Your Career, Business, Relationships, and Life . . . One Simple Step at a Time.