Leadership Advice

8 ways managers make people feel unimportant

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

There are important conversations going on in workplaces today about employee engagement. 

What does — or doesn’t — cause people to give their best efforts, brainstorm solutions, and look out for others?  What makes them feel they truly belong on the team and are proud to be there?

Fair pay is important, of course. But there are plenty of people who leave good-paying jobs because they don’t feel they are valued in other ways that truly matter. They don’t feel trusted. They don’t feel supported. They don’t feel respected. It’s not that they need to feel supremely important at work. They just don’t want to feel unimportant.

Managers play a key role in whether people feel that their contributions matter; whether they are seen as valuable or dispensable. It happens in everyday interactions, which ultimately add up.

Here are 8 ways managers make people feel unimportant:

  1. Frequently cancel our meetings, arrive late, or unprepared
  2. Re-do my work without explaining why
  3. Talk over me in meetings; cut me off
  4. Routinely ask others for input before asking me
  5. Fail to follow up on an issue we discussed
  6. Postpone my review or let a renewable assignment or contract run down to the very last minute before talking with me about my status
  7. Create change that affects me negatively without discussing it with me before or after implementing it
  8. Assign me a role, ostensibly to help solve a problem, but then neglect to give me adequate resources or support to do it well

Please note that I didn’t write about obvious nefarious things like lying, harassment, or wage theft. I shared examples of behaviors that routinely happen in organizations. They take place when managers lack the emotional intelligence to see the world through the eyes of their employees.

Those managers may assume that their workload, their desire for efficiency, or their perfectionistic streak justifies those behaviors. Their actions inevitably continue if employees don’t feel empowered to tell them how small they can make people feel.

So let me speak for the staffers: Please give that list of eight behaviors a second read. Make sure I haven’t described you in any way. But don’t stop there, because you don’t make the ultimate decision on that. Your employees do. 

If they’re truly important to you, you’ll find out if they see you there. And if you make it safe for them to tell you that they do, you’ll apologize and improve. 

It’s more than important. It’s essential for everyone’s success.


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