Opinion: Are you listening? Or has your employee already left?

“I’m having trouble at home. I’m worried that my elderly mother can no longer look after herself and I’m spending my lunch breaks and commute searching for care homes. It’s really beginning to affect my work and…”

By the third sentence, I bet the managers among you would have gone into ‘management mode’ and you’d be busy trying to find solutions to this employee’s problems. While the cogs are turning, chances are you would have missed the final paragraph, at which point she has answered her own query and has made a quick exit from the building.

It takes concentration and energy to really listen to someone and see the world through their eyes, without jumping in to give advice or start talking about your own experiences, and this is an area where managers typically fall down. In the corporate world, managers are trained to design solutions, problem-solve and come up with the right answer. This means that when an employee entering into an emotional crisis starts talking about a situation that’s making them stressed or anxious, the manager’s typical response isn’t to listen to what they’re saying in any depth, but often to sympathise: “Chin up, we’re all in the same boat,” or start offering advice: “If I were you I would…”

Although the manager might think they’re being helpful, what they think might be a good step for the employee to take could in fact do more harm than good.

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