The disturbing reason why 70% of US managers are scared to death to talk to their employees

By Jack J. Kelly


There are some basic, standard issue, non-controversial tasks that are required of managers. One of the core requirements is to offer feedback and, when necessary, constructive criticism to their staff.  It seems obvious that an employee deserves to be congratulated for a job well done, or provided, in a polite manner, ways to improve performance if needed. Pretty straight forward stuff so far, right?

In light of the above, it was disconcerting to learn about the results of a fairly recent Harris Poll. The survey was conducted of  over 2,000 managers and the results were shocking! About 37% of managers admitted that they found it hard to give negative feedback to workers about their performance.  Roughly  20% of supervisors said they struggled to share their own weaknesses  and another 20% hated being the voice of the company. An astounding amount of managers (nearly 70%)  claimed that the hardest part about talking to employees is actually talking to them.

If the study is accurate, it has dire consequences. How could employees feel engaged and productive at work if they are deprived of meaningful feedback, guidance, and advice about their work?

According to the commentary surrounding the study, fear of hurting people’s feelings and dealing with potential drama holds managers back from offering criticisms.    The poll and accompanying articles referencing the poll offered bland advice for hiring such as the following:

  • Be direct, but kind.
  • Listen.
  • Don’t make it personal.
  • Be present.
  • Inspire greatness.


I think the poll and other reports on the poll completely missed the mark. According to my own informal poll of hiring managers (I was curious and had conversations with dozens of hiring managers – so take this with a grain of salt), I received a very different response. The main reasons why managers do not want to offer feedback or critics of their employees is out of fear. In light of the current environment, managers are frighten to death of being accused of racism , sexism, ageism, and anything and everything else. They are worried about their own personal exposure and liabilities. The supervisors are afraid if  a bad review is given, the recipient will immediately jump to the conclusion that is was due to some bias and not because of their performance. It is easier to not say anything at all, according to many people.

Clearly, this is a serious issue, considering some of the possible ramifications. With this in mind, won’t there be a male manager who may elect not to hire a woman as he is scared of one day being accused of sexual harassment? You can insert any other type of person into this equation.

Usually with my articles, I offer  ways to overcome problems. This time, sadly, I am stumped. I would, however, be open to your thoughts and will gladly share them in a follow-up piece.

I don’t have an answer, but these are serious concerns.


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