What Do Employees Want Most From Their Managers?

5 Characteristics an Honest Manager Exhibits

employee having conversation with her boss
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Employees leave managers, not jobs, but what can a boss do to make employees happy? It's not always as obvious as you might think. Lots of managers think that they've fulfilled their duty by providing a paycheck, but that's not enough if you want a happy and productive workplace.

However, there's one attribute that employees want more than anything else. If you have this attribute as a manager, you'll find yourself rated in the top tier of bosses.

What is that one characteristic? Honesty.

Honesty seems like such a little thing. People tend to think of it in terms such as the cashier gave you an extra $20 when she handed you your change, and you gave it back. Good job, you were honest. Kudos.

But, honesty as a manager is a greater challenge and much more difficult than giving back money that doesn't belong to you. Here is what honesty looks like in a manager who is a boss.

An Honest Manager Gives Real Feedback

Honest managers let their employees know when their performance is good and when it is terrible. Honest bosses say “great job!” and they don't steal credit. Honest managers also say, “Here's where you made mistakes and here is what you need to do to fix them.”

Many managers don't give great feedback because they either don't think it's important or they don't want to deal with the problems. It's not easy to tell an employee, “you're not doing a great job,” but it's critical that you do so. Your best employees cherish feedback that will help them improve as employees. They know that their improvement will provide them with positive career opportunities.

This does not mean honest managers are rude to their employees. In fact, rudeness is a terrible attribute for any manager. Honest managers give honest feedback but in a way that helps the employees improve. If improvement is not possible (and it's not for all employees), they aren't afraid to terminate an employee.

The other employees appreciate knowing that bad behavior isn't tolerated. When they see that an ineffective employee is fired, the morale of your contributing employees improves.

An Honest Manager Provides Clear Expectations

An honest manager doesn't give surprises in a year-end performance appraisal. She sets expectations and follows up on them regularly so that the employees always know where they stand. They know what their team and personal goals are and how they are doing. It makes for a comfortable environment when there is no guessing at what someone should or should not be doing.

An Honest Manager Admits Mistakes

No boss is perfect, just like no employee is perfect. An honest manager is willing to take her lumps when she makes a mistake. She says words like, “I'm sorry” and “Thanks for letting me know. I'm glad that the error is fixable before it goes to the client.” Honest managers don't ever shoot the messenger.

Admitting mistakes can go against your natural instinct to protect yourself, but it's a critical skill for an honest manager. Making mistakes is also natural, so when you admit to them you shouldn't find that too difficult. It's especially important for a manager to admit her mistakes to her bosses.

When an employee makes a mistake, the manager needs to take ownership as well. It's the manager's job to train and develop the employees and to monitor their work, so an employee's mistake qualifies as a manager's mistake.

This doesn't mean that an employee shouldn't face consequences for her own mistakes, but a manager faces those as well. A good manager accepts that as part of the job.

An Honest Manager Tells Employees What Is Going On

Lots of bosses say that they have open door policies, but they seem to think the door only goes one way—you can tell them things—but they never tell you things. Yes, there are secrets that a boss has to keep from her employees, but not all of the time and not often. In most situations, employees should know what is going on and why things are changing or staying the same.

Don't hide bad financials from employees, and don't hide the good ones either. Sometimes bosses don't want their employees to know that financials are tight because they fear the employees may leave for greener pastures. That's a legitimate concern, but it also prevents the employees from helping you solve the problems.

Some bosses also don't want employees to know that cash flow is good, for fear employees will want bonuses and raises. But, why shouldn't your employees benefit from the wealth they've helped create?

An Honest Manager Keeps Your Word Following Honest Interviews

If you've said John can work two days a week at home when you hired him, John should be able to work from home two days a week. This seems obvious, but often hiring managers will exaggerate the benefits and understate the problems in the job interview. 

That flexibility and the good bonuses suddenly turn into an inflexible schedule and a holiday ham. Don't do that. Go ahead and tell job candidates the bad parts of the job and only offer flexibility if you really mean it.

Everyone knows that jobs have good parts and bad parts, so don't be scared to share some of the challenges that a person will face if they accept the role. An honest boss will get the right person into the role because that person will be willing to do the good parts and the bad parts of the job. But, he has to know about them to make a proper employment decision.

You can build an honest and respectful relationship that features honest and transparent communication with the employees who report to you, Accepting and communicating the fact that you aren't perfect either will go a long way toward retaining enthusiastic, engaged employees. The leaders set the pace through their expectations and example.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.