Lack of Employee Communication: Why Managers Can’t Listen

A good manager is understanding of setbacks and receptive to new ideas. Their job isn’t just about overseeing the work of others, it’s about removing roadblocks, rethinking problematic parts of the job, and most importantly, listening to their employees.

Although being “open to suggestions” is part of every good manager’s persona, many employees feel that they’re not being heard. This is often voiced as one of the most common work-related complaints of all time:

“My boss just doesn’t listen.”

While this may be true in some cases, the problem isn’t always that “the boss doesn’t listen,” frequently it can be that the employee doesn’t talk. A recent employee communication study based on the Cornell National Social Survey identified exactly what makes employees hold their tongue:

Many fear exactly what you’d expect; that speaking out about a work-related problem can have consequences that threaten their standing and job security. But a significant amount (over 25%) keep their mouth shut not because they fear retaliation, but because they’d rather just save their breath. In other words, no matter how valid their complaint may be, they just don’t think that anyone would listen or care.

As a result, employees don’t just avoid blowing the whistle on serious scandals; they also steer clear of smaller, easily resolvable problems, many of which would benefit both the individual and the group if addressed.

Clearly an environment that isn’t open to suggestions is missing many chances for improvement. But, whose fault is it that these opportunities aren’t being seized? Is it the manager who is not listening, or the employee who is not talking?

Before you think “my boss doesn’t listen,” make sure that you’ve given them the chance to hear you.

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Peter is Vice President of Digital Marketing at an investment holdings company in Washington DC and Co-Founder at True North.


  1. Ben on the 14th July

    As a manager I would be really interested to hear how people encourage communication. How do you convince those people who don’t talk, to talk?

  2. Heather Villa on the 14th July

    Great post Peter.

    I have a suggestion for Ben.

    I’ve put out a questionnaire to my staff asking questions about the company and work environment. I allowed them to turn them in without putting their names on it. This worked really well in allowing them to express themselves from an anonymous stand point. I was then ableto see what issues seemed to be most prevalent and devise changes to help improve staff moral. Once some changes went into effect, I found that the staff members were more open to coming to me directly with any concerns or comments they had.

    Basically it opened the lines of communication.

  3. Rondal on the 14th July

    I think it all starts with the work environment and overall company culture. Its often much harder to speak up in a smaller company where one might feel “trapped” by the limit of space or control over their duties. I read a recent interview with Justin Kan ( in which he expressed that his main role as a manager was to “help other people do their jobs well.”

    I think that if this isn’t clear to your employees either by your actions, demeanor, or the way you speak to them that’s were the division begins. That doesn’t mean managers should be pushovers, but there should definitely be a sense of responsibility there.

  4. J on the 30th July

    A senior manager flat out told me last week, “Please keep your ideas and opinions to yourself and just follow sales procedures.”

    Today, another one micromanaged my accounts and pointed out that I’m not adhering to a rule to reach to my clients a certain amount of times within a specified time period, yet the time period allotted hadn’t even expired yet.

    My CEO has always been very supportive and insisted that he has an open door policy, but lately even he’s been unapproachable when it comes to employee dissatisfaction of any kind.

    Overall, I like my job and the company I work for; but I do admit that my morale is down and enthusiasm has diminished.

    Just thought I’d share and maybe get some insight from others on how to approach the situation. Should I just suck it up since senior management clearly doesn’t want to hear from me? Or, should I go a tier up to my CEO and talk with him about the situation?

    • Rondal on the 30th July

      I’m in a similar situation, J. albeit in a much smaller office environment where I generally enjoy my co-workers, my boss, and my job but lately things have seemed lackluster.

      The more I’ve thought about it though, I’ve come to the conclusion that despite better appearances I can only imagine what (at least) business owners must be going through in this economy. While they may not be in the worst shape financially, I can appreciate the level of risk and pressure to succeed in markets that are only becoming more inundated with competition and lower sales.

      IMO I would still try to speak with my CEO/manager/boss and express things to him in this way. If you feel things aren’t resolved amicably that’s when I would consider either a career change or (at the very least) a change in venue.

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