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Leadership Development > Talent Management

5 Things Never to Say to Your Employees

What Not to SayGoonies never say die

Jon Bon Jovi never says goodbye

And great bosses never say the following five things to their employees:

  1. “You’re lucky to work here.” (Are they, though?) A statement like this is dictatorial, threatening and clearly meant to incite fear, which isn’t good for anyone. “Fear-based management does not create the best results—that’s all there is to it,” says Katherine Crowley, co-author of Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: The Ultimate Guide to Managing Your Boss. “If someone is afraid all the time of losing their job, they’re not going to give you their best work.” Word.
  2. “It is what it is.” (Is it, though?) A statement like this implies that there’s no room for change or flexibility in an organization – even when the organization is badly in need of it. Not only is it frustrating as hell for employees to hear this, but it can also hinder your organization from moving forward. As demonstrated by the growing popularity of “hack days”, being open to new ideas and empowering your employees to explore new business solutions not only increases morale, but it’s also good for business.
  3. “That’s not my fault.” Unless you’re the pope, you’re not infallible, so if you make a mistake, own up to it. While you may think admitting a mistake reveals a weakness, it’s actually a sign of strength, argues leadership expert Doug Guthrie in a recent article for Forbes. “What is more powerful than an individual who can stand in front of his or her employees and admit that the failure was his or hers?” Guthrie writes. “What better way to gain the respect and admiration of your team than to take the blame and responsibility on yourself rather than calling out someone on your team? By admitting you are wrong, by taking blame, you will have a group of more committed followers.”
  4. “That’s none of your business.” Whether you’re trying to protect your employees or yourself, more often than not, keeping employees completely in the dark can do more harm than good. Great leaders need to be candid with their employees, and as transparent as possible. If you fail to practice total candor, you will lose the trust of your team, your leadership and your customers,” says Jim Welch, author of Grow Now: 8 Essential Steps to Flex Your Leadership Muscles.
  5. “Did you get my email?” (As in, the email that was sent at 3 a.m., and said as soon as the employee walks in the door.) It’s cool if you want to work 24/7, but you can’t expect the same of your employees. Putting pressure on your employees to constantly be connected to the office can infringe on their work/life balance, ultimately stirring up feelings of resentment and leading to burnout.

What would you add to this list?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.

I would add "That's not my problem" or "That's an HR problem." The employee is coming to you because you are their boss, and if they have a problem, you have a problem. You can replace it with, "That's a great question, and I can contact HR for you."


I would add the phrase, "Why did you not do . . . ?"  You don't really want to hear why someone didn't do something.  You just want them to do it.  This attempt to soften a directive comes across as nagging and irritating.  Just ask straight up, "Please send that in by Tuesday."  Or, "Next time, be sure to remember to give the full product demo."  Then ask for their committment.  "Can I count on you to do that?"


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