That one quiet guy just left the office. He was carrying a box with a bunch of office stuff in it. Photos. A plant. A foam finger, for some reason. What's up with that?
Did he quit?
Did he get fired?
I bet he got fired.
I heard things weren't going well. Maybe this is a layoff.
I wonder if we're going to start layoffs.
Well, I'm secure, because I provide a great service. Indispensable.
I think. I think I'm secure.
Maybe I'm not. I mean, a layoff is a layoff and who really is secure?
I wonder if I'm next.
I wonder who is next.
I just know it.
Ugh, my stomach hurts. This is stressing me out. I'd better go home.
NO! I'd better push through to show how valuable I am.
Suck it up or get fired. Here we go.
Here's something you know: people are interesting creatures! We will take a tiny bit of information and build a whole scenario around it using nothing but our imagination, and our worst tendencies.
Maybe that guy was let go. Maybe he found his dream job elsewhere. Maybe he's starting a company. Maybe he's going to do an interview after having won the lottery. No one knows for sure just by looking at him what his situation is. But that doesn't stop most of us from trying to fill in the gaps. And, we usually do it with a worst case scenario, or at least a less-than-rosy one.
Imagine a situation that is less dramatic than someone leaving. Maybe it's rather simplistic like doing a new project in the next quarter or a modest reorganization. If all leadership shares is "we're doing a new project and you'll be expected to give it your all," there are a lot of questions. What's the new project? What's the scope? Give it my all? What am I giving NOW? I'm not even going to start your spine shivers by going down the re-org path, I'm sure, Dear Reader, you get the point.
When people don't have information, they tend to fill the gaps with bad news. What is there to lose by a leader who shares as much information as they are able to? The very process of sharing can have multiple positive outcomes:
builds trust - the leader is saying they trust their team to know what to do and why
builds confidence - people who know their leader values their contributions feel more confident about their contributions. It's not a negative view of ego, it's a positive view of competence.
empowerment - when people have information they need, they are empowered to take action. If they spend their time trying to navigate chasms in what is understood, they will rarely take a risk for fear of failing and falling.
engagement - teams who have trust, confidence, and empowerment are engaged. They are engaged with the work, they are engaged with the process, and most importantly, they are engaged with one another.
supportive culture - if your team has gotten to this point, congratulations! A team that has psychological safety to ask questions, fill any gaps in understanding, be trusted with all of the available information and engage one another to do the best work possible will absolutely meet or surpass goals and provide excellent service to clients, customers, and one another.
There are plenty of examples of poor leadership in this area. This is one reason employee engagement is reportedly over 80% disengaged at work. When leaders don't trust people with information, they don't trust people. Full stop. During a particularly rocky situation, it got out that leadership didn't want to share details with the employees because they didn't want to "scare the herd." If this is how leadership treats people, this is exactly how they will act because they...
DON'T HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION
WILL DOOMSDAY EVERYTHING AS A SUBSTITUTE.
In rough situations, people don't take bad news and then throw a parade for being spoken to like adults. They get to have emotions about that news. However, if they're told just enough to draw an uninformed conclusion. They will do that. And they will likely disengage. And it will take a lot more to get them to trust leadership again, if they ever do.
Treat employees like adults.
Why are you here, see #1
This is one of those recommendations that is easy to say AND easy to do. When we treat employees like the whole adults they are, they are more engaged, trusting, and ready to help one another out. For the team that they help build every day.