Are you struggling to motivate your employees? Do you constantly chase after them to get their timesheets in on time or wonder why they aren’t more focused or driven? Is absenteeism, poor morale and failure to meet targets a common occurrence?

Whether it’s your new freelancer, that bearded enigma constantly lurking near the coffee machine, the contractor who keeps avoiding your calls, or your permanent staff who continually check their emails, every five minutes…poor employee productivity can have disastrous consequences for your business.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you knew what was going on in your employees’ heads…so you could fix the problem? Well, we can help! Here are 10 secrets your staff desperately want you to know.

Secret 1: “I’d work a heck of a lot harder if you just showed me some appreciation”

We get it, you’re busy. You don’t have time to dish out praise left right and centre or host an elaborate awards ceremony every month. But your staff are your greatest asset and showing them a little love every now and again is crucial to creating a happy, motivated workforce.

Recognition doesn’t have to be a massive affair either. Here at Xero we appreciate employees on the regular by singing their praise on Yammer, our internal chat network, or simply getting up to go clap them on the back.

So what should you do?

  • Take some time to celebrate little wins; for example a public shout-out in your team meeting, a handwritten thank you note or even a gift voucher (the more personalised the better) can be all be great options to help your staff feel valued.
  • Encourage others to do the same. This is how you’ll build a supportive, positive environment in your workplace.

Secret 2: “I don’t want you to try to be my friend”

Remember that Friday drinks where your staff were trying to let loose…you tagged along, and the night quickly degraded into small talk and awkward silences?


Friendly, supportive employee-manager relationships are one thing, but beingfriends with your staff is another. Your employees need to vent sometimes, and constantly being around their manager means they’re continually reminded of work, can’t quite let loose and be themselves.

So what should you do?

  • Read the signs; be aware of your team’s body language. Is it closed off and stand-offish or open and welcoming?
  • Wait for an invite before jumping into a staff event
  • Accept that there’s a limit to your relationship and it’s probably there for a good reason…! Think twice before adding them on Facebook or other social networks – it can be up there with a mum friend request in terms of awkwardness!

Secret 3: “I want a bit more flexibility to fit around my lifestyle”

Gone are the days when you can dictate your staff work 9 to 5. More and more employees are looking for better work arrangements, and companies which don’t cater for this will quickly suffer.

So what should you do?

  • Provide the option of working remotely
  • Negotiate a happy middle ground e.g. 2 days in the office and 3 days off-site
  • Take advantage of technology that makes this a reality, whether it’s migrating to a cloud based project management system like WorkflowMax, or utilising communication tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, Slack etc.
  • Educate and empower your staff on all the tools available at their disposal which will help make “flexible working” a reality (check out Stay on Task Working from Home: 8 Powerful Time Tracking Apps for some tips and tools!)
  • And finally… be supportive of whatever is going on in their lives – whether they’ve moved further away from the CBD or they’re using their lunch breaks to train for a marathon.

Secret 4: “Your feedback style really sucks”

It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator – Maria Sharapova, Brain Pickings

Focusing solely on the negative in a performance review is never a good idea. You don’t want to leave your employees to deal with the crushing weight of everything they need to improve before the next review rolls around or set such unrealistic goals that they feel disheartened and depressed thinking about whether they’ll even be able to accomplish them!

So what should you do?

  • Use a “Commend, Recommend, Commend” formula, which sandwiches the negative in between two positive affirmations – for example, “Dave, I love how you’ve taken ownership of Project X, but I’d like to see you bounce ideas around with the team a bit more before you go with a particular idea. On the whole great work – the client’s loved how you’ve kept them in the loop the whole way.
  • Practice active listening
  • Provide a safe place where they can share what’s on their mind
  • Make sure you let them know where they can find support. Make sure you let them know where they can find support. Xero offers staff access to the EAP programme, which offers employees access to emotional or physical support (at no extra charge) for a wide range of issues such as stress and pressure, depression and anxiety, bullying and harassment etc.

Secret 5: “Stop sugar-coating things”

Do you try and make everything sound nice and fluffy, glossing over bad feedback or failed projects? Do you pretend everything is perfect or provide only half truths to staff?

If you really want to create a thriving workplace environment where your staff are motivated, productive and happy, you need to build trust and create transparency.

So what should you do?

  • Be genuine in your communications. Be straight up about stuff (while being tactful).
  • Make sure you bring staff along on the journey, continually share progress/updates and milestones and check-in with them on the regular!
  • Host group brainstorming/planning sessions so everyone has an input
  • Keep an open door policy and encourage open, honest communication

Secret 6: “I hate that you have favourites”

In one of his recent stand-ups, Canadian-Indian comedian Russell Peters joked about parents loving their children equally, but liking one better than the other. Unfortunately in the workplace, this can often be true. But if as a boss you show favouritism towards a particular employee or team, it will quickly breed resentment, make other staff unhappy, competitive or downright keen to leave.

So what should you do?

  • Try to create project teams with a diverse set of skills – that way you won’t be tempted to push similar kinds of projects to the same people.
  • Encourage staff to take the initiative and put their hand up if they want to pursue a project
  • Conduct regular feedback/surveys to check the over-riding mood/sentiment in your organisation
  • Offer opportunities to upskill your staff in directions they want to pursue

Secret 7: “I don’t feel like I belong to something bigger”

If employees feel like they’re simply “pushing pixels” and not working towards a bigger goal, or making a meaningful impact in some way, this can quickly lead to a lack of effort, enthusiasm… and all those issues we talked about at the start.

So what should you do?

  • Have an induction for new starters; this is a great opportunity to introduce your organisation’s history, culture, purpose and values.
  • Shout about your organisational mission – don’t have it tucked away somewhere where no one remembers what it is! For instance, make a manifesto, slap some posters around your office, have it clearly outlined on your website and make sure staff understand what it’s all about!
  • Connect projects to the bigger company goals – so staff know exactly how their individual tasks contribute to the bigger picture!

Secret 8: “I feel stressed all the time…I just want some balance!”

The lack of a good work life balance can quickly take its toll on staff; if you’ve been noticing a lot of zombie faces, excessive coffee-consumption or more frequent dipping into the liquor cabinet when working late nights, it’s time to assess what’s going on. Because an environment like that isn’t sustainable and will quickly induce creative burnout.

So what should you do?

  • Encourage staff to take their lunch breaks and yes, venture outside.
  • Host a wellness week (some ideas include nutrition seminars, breakfast on the house and a quick bootcamp)
  • Offer flexible working hours and the option of working remotely.
  • Express lunchtime yoga sessions
  • Try mindfulness and meditation education

Secret 9: “Timesheets are such a pain!”

Okay, you probably already had an inkling that your team hates filling out timesheets, but if you’re using a primitive system to capture staff’s time, such as paper forms or even clunky spreadsheets, more time is actually wasted chasing staff down or trying to remember what time was spent on what jobs. It’s hugely inefficient.

So what should you do?

Make time-tracking as easy as possible by considering online time tracking options, such as WorkflowMax, which apart from an all-in-one project management system, has 6 different time tracking options available.

Secret 10: “Quit micro-managing me”

Your staff don’t want their manager breathing down their neck at every turn; they want autonomy. But if you constantly hover over them, reminding them about deadlines and checking in on progress several times a day, you’re likely to stifle their creativity, making them feel like they have no room to grow and develop.

So what should you do?

  • Trust your staff; you’ve hired talented individuals to do a specific job. They’ll be fine!
  • Encourage responsibility and ownership over projects
  • Set milestones for project teams to be held accountable to
  • Host regular check-ins – weekly 15 minute sessions for progress updates and reviews
  • Let your staff know you’re available if they need assistance