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Most managers have no idea what their employees really think about key workplace issues.

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It's never easy to tell the boss what you're really thinking. So if you're a manager, no matter how approachable you are, your subordinates are leaving some important issues unsaid. On The Fast Track blog, consultant Alison Green shares some of those issues:

They hate meetings

Your staff members are struggling with deadlines – many of them imposed by you – yet you also want them to spend time in meetings that seem tenuous and drift aimlessly. If you demand their presence, at least have the courtesy to set clear agendas or purposes, and cut the windy, tangential conversations.

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They don't want to attend office social events

Managers try to build engagement through staff happy hours and holiday parties and then get upset by people who don't attend. But many employees don't want to socialize after hours with co-workers, even if you would wish it otherwise in your dreams of team building.

"Requiring employees to attend events that are ostensibly to build their morale may have the opposite effect," Ms. Green warns. They also resent being asked to chip in for gifts or workplace charity drives, she adds, so be wary.

They don't want to be contacted while on vacation

Staff may tell you that they are willing to take your call while on vacation, but that's not true: They don't want to be interrupted during their down time. Nor do they want your e-mails. Contacting them while they're on vacation signals that you do not understand their attitude toward personal time, nor do you respect the unspoken boundaries they prefer.

They hate team-building events

Team-building activities often occur during work time, but that still doesn't make them popular. Your subordinates don't necessarily want to do with their colleagues the things they might do with friends. Again, if you're trying to fix a morale or communications problem with this standby, you might be doing more damage than good. Figure out the root cause of the problem, and address it in other ways.

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They really want feedback

Many managers assume that employees don't want feedback. They do – but not in formal annual evaluations. They want it steadily, throughout the year.

They also would like to give you feedback, so solicit it. "Good managers know their employees have a different perspective to share, and they value it, rather than ignoring it or feeling threatened by it," she writes.

They want you to be straightforward

When a manager sugar-coats a message, the message can easily be missed. Most employees prefer straightforward communications to oblique comments that need to be pieced together like a puzzle.

They want you to make difficult decisions

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They want you to address performance problems and other prickly issues in the workplace. "As a manager, your job is to solve problems, not avoid them," Ms. Green stresses. "And while you might think that your employees don't particularly want you to have tough conversations, make decisions that may be unpopular, or enforce standards and consequences, the reality is that managers who avoid these things usually end up upsetting good employees – because good employees will get frustrated and disgruntled by a manager's passivity and avoidance of conflict."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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