10 phrases that kill employee morale

Elizabeth Schillo

You may have heard that “employees don’t leave jobs, they leave people.” As the leader of your small business team, your employees look up to you, and the words you use to motivate them have tremendous power. Unfortunately, we don’t always choose our words wisely, and instead of heightening employee morale, some conversations have the opposite result.  Here are 10 morale-killing phrases to avoid saying to your employees.

  1. “You’re lucky to have a job.” This only succeeds in making a person feel incompetent and unworthy of their position, which is hardly a confidence builder.
  2. “Because I’m the boss. That’s why.” This is something parents say to misbehaving children, and your employees are definitely not children. Treating them as such will earn you only resentment, not respect.
  3. “That’s not my problem.” On the contrary, your employees’ problems are your problems. Their work is a reflection of you and if they’re experiencing issues that prevent them from working to their best abilities, it’s in your best interest to ask questions and help them.
  4. “Don’t question me.” Smart bosses surround themselves with teams who present different perspectives and express concerns. This helps you foresee possible challenges and come up with solutions in advance. Not to mention that opening your work up to new or different ideas can sometimes also open up new business opportunities.
  5. “If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone who does.” Trying to motivate employees by threatening their jobs doesn’t make them more productive. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Using fear to motivate employees can take a toll on employee satisfaction, morale and job performance.
  6. “I don’t have time for this.” What your employees hear is, “I don’t have time for you.” That sends the message that you don’t care about them or their struggles. If you're strapped for time, instead offer up a better time slot for you or ask them to schedule a meet-up on your calendar when you can give them your undivided attention.
  7. “You need to do better.” Few things in life are as confusing or frustrating as vague feedback. Expecting employees to just “figure things out on their own” is unrealistic and unfair. You can't expect employees to improve if you don’t give them specific, constructive feedback about their performance.
  8. “I’ll just do it myself.” You hired your employees to do a job, so you should be able to trust them to do it. If you don’t let your employees do the work they were hired to do, they’ll start to think, “Why even bother?” and stop putting in effort. Delegate, be clear about timelines and deadlines, and if in doubt, ask more questions.
  9. “That’s how it’s always been done.”  If you aren’t open to trying new methods and strategies, you can't expect to grow your business. When employees are encouraged to try new things, pursue new ideas and think outside the box, they become more engaged in their work and are happier and more motivated to produce good work.
  10. "Failure is not an option." When your employees fear the possibility of failure, it inhibits them from trying new things and pursuing new ideas - and it prevents your small business from innovating. A better motivator? Tell your employees it’s okay to make mistakes,  so long as they learn from those mistakes and grow. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Want to know more? Get tips for earning trust with your employees.


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