Should Employees Be in the Know?

Jul 3, 2019, Written by Sue Miley

You had to cancel a few services that the company used because cash flow has been tight.  An employee was terminated for cause. The company was slapped with a lawsuit.  

How much do we share with employees?  We don’t want them to worry about stuff that isn’t their responsibility.  You own the business. It’s your problem, right?

What if they hear about the lawsuit from someone else?  Aren’t lawsuits public anyway?

I don’t want to share too much about the employee we terminated out of privacy to the employee.  Isn’t that the noble and righteous thing to do?

There are so many things that come up in the day to day world of a small business owner.  Stressful things at times. Our employees want to know everything, but is that in their best interest?  Is it in ours?

These are the many tug of wars that Christian business owners face every day.  In most cases there isn’t a right or wrong answer….it’s that world of grey.

We seem to live in blurry, rather than clarity, and without knowing your specific situation and set of circumstances, I couldn’t begin to suggest a black and white answer to this issue.  

However, I can suggest a path forward and a way to navigate with integrity.

Setting Expectations

If your company isn’t new and you have been handling such situations on a case by case basis, I would first step back and decide what guidelines you want to follow in sharing with employees.

  • Financial Information – is openly shared, partial information like revenues is all that is shared, no information is shared.  I am more of a believer in providing people who can impact the finances with as much information as possible. They need it to have a compass for their efforts.
  • Employee Information – is usually kept strictly confidential, however, if you are a company of 5 or 6 people, that becomes pretty difficult.  If you have many employees, you are best to be consistent. Consistency builds trust.
  • Company Concerns are very grey.  For example, a lawsuit may be something to mention, but explain the process the company is working through.  Health of an owner should be addressed along with impacts to the employees. You want to always stay in control of the messages as human nature means wild imaginations and a constantly changing story when transmitted through the grape vine.

Once you have decided on what you are comfortable with, communicate to your organization what they can expect in the future.

Act and Communicate with Integrity

People make judgement calls based on their own personal experience as a barometer.  As a business owner, if you:

  • Keep confidences well
  • Communicate directly and fairly with employees and vendors
  • Stay away from gossip
  • Handle situations fairly

… then it is most likely that your team will trust you.  

Trust is really important.  If an employee trusts you, they are going to be okay even if you can’t tell them all the details about something.  If they hear a distorted view from an outside source, they are going to measure the validity of the statements based on their experience with you.  

For example, if an employee is terminated and tells other people on the team that the company wasn’t fair to them, they will be skeptical of the disgruntled employee knowing that you have always treated them above board.

Treat Others as You Would Want to Be Treated

Lastly, special instances will always come up.  Things happen that we don’t anticipate. I try to use a few questions to guide me: 

  1. Does the situation or information directly impact certain employees?  Will it help them to do their job to have a better understanding?  In these cases, it may be prudent to be more open and trust the employee to keep the information confidential if the information will truly assist them.
  2. Are the circumstance or information likely to be public anyway? Would it make sense for your team to hear it from you?  
  3. Is there any reason to keep the information private?  People want to be included and feel like they know what is going on.  Sometimes we are too private, which leads to distrust because the team doesn’t feel like you trust them.  Consider if you were in their shoes, would you want to know?
  4. Is the information or situation truly your cross to bear?  Honestly, we own the business.  It isn’t fair to give our employees all of our worries and concerns.  Our job is to make them feel like things are under control and they just need to do their job well.  Of course, if closing or layoffs are inevitable, then they need to know. But, it isn’t our employees’ jobs to worry about all the things a business owner has to worry about.  In that way, we should be a healthy buffer.

Although there may not be an exact science on what and how much to communicate and keep employees informed, I do believe that these practices will help build mutual respect and trust in your team.

In general, no one wants to work for a non-trusting, paranoid, business owner.  Nor do they want to carry your every thought and worry for their pay grade. In the end, it is about finding the right balance for you and your organization.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.