Can Your Organization's Employees Speak Openly and Candidly to Their Manager?

For your company to be highly successful today and in the future, your organization needs to have highly engaged employees and a healthy culture. A healthy culture includes communication without barriers, collaboration and innovation, among many other organizational characteristics. One really important characteristic of healthy corporate cultures is the ability of all employees to speak openly and candidly with their supervisor or manager. Employees need to feel comfortable and able to suggest innovative ideas and ways to do things better, identify or report problems, request assistance when needed and suggest ways their work group/department/team can become more effective.

Even in companies that pride themselves in having a healthy corporate culture, it is very likely that some managers and supervisors stifle open upward communication. In one employee satisfaction survey (employee engagement survey or employee opinion survey) in a financial services company with several hundred employees with average annual compensation well in excess of $100,000, employees were asked their level of agreement with the statement: "I can speak openly and candidly with my manager/supervisor". The employee survey used a 5-point scale to measure employees' level of agreement with this statement, where 5 equaled "strongly agree" and 1 equaled "strongly disagree". The overall rating for this question was 4.22, indicating relatively strong agreement that most employees feel they can speak openly and candidly with their manager/supervisor. Some employees provided ratings of 1, 2 and 3 indicating they do not feel they can speak openly and candidly with their manager/supervisor.

Employees were given the opportunity to provide comments after this question and many of them described why they feel they can or cannot speak openly and candidly with their manager/supervisor. Following are some of the comments from employees that felt they cannot speak openly and candidly with their manager/supervisor. Does your organization have any of the types of problems described in these comments? Can you imagine how it feels to work for a manager that you cannot speak openly and candidly with, and what this means to employee and organizational effectiveness and performance?

Can your organization benefit from an employee satisfaction survey (employee engagement survey or employee opinion survey) that assesses a wide range of issues that impact employee and organizational effectiveness and performance, and identifies where problems exist and what needs to be done to strengthen your corporate culture, employee engagement and company's success? Here are the employee survey illustrative comments:

  • I feel my manager hears but doesn't listen so I don't speak to this person half as much as I would like to.
  • My manager is sensitive to criticism and can be defensive. He can also be paranoid at times and tends to stir up unnecessary drama in the department.
  • There is a lack of trust between myself and my immediate supervisor. My supervisor is misplaced in his role which has lead to ineffective leadership and insecurity on his part. This has negatively impacted our communication. My manager's manager (i.e. the senior divisional manager) is largely unaware of this problem; at worst, he thinks everything is going fine with my manager in his job performance.
  • My manager becomes defensive and combative if they feel your being critical or questioning a decision they have made or a strategy they may propose.
  • Am able to, theoretically, but in terms of actual availability, he's almost never available.
  • I sometimes feel that when I speak to my manager I'm not taken as seriously as I feel I should be.
  • Fear of repercussion.
  • I speak openly, but do not have confidence that I am heard.
  • It depends on the subject.
  • I am sometimes wary of being entirely candid with my manager because I often times disagree with her managerial decisions/actions.
  • To some extent this is an accurate statement, but there most times, my manager does not honor confidentiality. I have openly heard my manager repeating confidential information to other people within the company many, many times.
  • He is the most patient and understanding employee I have ever trained with.
  • I have to filter what I say for fear of repercussions.
  • My manager is new to the group and we're still learning to work together. My early read is that his eagerness to impress his manager overrides his interactions with the team.
  • He can be very bullying over issues he does not agree with - so it is best to keep ones' mouth shut.
  • I do not trust my manager.
  • I need to build the relationship first to ensure I feel I can speak openly and candidly. I am not at that point right now. He seems to be concerned with "ruffling" feathers, so I am not sure I would be comfortable speaking about controversial issues to him.
  • No one speaks openly and candidly to the manager without repercussions.
  • It depends on my manager's mood at the time. I really don't think they are looking out for my opinion.
  • It depends on the manager but generally, in this company, speaking openly and candidly to anyone here is not encouraged. If you do, there will be repercussions or you are told if you are unhappy then leave.
  • My manager becomes somewhat annoyed when challenged. I need to be cautious when articulating opposing views to my manager in order to maintain a good relationship.
  • If I or my peers see our manager 30 minutes a month it's only by accident. We have to corner our manager in the hall to get his attention.

Howard Deutsch is the CEO of Quantisoft, a full service survey company. Contact Howard Deutsch at (609) 409-9945 or

Quantisoft Survey Info:

Employee Engagement & Employee Satisfaction Survey Info: