Awhile back I stumbled across a book entitled 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers, by Bruce L. Katcher. This book summarized the results of a large survey project across 65 organizations. The survey found that the biggest area of complaint that employees have is that they feel they are being treated like children - not adults.

These survey results resonated with me, and I remember back early in my career when I had my first opportunity to be a supervisor at the tender age of 23. There was a lady on the team who had put in her resignation to work in another company just prior to my selection. I had heard about the value of doing exit interviews with departing employees, so I took her aside and asked her one simple question - "Why are you leaving?" Her reply was short and to the point. "I am leaving because I feel like I have been treated as a child, and I am going to a company that will treat me like an adult." I was speechless, but her sentiment has stuck with me years later.

Survey Says
The employee survey zeroed in on some sentiments that people feel. Included are feelings like "We feel like slaves;" "I hate being micro-managed;" "I am afraid to speak up;" "Nobody appreciates my hard work;" and "There are different rules for different people." Here are some of the specific results: 46% of employees felt management treats them with disrespect, 40% said they don't have the decision making authority they need, and 43% say their good work goes unrecognized.

Fifty-two percent do not feel free to voice their opinions openly.

A different survey found that only 26% of workers say that are actively engaged on the job. That means 74% are disengaged - 55% are passively disengaged and 19% are actively disengaged. Sad results. I suggest that a big driver for this lack of engagement and low motivation is a result of being treated like children. I think motivational expert Bob Nelson is right when he says, "An employee's motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager."

Why do managers treat employees like children and not adults? The reasons are many - and include bad role modeling (that is how the managers have been treated and what they have seen), fear of delegation, lack of trust towards employees and others.

12 Keys to Help Us Treat Employees Like Adults
1) Practice the Golden Rule. Treating others positively like we would like to be treated is an ethical approach that crosses most religious and ethical frameworks. Consciously put yourself in the shoes of your employees and ask yourself, how would I like to be treated if I was in their jobs?

2) Get to know your employees as people. We are all very busy and no let up is in sight. But employees feel dignified and appreciated when we make an effort to get to know them as people - not just a worker producing widgets. This is a challenge for many of us - but practicing MBWA (management by walking around) and looking for opportunities to connect help. I have also found it useful to do 1-1s with all my employees - both direct reports and "skip levels" with front-line employees.

3) Treat employees like assets, not liabilities, and view them as valued business partners. Some managers view their employees as liabilities - or like expenses that need to be minimized. Others view employees like assets that are worth being developed and maximized - which is a more dignifying view. Also, the managers that view their employees as valued business partners are naturally going to treat them more respectfully.

4) Survey your employees. Want to know how employees are really feeling? Ask them. Anonymous surveys can be great tools. We use quarterly employee satisfaction surveys, and annually we do a survey instrument like Gallop's 12 Question Measuring Stick. It's helpful as a manager to periodically do a 360 degree personal survey, with one group of respondents being your employees.

5) Provide more opportunities for employees to have control. Reality isthat for some of our departments - especially in production type environments - we need to have some structure and rules to get the work done timely and accurately. However, employees do appreciate having as much control as possible over work schedules (including opportunity for part-time), time off, work space, overtime (voluntary versus mandatory), dress code, etc. We should look for opportunities to grant employees some choices and control whenever we can.

6) Promote flexibility rather than rigid rules. Rules do have their place and are needed to ensure some level of consistency and order within the organization. But sometimes we can be too rigid and too arcane - resulting in employees feeling like they are being treated like children and not recognizing that sometimes flexibility is warranted.

I recently had a manager from Nordstrom in one of my university classes that I teach. Here are the rules he shared that are found in their employee handbook:

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager or division general manager any question sat any time.

Obviously we will need more rules than the Nordstrom example - but I think you get the point of trying to avoid too many rules and too much rigidity.

7) Appreciate that employees have lives outside of work. Our employees have lives outside of their vocational work with us, and appreciate when we recognize that reality and work with them when "life happens." We appreciate the flexibility to attend to our life events - and so do our employees.

8) Respect employee privacy. All of us have expectations of the right to privacy. When there are good business reasons for some type of employee monitoring, we should be open about it. We should also be careful about not treating employees as our possessions and assume we can infringe on their privacy whenever we want.

9) Be a good listener. Rachel Naomi Remen advises that, "The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words." I like the practical advice from Dale Carnegie (author of the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People) who said, "You can make more friends in two weeks by becoming a good listener than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you."

10) Increase recognition and appreciation. According to prominent psychologist William James, the number one psychological need that the average person has is the need to feel appreciated. A Gallop survey found that 65% of employees said they did not receive any positive personal recognition from their boss the prior 12 months - how sad! There are many ways to recognize employees - and some of the simple ones are the most appreciated. Verbal thank-yous, e-mails, and small tokens of recognition are always in order. And in today's digital age, the value of a hand written note or card has never been higher.

11) Be honest with employees. Research by Kouzes and Posner in their acclaimed book The Leadership Challenge shows that people desire leaders that are honest and trustworthy men and women of integrity. There is no place for lying to our employees. Sometimes we need to withhold information for a period of time (e.g. a re-organization that is still being worked on), but we should disclose information as soon as possible.

12) Support professional development. If we truly view employees as assets and valued business partners, it makes sense to support our employees in their professional development. There are lots of ways we can help develop employees as I have written about in the past. Employees do feel valued when we are willing to provide them learning and development opportunities and show that we care.

Treating employees like adults and not children is a great example of the "win-win" that Stephen Covey always emphasized. Employees that are treated like adults will have better morale, stronger motivation, higher productivity and will be more loyal to the organization. Our teams will be stronger and our personal sense of accomplishment will be higher. I wish you success in striving for the worthy ideal of treating our employees like adults!

Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, MCOM, CBA, CBF, ICP, CCM,CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR is the Manager of Billing, Credit and Special Attention Operations for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon that serves over 830,000 customers. Wes leads his teams with the able assistance of Supervisors Allison Rowden, Jan DeMeire, Heidi Fouts and Matt McHill. Wes teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, NACUMS, and other regional and local events. Check out his personal web-site for free information ( He can be contacted at