Managing Workplace Perceptions: A Hidden Challenge

Managing workplace perceptions can be a stealthy saboteur of harmony and productivity. They often go unnoticed until they snowball into significant issues. Perceptions are frequently the most elusive and yet the most impactful out of all the workplace challenges I encounter. Let’s delve into why perceptions matter and how to manage them effectively.

The Invisible Barrier

Perceptions are subjective interpretations of reality. Individual experiences, emotions, and biases form perceptions. In the workplace, these perceptions can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunications, and unnecessary drama. Furthermore, employees might feel undervalued, misunderstood, or unfairly treated based on their perceptions, even when the reality might be different.

As an illustration, consider a situation involving two employees, Sarah and Mike. Sarah feels that Mike is being favored by their manager, which creates tension and affects team dynamics. Sarah gathers the courage to voice her concern to the manager, who assures her that all complaints are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. However, due to confidentiality, the manager cannot disclose the actions taken regarding Mike.

The manager has taken appropriate steps behind the scenes, but Sarah might feel that her complaint has been ignored. This situation underscores the importance of managing workplace perceptions carefully. This is a situation I have seen played out over and over, and managers tell me is a big source of frustration, so here is what I tell them to do. 

Addressing the Perception Gap in Managing Workplace Perceptions:

  • Reassure the Complainant: Let Sarah know that her concerns have been heard and are being addressed, even if the specifics cannot be shared.
  • Maintain Confidentiality: Ensure that all steps taken respect the privacy of those involved, including Mike.
  • Follow Up: Regularly check in with Sarah to gauge if her perception has changed and if further action is needed.
  • Transparent Policies: Reinforce the organization’s commitment to fairness and transparency in handling complaints, ensuring employees understand the procedures.

Why Perceptions Go Unaddressed

One common reason perceptions become problematic is the lack of open communication. Employees often don’t share their true feelings with their employers and this isn’t necessarily the employer’s fault. Many organizations have open-door policies encouraging dialogue, but for some employees, stepping forward to voice concerns or ask tough questions requires significant courage.

Here is another common story I hear.  Imagine a manager, John, who usually works from his office, suddenly starts spending a lot of time on the floor with the team. Employees might start to form negative perceptions about this change. (Trust me, they rarely form favorable assumptions.)

Here are some negative perceptions they may form:

  • Employees might think John is on the floor to micromanage their work, creating anxiety and resentment.
  • The team could perceive this move as a sign that John doesn’t trust them to do their jobs effectively.
  • Some might speculate that John is looking for reasons to lay off staff or make other unpopular changes.

Here is what you can do for managing workplace perception:

  • Communicate the Reason: John should explain why he’s on the floor more often. Maybe he wants to understand team challenges better to offer support.
  • Solicit Feedback: Encourage the team to share their thoughts on his presence and how it impacts their work.
  • Be Transparent: Clearly state that his goal is to support and understand the team, not to micromanage or distrust them. 

The Courage to Speak Up

Sometime employees don’t speak up because of fear of retribution, concern about being judged, or simply the discomfort of addressing controversial topics. This silence allows negative perceptions to fester and grow. As a result, these unchecked perceptions can lead to a toxic work environment, decreased morale, and reduced productivity.

Managing Workplace Perceptions to Bridge the Gap

To manage workplace perceptions effectively, both employers and employees need to foster an environment of trust and open communication. Here are a few strategies:

1. Encourage Open Dialogue

First and foremost, create a culture where employees feel safe to express their thoughts and concerns. Regular check-ins, anonymous feedback systems, and open forums can provide platforms for employees to voice their perceptions without fear.

2. Lead by Example

As a leader, demonstrate openness and transparency. Share your own experiences and show that you value and act on employee feedback. This sets a precedent and encourages others to follow suit.

3. Provide Training

Offer training sessions on effective communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution. Equip your team with the tools they need to navigate difficult conversations and manage their perceptions constructively.

4. Actively Listen

When employees do speak up, listen actively and empathetically. Acknowledge their feelings and work collaboratively to address their concerns.

5. Clarify and Align

Ensure that there is clarity and alignment on roles, expectations, and goals within the team. Misunderstandings often arise from a lack of clarity, so regular communication and updates are crucial.


Managing perceptions is a continuous process that requires intentional effort from both employers and employees. By fostering a culture of open communication and trust, you can prevent negative perceptions from taking root and creating unnecessary drama. Remember, it’s not just about having an open-door policy—it’s about creating an environment where employees feel genuinely comfortable walking through that door.

Start transforming your workplace by addressing perceptions head-on. The first step? Encouraging and embracing open, honest dialogue.

Ready to manage your workplace perceptions? Book your complimentary call today Let’s get started on determining hidden perceptions in your workplace and transforming your team.

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Lisette Jones

For the past eleven years as a consultant and trainer and certified coach practitioner, I've helped hundreds of people just like you overcome chaotic or challenging situations and experience productivity, and engagement. I have experience in many industries and levels of management through my work as a Workplace Education Instructor and Organizational Needs Assessment Consultant trained through the Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration.

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