“They never tell us anything. We’re always the last to know.”

So many employees feel this way so much of the time. They see something that they don’t understand, something that doesn’t fit with what they already believe to be true — and they feel left out. Worse, they feel a combination of stupid/lost/neglected/resentful/hopeless.

No one wants to feel that way — certainly not when it comes to their job, and especially not when it comes to their livelihood. So what do they do? They fill in the gaps in their knowledge the way the human brain naturally does — by putting two and two together, coming up with more or less than four, and then operating as if these associations constitute reality.

When we keep people in the dark, they end up creating “logic” out of inaccurate or incomplete data, so their perceptions and/or judgments are also inaccurate.

Illogical Conclusions

Depending on whether employees are optimists or pessimists or have had good or bad past experiences in similar circumstances, etc., the impact of their manufactured beliefs may lead them to take a project off course, misperceive management intent, ignore crucial data, or even, eventually, leave, taking the company’s training and development investments with them.

In case you don’t have a clear idea of what this kind of simultaneous frustration and apathy looks or feels like, check out the video below from Improv Everywhere, a New York City-based prank collective dedicated to causing scenes of hilarious chaos in public places. This video, titled “Seeing Eye People,” spoofs the way people text and walk, oblivious to what’s going on around them, and presents an offbeat and very funny way to keep these texting pedestrians safe.

But the video also includes an actual uniformed New York City employee trying to explain to herself, her colleague, and a passerby what might be going on when she really doesn’t know. Pay close attention at 1:48 to the uniformed city employees, and you’ll also see some pretty standard organizationally-based silliness — the kind that makes people feel left out and stupid.

Now, obviously, this Improv Everywhere “mission” was farce, so of course the city employees couldn’t have learned about this “new program” from their management. But in many organizations, frontline employees do not receive the necessary information or updates to perform successfully when new programs are launched or structural changes are put into place.

Think of how frequently customer service associates don’t get to see marketing promotions until after customers have already received them. Or how ground-level employees, who have been working on a project for a long time, find out too late that a key emphasis has shifted or vital requirements have changed. In both cases, the employees and the work suffer.

Demoralizing Beliefs

As a thought experiment, let’s parse out the essence of the New York City employee’s complaint:

“They never tell us anything. We’re always the last to know.”

They = the powers that be, the ones upstairs, the “suits,” the bosses

Never = persistently, perpetually, consistently, without ceasing

Tell = communicate, share, educate, train, inform

Us = the peons, the ones who do the work, those of us on the front line

Anything = the crucial information we need to do our jobs

We’re = the lost, the unfortunate, the losers, the trapped

Always = same as “never”

The last = after the leadership, the managers, even the customers

To know = to be aware, to have information, to understand, to matter

Don’t treat your employees as if they’re stupid, as if the true dynamic is perpetually “We” and “They.” Operate as “We.” Don’t tolerate an ongoing lack of communication. And don’t leave it to your staff to fill in the gaps with their imaginations, fantasies, or conspiracy theories.

Help your people be their best. Let them in on the real story.

Read more: The Last to Know