The time has come for us to address one of the biggest technology issues of the day: Is leaving a voicemail a waste of time?

More often than not, when I leave a voicemail message for someone, it is never listened to.

Instead the person calls me back (thankfully!) and says the same simple words, “I saw you called. What’s up?”

Frustrated me wants to say, “What’s up is that I left you a message and you should have listened to it before you called me back.”

Eliminating the Middle Step

But over the last few months, I have done the same thing to people who have left me voicemail messages. I just checked my iPhone. I have 11 voicemails that I haven’t listened to over the last month, and in all but one case – sorry, telephone solicitor – I have returned the calls without listening to the message.

My actions aren’t unique. I see and hear people do it all the time.

Here’s the thing: It’s just easier or quicker to call the person back since most of the time the next action after listening to a voicemail is that you are going to call the person back anyway. Just eliminate the middle step: the voicemail.

Technology’s Effect

Part of me wants to suggest that this trend highlights a growing need for us to connect with real, living, breathing, speaking human beings because we spend too much time staring at computer and cellphone screens, or typing messages.

Of course, the technological advancement that enables us not to listen to voicemails is the capturing of the incoming caller’s telephone number on iPhones and Droids regardless of whether you answer or not. So if you have called someone’s cellphone, they have your number and when you called.

Some corporate phone lines, especially VOIP lines, do the same thing – although my experience is that it’s not the norm yet.

From the perspective of business efficiency (imagine voicing 50 or 100 voicemail messages in a day), leaving voicemail messages seems like an inefficient, outdated practice.

By abandoning voicemail, we save time when we are making or receiving calls from people. No need to do something that no one will ever use. Right?

Different Rules for Email

Before we create a new rule, let’s look at this situation another way. What if the communication occurred over email? Who would reply to someone’s email without reading it first? No one.

By that logic then, we should listen to the voicemails before we return the call. Probably.

Still I doubt that people are going to go backward. One of the great lessons of technology is that once you move forward, there’s rarely a chance we go back to our old ways. Who’s still using an 8-track player, a Gameboy or an iPod regularly?

The real problem is that we can’t anticipate whether someone is a voicemail listener or a disregarder. If we get it wrong, we jeopardize the very communication we sought to establish by placing the call in the first place.

Potential Missed Opportunities

That’s the problem. I’d like to stop leaving voicemail messages, but I fear I might miss an opportunity.

For the time being, I guess I have to keep leaving them, knowing the vast majority of the people I am leaving for them will never listen to them.

How are you handling this situation?

Most business owners and operators typically take stock of their company’s financial at this point in the year, which for most serves as the fiscal halfway point.

For some owners the first week of July is one of two times they actually look at their numbers. Others dig deep into their numbers at this point, checking them against their forecasts and realities. They create their spreadsheets, charts and graphs. They pore over the data, looking for trends and warning signs. And they forecast their future actions.

Those details are important to the success of any business. Knowing the financials is a critical component of running any business.

Businesses have another metric that they should be watching as closely. Yet most avoid or overlook this important asset.

What about your employees? Are you taking stock of where they stand in your business?

Employees make or break a business. We can’t create goods and services without them. As our businesses grow larger, our employees become a growing face of our creation. Without them, there is no us.

I see and talk to owners who often have no real sense of their employees. They are no different than the technology, another cog in the company’s big operational machine.

These owners either aren’t looking at or have become too engrossed in their own work life to pay attention.

They don’t see the things I see at businesses all the time. They miss the employee who smirks at a colleague or customer. They don’t recognize an employee’s lack of attentiveness to little things like a piece of trash on the floor or a faulty light bulb. They don’t hear the negative talk occurring in the office or on the sales floor. They don’t know that the employees are arriving late or leaving early.

They don’t see these red flags because they don’t want to. After talking to hundreds of business owners, I know the reason they don’t look or see these issues. To see them means they have to deal with them. Many business owners are either unsure of how to or afraid to look more closely at their employees.

Better to hide their heads, they think. If I can’t see it, it cannot hurt me. Every little child will tell you that about the monster under the bed. Except the monster isn’t real.

Employees and their attitudes and interest in their workplace are real.

I can’t count the number of times a key employee has left a job suddenly and in talking to the owner a few days or weeks later, they admitted that they probably should have known. The signs were there. The employee used more sick time than usual, wasn’t demonstrating the same level of commitment or creativity as usual, or just seemed tired by the job duties.

Imagine the same business owner saying I didn’t look at my bank account for six months or a year because I didn’t know how to deal with it. Impossible.

Knowing the truth about your employees won’t just help you feel better about the company. It will fuel additional growth. Happy, engaged employees are more productive and more innovative.

I have been researching, coaching and training employers and employees on many workplace issues.

From those experiences I can offer some questions you may must ask yourself about your employees.

  1. Do your employees understand your company’s underlying mission and does it resonate with them?
  2. Are they taking care of themselves so they can perform their duties at work effectively?
  3. Are they taking on new challenges and being challenged in their work on a daily basis?
  4. Do they see a path for promotion and advancement?
  5. Do they work and play well with each other? (Extra points if they can argue passionate with one another to reach a better solution to a challenge.)
  6. Do they share the good news and the bad news with the people that need to know, including you?
  7. Have your employees documented their processes and procedures so your business will continue to operate successfully if one of them chooses to leave?
  8. Could your employees work effectively if you had to take an unplanned or extended leave?
  9. Do they feel rewarded beyond their compensation and benefits for their hard work?
  10. If they could choose where to work, would they choose to work at your company?

If you cannot say “Yes” to all 10 of these questions, then you may want to invest as much, if not more effort, on your employees as you put toward the financials.

Study after study supports the notion that employees want to work in an environment where they can contribute and feel valued for that contribution.

The changes you may need to consider for them to feel like valuable contributors don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Most of these areas require more thought and action than money.

The payoffs can be enormous. The financials you may be reviewing closely this week could look far greater in a few months with action to better reflect your commitment to your employees.