The phrase, "We need to talk" can mean so many things. If you have just met someone at a networking event and you both think you could expand on a great idea or introduce them to people that are in their target market, the phrase "We need to talk" is exciting, filled with hope and wonder. On the other hand, this same phrase between two or more people at work or in a family scenario, it can bring a pit to your stomach. If you're on the receiving end of that phrase, you're probably having to keep your imagination from going wild. In a split second after a boss says that, you could begin thinking, layoff, fired, performance review, merger or downsizing. Bad news no matter what!
I want to concentrate on this phrase in relation to a boss/supervisor/manager/owner or anyone in authority to those who are their employees. I hate the word subordinates so I won't call them that. Not as often, but that phrase can come from an employee who is responsible for other employees and is giving the four-word suggestion to a supervisor.
I remember working at one place where the morale was so bad that everything came to a head. Everything shut down for a day and the whole operation went on a retreat. You could cut the air with a knife. When I look back on it, I can see that the management waited too long to communicate with the employees about their concerns over huge workloads, inadequate workspace and insisting on us us taking comp time instead of overtime. When we were working such long hours, how in the world did they think we were going to find the time to use up the comp time when we could seldom squeeze any time off? The supervisors took even longer to pretend to care about doing anything regarding their employees' concerns. It was a development office (fundraising department) and their goal was to keep operating costs to 1-2% of donations received. That's honorable until you reach the reputation of being a sweatshop!
It's time for a retreat, detente, summit or meeting in a DMZ!
I would suggest that there be a mediator for really bad situations and that there would be more than one method for each side to communicate such as speaking but also writing things down. I would also suggest hiring a person who specializes in planning retreats to recommend the structure for this type of event. You have to utilize methods that will make everyone involved in a way that they understand the various angles or concerns of all levels of employees and management.
To keep things from getting to the point of mutiny, it would be preferable if there was a regularly scheduled event to encourage an open and consistent dialogue and a constantly present suggestion box in such a way that no be feels threatened. The corporate world has become a swamp as far as loyalty in either direction. There's a huge gap in work ethics (perceived or real) that comes from everyone's individual experience and perspective. Many people do not feel valued, management feels pressure from all directions, CEO's to stockholders and all the way up and down the line. Somethings never change over decades or even centuries, and you can only aim towards improvement over time.
What can be helpful is to design an event that make everyone on par with each other to the point that people feel like they are on the same team. It makes me think of "E Pluribus Unum", of many become one. No one said it would be easy, but if the effort isn't made, the consequences can be very detrimental to a business.
Wishing you the greatest of days!