Why Employee Listening Is Important (& How To Do It Right)
18 Dec 2023
When it comes to improving employee experience, employee listening is a crucial first step. Here, Mostafa Dastras explains how to nail it.
Employee listening might seem a no-brainer for many managers: they just send employees a feedback form once in a while or ask their opinions in meetings, and then give themselves a pat on the shoulder.
Truth is, getting true employee feedback is more complicated. Whether your feedback forms or employee meetings solicit a constructive response or not depends on how much your company culture actively seeks employee feedback and values it.
The process of actively soliciting and actioning employee feedback is called employee listening. It encourages employees to genuinely share their experience and express constructive feedback on how to improve processes.
Let’s see why you need employee listening and how to do it right.
What is employee listening?
Employee listening is a multifaceted and dynamic process through which organizations collect regular feedback from their workforce. It is an integral part of the employee experience that helps leaders understand what their teams need to function properly.
This technique is also called active listening. In this, the organization takes continuous feedback from their employees to generate valuable insights and use them to drive impactful results.
Employee listening helps leaders understand the true meaning of their employees’ voice. It also helps them understand the challenges, uncertainties, and role-specific issues their employees face.
Companies use different methods for employee listening, such as one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and webinars. If you manage a remote team, you can also use digital channels to collect and encapsulate employee feedback on specific issues. This information can then be used to drive empathetic employee conversations.
As a team leader, you must create an inclusive atmosphere where employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions. You should work towards creating an environment of open communication and trust. Only then can your employee listening strategies lead to continuous and tangible improvements.
Reasons to have an employee listening strategy
Acquiring expert-level solutions
Employees who work in customer-centric roles are well-positioned and experienced to offer a unique perspective for simplifying complex processes. This is especially true for domain-specific processes since organizations often seek to make them easy and simple.
As per this report, 86% of employees feel people at their organization are not heard fairly or equally. What's more, 77% want to give feedback more than once a year.
Active employee listening allows organizations to tap into this well of employee knowledge and use it to improve the organization's decision-making abilities and accelerate its progress. An engaged workforce can also identify inefficient processes, helping your company achieve higher levels of operational efficiency.
According to Gallup, organizations that actively engage their employees are 18% more productive than their competitors. They can also generate uniquely innovative solutions for their problems, further improving the company's adaptability.
Employees feel that they are more effective at their jobs when they are actively engaged by senior management. This also creates a conducive work environment, which builds trust and inculcates a feeling of compassion among peers.
Often, if employee suggestions don't work (or are impractical), managers tend to get irritated and dismiss their opinions. However, leaders who use active listening can use such opportunities to improve their team's comprehension skills. Active employee listening thus becomes a crucial instrument for mitigating employee resentment (disengagement) and facilitating their professional growth.
This is important since teams with engaged employees are 21% more profitable than those with disengaged employees. They also face lower absenteeism, which further improves the productivity of high-performance teams.
Boosts employee engagement and retention
Many organizations today face issues with employee attrition and retention. Employees tend to move on if they feel their feedback is not appreciated or listened to.
Oftentimes, when an employee leaves an organization, it can cost up to two times their annual salary to replace them. US businesses are losing a trillion dollars every year to employee turnover.
Regular employee check-ins are closely tied to job satisfaction and churn reduction. Employee listening is a great way to understand an employee’s perception and keep them excited about their role.
Active listening also helps the organization build a feeling of inclusivity among their workers. Furthermore, it increases employees' sense of belonging and gives them a sense of direction. Knowing what engages your workforce could enhance your recruiting process as well – improving new candidate experience could help you acquire and retain skilled talent more easily.
How to do employee listening the right way
Let's see what steps businesses should take to make sure their employees feel listened to.
Prioritize a Culture of Active Listening
This is an important first step. Employee listening should be an ongoing priority, i.e., your leadership team should know how to collect and maintain employee feedback records.
What's more, the process of collecting employee feedback should be part of their supervisory duty. You can also train your leadership on best practices of employee listening.
This brings us to the second step: every team member should be asked to report their ideas and concerns to their managers. An open-door policy improves employee communication and proactively addresses challenges.
Managers should ask open-ended questions and create a safe space for employees so that they feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions. It is important for managers to complete the feedback loop, assuring employees that their input is not only acknowledged but also acted upon. This will reduce employee disengagement, which costs businesses $450 million to $550 million annually.
You can also use online active listening tools (or AI-powered chatbots) for categorizing and logging feedback data from employees. However, you need to actively track and manage this data. As of now, only 20% of organizations actively track this data.
Lastly, you can also reward employees whose contributions/suggestions help the organization improve critical processes.
Provide accessible means of communication
If you want to create an atmosphere of open communication, it's important to provide employees with the means to do so.
For this, you need to set up different channels of communication, which will enable your employees to approach you.
This can include channels such as:
- Employee surveys
An online/offline form can be used to collect employee feedback data by directly asking them about the challenges they face. This can also contain open-ended questions about their role, functions, and challenges.
Most organizations use pulse surveys to engage their employees on a regular basis. However, you can also create custom engagement and eNPS (employee net promoter score) surveys to gather this information. These surveys are also useful for measuring employee loyalty.
You can also insert these survey forms into weekly or monthly newsletters for your employees. Use email newsletter software to create attractive and appealing newsletters without much effort. Beautifully designed newsletters will also help keep your employees engaged and increase effective communication.
- In-person meetings
You can schedule regular manager-employee meetings that allow employees to express themselves freely. Managers can also use these meetings to gather insights about their daily experiences and to understand what motivates their team. Apart from that, managers can also schedule goal-focused meetings such as performance reviews and focus groups to collect actionable feedback.
Identify specific issues to gather feedback on
The purpose of employee listening is to collect feedback on specific topics and generate precise insights. This means that while you can start the conversation from a broad and generalized perspective, it's important to delve further into specific processes and issues. Hence, leaders should do their best to clarify the scope and purpose of this process to their teams.
It’s important to note that the focus of feedback collection should be more on innovation rather than regular maintenance or small automation issues. Particular emphasis should be put on suggestions related to recent product launches and features. Dedicated feedback mechanisms thus can be helpful in understanding and tackling recurring product issues.
Lastly, you also need to collect feedback on subjective topics such as workplace policies, team dynamics, etc. Once again, leaders should categorize feedback based on actionability and innovation.
Give everyone a voice
This is one of the biggest issues with collecting feedback via focus groups and webinars. Sometimes, more vocal employees can drown out the voice of their peers.
This situation can be problematic since it can lead to disengagement and make employees feel that they are not heard. As of 2023, employee disengagement is at a nine-year high, and 18% of employees are actively disengaged from their organization. Active disengagement has also been rising steadily since 2020, and disengaged employees create 60% more errors than engaged employees.
There is a huge need to overcome this issue since employees who feel they are heard are 4.6 times more likely to improve their productivity. This means less vocal employees need to be encouraged to come forward with their perspectives and share them with management. Team leaders can also create diverse feedback groups to motivate disengaged employees and make them feel cared about at work.
Lastly, you can create additional pulse surveys and group sessions for less vocal employees to encourage them to speak their minds. You can also use sentiment analysis to generate trend insights. This information can be used to identify specific concerns and gauge overall sentiment.
Next steps: the PPT framework
Many organizations use the People Process Technology (PPT) framework to maintain balance in the workplace and improve the overall performance in their organization. According to this framework, the three pillars of a successful organization – as the name suggests – include people, processes, and technology. In an organization, people should be actively engaged, processes should be clear and straightforward, and the technology should be simple and accessible to use. Employee listening is in fact a strategy that optimizes the PPT framework.
It is an effective strategy that prioritizes a company culture of active sharing and listening, provides the most effective and accessible means of communication for feedback sharing, identifies specific goals and issues to solicit feedback on, and tries to give a voice to all employees rather than just the most outspoken ones.