Listening to Employees: Getting it Right

Dara Fontein

7 minutes

If you’ve ever been at a boisterous family dinner and had to fight to get a word in, you know how frustrating it can be to feel like nobody is listening to you. Employees experience the same frustration in the workplace when they feel like they are being ignored or misunderstood. To avoid this, businesses must make listening to their employees a top priority.

In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of listening to employees, provide key tips and advice for better listening, and show you how you can gain insights fast — and without bias.

The Benefits of Listening to Employees

There are many reasons why listening to employees benefits an organization. From improving your business strategy to boosting morale, here are some reasons why employee listening is so important.

Informing strategy 

While knowledgeable about many different aspects of the organization, business leaders will often lack insight into the day-to-day company operations. This is where listening to employees is extremely valuable. 

Employees will have experience that informs their opinions and gives them a unique perspective on improvements the business can make to reach its goals and targets. A recent study found that as many as 82 percent of employees have ideas about improving their company. 

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For example, imagine a customer service agent at a clothing company who continuously hears from customers who want the brand’s most popular pant style in a different color. Suppose this employee brings this information to their manager, who listens and escalates it to more senior decision-makers. In that case, the brand might begin producing and selling the new pant color, resulting in increased sales — all because employee(s) were listened to. 

This idea can be applied to any aspect of an organization. If employees believe they have a solution to challenges they’re facing with disorganized processes, the company’s policies, or just have general feedback that could help the company’s revenue, they can raise these issues and present their solutions to managers and more senior members of the business and feel that their voice is being heard. 

Creating a culture where employees know they’re being listened to creates major opportunities for exclusive insights that can inform an overall business strategy.

Boosting morale

One of the toughest challenges employers face is retaining their current employees.

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According to recent research, “63.3 percent of companies say retaining employees is actually harder than hiring them.” 

One of the best ways to hold onto your current employees? Make sure they’re engaged with their work (and workplace.) As you can imagine, a workplace where an employee is constantly ignored or never given a chance to provide input or help in decision-making is one where engagement and morale will be low. 

By listening to employees and proactively asking for their feedback, insights, and opinions, businesses are much more likely to have happy and engaged employees.

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A recent report from LinkedIn found that organizations where “employees have influence get longer tenures out of their workers.” This means that companies where employees have a say and are truly listened to have more engaged team members. 

In fact, companies that don’t empower their employees only see a 35 percent retention rate after three years. When people feel respected and like they’re making a real difference, it’s natural that they’re going to feel more involved and take more ownership over their work.

With the “Great Resignation” a hot topic of conversation recently, along with the rising costs of recruiting and hiring new employees, simple strategies such as listening to employees can hugely impact morale and engagement levels.

Increased knowledge sharing 

When employee listening happens at every level of an organization, there’s a great opportunity for increased knowledge sharing. As a recent article from Atlassian states,

“Effective knowledge sharing happens when a company’s culture and technical infrastructure are aligned toward open communication.”

As long as an organization is set up to facilitate employee listening, this kind of collaborative intellectual growth is possible. 

Senior team members can provide feedback and employ teaching and growth opportunities to more junior employees, while employees can share their expertise and unique perspectives with their peers. 

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This kind of collaborative working environment, where all employees feel as if their opinions are being listened to and respected, leads to greater idea sharing and collective growth as a team.

Key Tips for Listening to Employees

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More than 34 percent of employees worldwide feel as if their employers do not listen to their ideas. 

Keep employees engaged from day one

An employee’s emotional commitment to the organization is highly impacted by whether they feel listened to or not. According to a recent poll from Gallup, more than 87 percent of today’s workers feel disengaged in the workplace. A big contributor to this concerning statistic? Feeling as if they’re not being listened to.

As this doesn’t happen overnight, it’s important that companies look at the way they facilitate employee listening from their workers’ first day on the job.
Creating a culture of employee listening is something that can (and should) be incorporated as early as the hiring and onboarding process. Whether the new hire is in-office, remote, or hybrid, employers and HR departments must ensure there’s an opportunity for them to provide feedback on their experiences such as the interview process, the pre-onboarding period, and their first week on the job. Additionally, setting up regular check-ins with their HR partner ensures that the new employee has dedicated time to provide feedback at every stage of their onboarding. 
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With managers and leaders playing a huge part in whether a team feels engaged or not, the focus on employee listening should work both ways. For example, if a new leader is joining an organization, the business can facilitate time for the senior employee to meet their new manager prior to or on their first day. 

Here, the new leader can use a collective intelligence tool such as ThoughtExchange to discover their team’s main concerns, what they think is working well, and what they think the new manager’s priorities should be. From day one, the manager is facilitating a culture where employees are being listened to, and their opinions and insights are valued.

Turn ideas into action

Listening is one thing, but actually taking an employee's suggestion or concern seriously and escalating it to the point of action is what truly makes for an engaged workplace.

While we’re not saying that you should act on every single issue an employee brings up, it’s important to use your own judgment and experience to evaluate the thoughts they share with you. When they share something that requires further attention, it’s important to step in and move beyond just listening. 

For example, you may have an employee who has repeatedly shared the need for additional project managers on the team. They’ve stated that processes are disorganized, things are slipping through the cracks, and the team is burnt out. If you were to listen to this concern but do nothing about it, it’s natural that your employee would lose trust in you and morale would drop. 

However, if you were to take this concern and bring it to your department head (along with a well-thought-out business case and detailed plan) and succeed in convincing senior decision-makers of the need for the additional project managers, your employees would see that you’re willing to take action when it's needed. 

When managers and senior leaders put their employees’ ideas and concerns into action, they show their team members that they care about what they have to say and truly value their thoughts.

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Never stop listening 

So you’ve listened to your employee, taken their concern to the appropriate individuals, and gotten results. Your job here is done, right? Not so fast. 

Listening to employees isn’t a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it type of thing. In order to succeed at effective employee listening, it needs to be an ongoing and continuous process. For example, once you’ve actioned a topic or issue an employee brought up to you, it’s important to go back to them, let them know what you’ve done, inform them of any future progress, and give them updates as needed. While instant change isn’t often possible, in taking these follow-up steps, you show your team members that you are listening and working on the matters that are important to them. 

In addition to these specific and one-on-one employee listening instances, organizations can benefit from a continuous listening strategy. A continuous listening strategy is one where employee listening takes place at every stage of their lifecycle. As Dr. Laura Stevens, Vice President of Global Strategy, Analytics, and Employee Experience at DSM defines, “continuous listening is a coordinated and cross-functional effort to continuously collect and combine a variety of critical data sources to drive and enhance company performance.” 

Using the same techniques marketers may use when gathering data from customers, companies can uncover insights about their own employees regularly to improve all aspects of the business. From recruitment to their exit interview, employee listening at every stage should be a priority for every organization.

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ThoughtExchange helps gain
insights fast — without bias

While pulse surveys have long been thought of as the best way to understand employees, this is no longer the case. Pulse surveys tend to pigeonhole and limit employees’ answers and create more work than they’re worth for those gathering the data. Plus, they often feel repetitive to employees.
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When it comes to employee listening, context is key. Pulse surveys don’t allow employees to explain their answers as completely as they may wish to, plus tend to ask more general questions in the first place. Instead of relying on the restricted format of a pulse survey, organizations can turn to a tool like ThoughtExchange. 

With ThoughtExchange, managers and employers can listen to employees in an efficient and unbiased manner. After asking their team a question, each employee can answer anonymously and vote on answers to discover the top priority issues. This reveals crucial information a manager needs to make data-driven decisions and empowers the team, and helps them feel part of the decision-making process. 

Organizations can support employee listening at all seniority levels with technologies like discussion management and collective intelligence tools. If you’re interested in hearing how ThoughtExchange can help your team with employee listening, get in touch today.

About the Author

Dara Fontein

Dara is a copywriter and content creator born, raised, and currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s written for companies including Hootsuite, lululemon, Article, and ThoughtExchange. When not playing around with words, Dara can be found updating her cat's Instagram account and wandering the aisles of home decor stores.