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Employee Listening: Why Embracing Workplace Feedback Matters

October 22, 2020
Employee Listening: Why Embracing Workplace Feedback Matters

When it comes to customers, businesses know that listening is critical to retaining buyers and propelling growth. When it comes to employee feedback, the same holds true. Employees want to be heard as much as clients do. And listening to what they have to say may be more than an eye-opening experience. In fact, a company's thoughtful employee listening practices could lead to increased employee engagement, progress, innovation, and overall success. Experts estimate 96% of unhappy customers will not complain when they’re dissatisfied. Of that group, 91% will silently take their business elsewhere permanently. That’s a lot of lost revenue potential. It’s not hard to imagine how similar dissatisfaction metrics might apply to the employee experience. When employees leave without providing a reason, particularly when the short employee lifecycle occurs repeatedly or within the same team or department, they may simply be exercising their right to move on without complaining to human resources. But why? Do they think that no one will listen to or care about what they're thinking or experiencing? Leadership's failure to listen to their workforce can result in lost talent. Furthermore, employee recruitment and retraining costs are high and tangible. The cost in diminishing morale and productivity is more challenging to measure but can be just as significant. It may be worth considering your company's current investments in the employee feedback process.

The real benefit of listening

Employees who know they are heard are typically more engaged and productive. When staff members have a voice, they’re willing to use it. One study found that as companies look for new ways to improve, 82% of their staffers have ideas that could help achieve their goals. Notably, the same study found more than 1/3 of staffers think their company doesn’t listen to their ideas for improvement. Is your organization missing out on opportunities to innovate, improve efficiencies, and serve your customers? There’s a good way to find out: a continuous listening strategy.

Start with surveys

Throughout the employee lifecycle, surveys tell important stories and reveal elements of a bigger picture. If your staff's not ready to blurt out concerns or ideas in a public or even private forum, add various lifecycle surveys to your employee listening strategies. Companies can gather feedback via real-time Q&A, paper or digital questionnaires, or any number of platforms for online surveys. An employee engagement survey can help measure how much your employees are invested in the company and where you can look to improve. These can be offered on a routine basis to see how and if progress has been made. A pulse survey provides a quick snapshot of company buzz. These can be particularly effective before, during, and after something new is occurring in the company. When striving to grow, companies often try new options or procedures. Finding out whether or not they work is important. Understanding how they impact employees is critical. You may think a change is for the better if it results in higher metrics in a single area. But if it costs engagement and creates churn, the investment wasn’t worth it. Along with analyzing data for the success of a project or new initiative, consider gathering feedback on employee sentiment. Through continuous listening, you may find ways to tweak processes for further improvement. Regardless of what types of surveys you conduct, it'll be important to act on or address the information you receive. Take survey results seriously. Employees whose input is requested but then ignored may interpret that as confirmation that leadership doesn't really care.

Active listening

Trainers know it’s best practice to ask a learner how to do something rather than tell them how it’s done. Giving people an opportunity to work it out themselves allows them to think through the problem, devise a solution, and take pride in their accomplishment. Once an employee is fully trained, continuing to ask for their input and ideas and allowing them to work through problems provides these same benefits. You may think you listen to your employees all day; they’re always talking. But an active employee listening strategy involves more than sitting still while they speak. Be proactive in seeking opinions and concerns. Look for ways to involve staff in the idea process and bring them into the implementation. Front-line staffers have the pulse of the organization. They know what customers want, what works best, and what drains time and resources. Tapping into that knowledge base through thoughtful employee listening programs or practices is smart business. And leveraging the information you receive could mean a boost to the bottom line.

Keep listening top of mind

Beyond a targeted annual engagement survey or periodic pulse surveys, continuous employee listening efforts should represent an ongoing priority. Management staff should be trained to listen actively and collect feedback and opinions. Listening should be as much a part of their supervisory duties as any other. When managers listen to their employees, they build cohesive teams. When they ignore the ideas and concerns of their staff, they build churn. All levels of staff should be encouraged to offer their thoughts, ideas, and concerns either to their direct supervisor or to management. Consider an open-door policy to capture feedback in its real-time form. Staff members want to be heard, and business owners must make it clear that thoughts are welcome and valued.

Ask for innovation

Almost everything we do can be done better, faster, and smarter. Even the most routine tasks are open to innovation. A best practice to hone your listening skills is to ask for more feedback and innovative ideas. Managers and HR leaders often worry that when they ask for ideas, they’ll get silly or impractical answers. But even those are an opportunity to help workers stretch their critical-thinking skills. When a staffer makes a suggestion that won’t work, rather than dismissing it out of hand, talk them through the thought process. In addition to actively listening, you’re helping them develop problem-solving skills that might lead to practical innovations in the future.

Turn info into action

Even the smallest idea that’s heard, appreciated, and acted upon prompts employees to recognize additional ways to contribute. Everyone wins when your staff is actively looking for:

  • Ways to improve efficiencies in their workload.
  • How to best serve customers.
  • Ways the company can boost productivity and profit.

Don’t forget to offer credit where credit is due. For some employees, the smallest kudos make them shine. In many organizations, variable compensation rewards are a part of the process. It makes sense, for example, to let employees know that cost-saving ideas for the company could net them a gift or bonus. The value of the company savings could determine the value of the employee's reward.

Don’t take it personally

Often listening involves hearing things we don’t want to hear. Employee complaints can be difficult, but ignoring them is a mistake. The old “if I ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away” mindset only allows the problem to deepen. Where there’s a problem, there’s a worthwhile solution, no matter how difficult the path to get there. Problem-solving can seem daunting when leadership is the issue. If you’ve invested in building a team only to have them "led" by a bad manager, address the problem head-on. If the situation is dire, you may have to take immediate, meaningful action. If the manager cannot be retrained or corrected, it will be to everyone’s benefit to make a change. Remember, it’s a business problem you're attempting to solve, not a personal affront you're unleashing. It's a responsibility that calls for a prompt, professional business solution. In other words, it's nothing personal. Encouraging staff members to offer their ideas inspires others, especially as those ideas come to fruition. The ripple effects can change the direction of the company for the better. The more you open your door and mind to ideas and suggestions, the more "ownership" staff will assume within their work and the company. Ultimately, such pride, innovation, and trust become the building blocks of stronger, increasingly successful organizations. For ongoing news, tips, tools, and resources for HR and business management, count on Workest throughout your day. We're here; and we're listening.

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