Are You Listening, Really Listening, to Your Employees?

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Many, if not most, organizations have methods in place to gather input from employees—suggestion boxes, hotlines, focus groups, engagement surveys, etc. But are these organizations actually using this input strategically?

The High Cost of Poor Communication

Organizations can’t risk the high costs of disengaged employees. According to Gallup, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. Those impacts should illustrate why companies should work to actively seek the voice of the employee.

These are costs that are likely affecting the majority of US employers. Various studies have illustrated the links between employee engagement and a wide range of other business and employment metrics.

For example, engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to quit a job than disengaged workers; and disengaged employees are 18 percent less productive and 15 percent less profitable on average.

A big part of engagement is simply feeling valued and listened to, but unfortunately many companies don’t do a good job in this respect. According to data from the Workforce Institute, 83 percent of surveyed employees feel they aren’t heard “fairly or equally,” while 60 percent feel their opinions are just ignored entirely.

These are the kinds of perceptions that can lead to disgruntled employees whose frustrations can quickly skyrocket. In addition, today’s employees are increasingly very socially aware and expect their employers to be too. Knowing where they stand can be tough; effective listening can help.

Opening Channels and Really Listening

While many companies have incorporated some efforts or technologies to better listen to employees, few place as much emphasis on  it as today’s employees demand of them.

It’s not enough to simply conduct annual engagement surveys. Employers need to have sources of ongoing input and feedback that can be continually monitored—and acted upon.

Continuous listening provides an “always on” feedback loop between employees, their managers, and senior leaders. Today’s business environment is in a constant state of flux, both internally and externally. Things don’t remain static for long, including employees’ sentiment about a wide range of issues.

Ongoing input channels provide organizations with in-the-moment insights into employee sentiment, helping to foster a culture of transparency and engagement. Without this type of real-time feedback, organizations miss the opportunity to really move the needle on engagement, and retention.

Creating a Climate of Trust

Of course, it takes more than making tools available for input to create an environment in which employees feel free, and comfortable, to share their thoughts and ideas—especially constructive input about things they feel could be improved. It takes trust.

One critical component for creating a climate of trust that will ensure open and honest feedback is demonstrating the willingness to listen, really listen, especially to negative input.

The top organizations aren’t afraid to tackle tough issues, inviting input from employees and other key stakeholders that can, at times, be brutal. 

How can organizations create this type of climate and what role do HR professionals play in the process? Here are some important steps to take to create a culture that fosters trust, engagement and commitment.

Conduct a Communication Audit

An important first step can be conducting a communication audit. HR can help to evaluate the organization’s current communication practices and channels to determine what’s working, and what’s not. 

  • What tools are used to get critical information to the workforce?
  • On what channels and at what time is the most engagement and interaction?

This should be an ongoing process, not just an annual event.

Having measurement tools in place is important to continually monitor the effectiveness of communications. Measurement tools can also help HR shape how they approach the employee experience and better understand the shifts in today’s workforce. Tools that can measure morale and employee sentiment, can give HR deeper insights into areas of improvement or how they can ensure greater alignment and support for all employees. In addition, this type of measurement can help organizations control the spread of misinformation. This is especially critical in an era of social media where the push of a button can impact organizational reputation for years.

Practice Transparency

Transparency leads to trust, something that many organizations today are sorely lacking. Transparent frequent communication can help. This might include such things as sharing regular updates or addressing tough issues over video each week.

As employees continue to voice their opinions, employers should evaluate how they disseminate information and strive to provide a single source of truth when addressing concerns.

Regardless of the level of trust and transparency in your organization, it’s a best practice to offer both direct and anonymous means for employees to provide feedback—positive or constructive. This can be done through “old-fashioned” physical suggestion boxes or more modern modes of input like online surveys and polls. Input can also be gathered via grassroots or town hall meetings, all-hands company meetings, manager 1:1 meetings, open-door policies or vendor-managed hotlines.

Take Action!

This, of course, is where the rubber meets the road. You’ve invited input and employees are speaking loud and clear—perhaps even in a very unified voice. But what are you doing about what you’ve heard?

Action must be taken based on inputs received, even if that action is nothing more than an acknowledgement of receiving the input and an explanation of why nothing may be able to be done at this point in time.

In many cases, changes can be made, or solutions implemented. Even when they can’t though, providing a response summary, including the input and “business why” will show employees that they have been heard.

Finally, make sure to close the loop. The number one way employers lose credibility with employees is failing to close the loop on inputs received.

In an environment where disgruntled employees have the opportunity to be heard not just internally, but around the world, HR managers have not only an opportunity, but an obligation to take steps to ensure that employees are heard, and responded to, on an ongoing basis within an environment of transparency and trust.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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