At a young age, we all learn the difference between “hearing” and active listening. Just think back to when your mom would nag you about cleaning your room or your teacher would drone on about something boring. Their words sounded like the muffled “wah wawwh wawwah’s” of the adults instructing Charlie Brown.
We heard what they were saying, but none of it actually sunk in.
Now what about your employees’ voices? Are their words and feelings clear in your mind? Or do they sound more like white noise?
Chances are, even if you think you’re actively listening to the employee voice of your organization, the workforce doesn’t agree. A 2015 IBM survey found that while 83% of employees would participate in an employee listening program — for example, an engagement survey — 38% of baby boomers and 22% of millennials don’t believe higher-ups would actually act on their feedback.
Let’s practice some active listening comprehension: What are those statistics really saying?
Employees have something to say, but many don’t feel their employers value their voice enough to actually consider their suggestions. And unless business leaders begin to heed the employee voice, employee feedback of all types becomes nothing more than a farcical waste of time.
Here are three ways to stop turning a deaf ear towards your workplace and start actively listening:
1. Remember the human side of communication
Thanks to advances in digital communications, organizations are more connected than ever. In mere minutes, a manager can compose and send out a message that reaches every member of the team. While this method can save time, if relied upon too heavily, it creates (virtual) distance between team members. And as the price of efficient communication, employees are reduced to nothing more than their email addresses.
In case you forgot, your employees are human. They are all living, breathing, feeling beings who deserve a bit of human interaction.
Take the time to meet regularly and face-to-face with your employees. This not only gives you and your team members a chance to catch up on their performance, but also allows employees to share opinions or issues they are facing. Airing those grievances face-to-face lets employees see their manager’s reaction, as well as have an immediate discussion about what can and will be done.
Now you might be thinking, “But an email thread is sooo much easier!” It’s also lazier. And might be negatively affecting employee engagement. A recent survey from my company, Quantum Workplace, found that 85.7% of highly engaged companies have regular manager and employee one-on-ones, with 54.6% having these meetings as often as every month. Still think email is a better option?
2. Follow-up post-survey commitments and action plans
Remember that IBM stat about the percentage of employees who believe their leader will actually do something based on employee feedback? The reality is even worse. A 2015 survey by Motivosity looked at 5,000 companies; fewer than 2% of CEOs interact with employee feedback surveys a second time.
If that’s the only consideration employee surveys are getting, the instructions on them might as read as follows:
- Step 1: Please answer the following questions open and honestly.
- Step 2: Upon completion, throw your survey into the nearest trash can.
What’s the point of employee feedback if leadership ignores it?
The one true way to show employees that you have listened to them is to create changes based on their feedback. Take the data that is collected and commit to an action that will make things better.
And for goodness sake, tell employees what the plan is and how it reflects their input. This will let them know what to keep an eye out for as ways to keep you accountable for that promise.
3. Empower employees to tell their own story
As much time and effort we put into our employer brand, no viewpoint is as important to talent than that of current employees. I could tell you until I’m blue in the face that my company is a great place to work — which it is. But it’s not going to be as powerful or believable as when an employee talks about how much they love working for Quantum Workplace — which they do.
Give your employees the power to talk and share about their experiences working at your organization. After all, they’re being asked about it already any way. A 2015 LinkedIn report found that when job-seekers decide to look for new opportunities, the first thing they do is ask friends and colleagues about openings they know of.
Job-seekers trust their network to be honest with them about whether a position with a certain company is worth their time and energy. Use that fact to your advantage by encouraging your employees to share their love of your company either on social media or through testimonials on your career site. Let them be the voice that attracts and brings in other great talent — unless you’re scared of what they might say. But then you have a completely different workforce problem to deal with.
Somehow, it’s not only become common but accepted for the employee voice to be ignored. Sure, we let them talk through surveys, but there’s no real active listening. It’s time for that to stop and for business leaders to open up to change.
What other ways can you begin to actively listen to your employees?
Greg Harris is the president and CEO of Quantum Workplace, a company dedicated to providing every organization with quality engagement tools that guide their next step in making work better every day. Connect with Harris and the Quantum Workplace team on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
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