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How many people in human resources can say they truly love their work AND have the opportunity to use their own software to make work better every day? Probably not many. 

I’m grateful I have the opportunity to work strategically on building a magnetic culture at Quantum Workplace.

Through employee listening—the process of collecting, analyzing, sharing, and acting on employee feedback—we were able to reduce our voluntary turnover by 8%, achieve a 100% response rate on our annual engagement survey, and recruit and retain top talent.

There are plenty of ways to create and implement an effective employee listening strategy. 

In this article, I’ll take you through:

Let’s dive in.

What Is Employee Listening?

Employee listening is more than sending your annual employee survey. It’s an organization’s holistic approach to understanding, validating, and improving the employee experience based on the continuous collection of feedback using multiple methods.

Without an effective continuous employee listening strategy, it’s darn difficult to understand what’s driving things like employee turnover or engagement. 

The “Why” For Employee Listening

All good relationships are built on effective communication, trust, and respect. It’s no surprise, then, that creating meaningful relationships with employees can positively impact organizations.

An important aspect of building strong relationships with employees is to listen to them, ask for their feedback, and demonstrate that you hear them.

A few reasons to invest in employee listening include:

  • Showing employees that you care
  • Obtaining real-time feedback to guide data-driven actions that improve the employee experience across the employee lifecycle
  • Cultivating trust in leadership by empowering managers to engage their teams
  • Infuse business strategy, priorities, and goals with ongoing employee insights
  • Building an “employer of choice” brand for your company to attract and retain top talent
  • Creating an engaging and successful workplace culture
  • Developing sustainable approaches to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

I’ve seen the impact of successful employee listening programs. A few of my own outcomes include:

  • Reduced voluntary turnover by 8% between 2021-2022
  • Secured 100% participation in our 2022 annual employee survey
  • Achieved an overall 87% favorable rating with employees within the last year
  • Enjoyed 95% first-year retention of new hires.

The results are there to be had, now we’ll go into the how.

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5 Employee Listening Strategies, Methods, And Best Practices

In the past, companies have focused on how to communicate to the workforce, a largely one-way process. 

Now it’s time to master two-way communication by listening to employees and demonstrating that the organization hears them—active listening for companies.

Here are my strategies and best practices for building high-impact employee listening programs.

1. Utilise Multiple listening channels for continuous listening

If you’re going to listen really well, you need multiple “listening posts.”

Companies that execute employee listening best use multiple methods of listening such as annual surveys, pulse surveys, focus groups, 1:1 meetings, town halls, exit interviews, and internal social platforms to gather feedback on an ongoing basis.

Some of the most impactful listening channels include:

  • An annual employee engagement survey that is championed and implemented by a cross-functional team of stakeholders
  • Regular one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers
  • Lifecycle surveys during onboarding, on employment anniversaries (stay interviews or surveys and 360-feedback surveys), and upon separation from the company (exit interviews)
  • Regular pulse surveys to measure employee perceptions on big organizational changes
  • Skip-level meetings between senior managers and those two or more levels beneath them
  • Buddy mentors for new hires that seek feedback during an employee’s first three months.

Sending out one bumper survey per year, while useful, isn’t going to give you enough fresh data to know if you’re making much of an impact on your initiatives throughout the year.

Continuous listening, using a mix of methods, means you have more and fresher data to work with.

2. Shared responsibility for capturing feedback

To be effective, employee listening shouldn’t be solely owned by HR or management.

Instead, the entire company takes responsibility with senior leaders setting the “listening” tone, HR driving and coaching for success, managers nurturing trust and engagement, and employees feeling empowered to contribute fully to the process.

Your culture should focus on people and how to make them successful. This focus starts at the top with the CEO and is reinforced throughout the organization.

Invest in developing great people leaders so they create an open dialogue with employees and intentionally listen to their feedback.

Leader development initiatives might include assigning a training manager to teach new managers how to be great “people leaders,” monthly manager meetings to share best practices, or a manager mentor program.

3. Demonstrated action taken as a result of listening data

Alexander Bell said, “The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action.” 

These words are so very true for employee listening! If your team members don't see how their feedback is informing the company’s actions, they won’t continue sharing.

You can take a few simple steps to ensure follow-up action from employee listening efforts:

  • Use favorability metrics to identify high-impact areas of improvement and focus your follow-up efforts on areas with lower favorability. We use the 6-point agreement scale (strongly disagree - strongly agree) and that’s also what we recommend to our customers. 
  • Combine all of your data in one place with analytics. This helps you identify trends faster and makes data actionable. We use our own software, that combines all the data and analytics, but you could use one or a combination of employee engagement software, employee survey tools, and HR analytics software.
  • Select the critical few improvement areas. I recommend the 3-2-1 model.
    • Find three key results within your data. These could be highs, lows, or key comments. 
    • As a team, discuss the two most significant opportunities for improvement
    • Decide on one action you’re going to take for the benefit of your organization.
  • Update on your progress. Close the feedback loop with regular progress updates on follow-up activities. Use multiple communication avenues to spread the message like email, videos, Slack (or another internal messaging tool), all-hands meetings, and update future listening surveys with new questions to demonstrate the organization’s adaptability and flexibility.

4. Feedback loops that are part of the company’s DNA

I’ve worked with numerous companies to implement employee listening strategies and the biggest challenge—and reward— is universally the same...actually doing the listening! As Amelia Earhart said, “The most effective way to do it is to do it!”

A quick case study. 

In 2021, I noticed voluntary turnover was a little high. Based on sources of feedback like manager 1-on-1s, I had an inkling it was related to gender.

When I looked at the numbers it turned out women were leaving the organization at double the rate of men.

So, I dove into our other listening methods and looked at a mix of quantitative and qualitative data from our engagement survey, exit feedback, and manager conversation and survey comments.

I used what people were telling us to solve why turnover was higher for women.

From there, I developed a plan of action and had a conversation about it with leadership to gather more insights and ideas.

We focused on areas for women, implementing programs, training, education, and opportunities to support women. For example, we looked at workplace flexibility to be supportive of working moms and enhanced our parental leave policy, and analyzed benefits that support women. 

We also brought in a speaker on elevating women’s voices and we celebrated International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. 

After we acted on employee feedback, we once again looked at what employees were telling us through our feedback channels. The female turnover rate had reduced by around 50%!

Other numbers also indicate our continuous feedback strategy is working. Quantum Workplace’s 4.8 Glassdoor rating far exceeds the average company rating of 3.3. 

Also, employee engagement survey completion and favorability rates are significantly higher than the 85.2% response and 73.5% favorability rates in the software and IT space. 

5. Strategies to encourage employees to speak up

Getting employees to speak up in the first place can be a challenge for many organizations. 

Communicating the “why” behind employee listening is a great start as people are much more likely to do something when they understand how it can benefit them. 

This is why messaging around requests such as surveys is important, treat it like sales copy and maybe ask your marketing team to help out!

Another aspect is psychological safety, or people feeling confident they can speak up and contribute ideas without being humiliated.

When people feel ‘psychologically safe’ they’re more engaged and more likely to contribute ideas and suggestions.

Building psychological safety starts with managers, for example how they give and receive feedback and share wins and failures.

For more on psychological safety check out how to create psychological safety in the workplace

Lastly, and related to both communication and taking action, is ensuring you acknowledge feedback and give reasoning behind any decision-making. 

“We acknowledge a lot of you have misgivings around X so we wanted to address this and we’re going to do XYZ.”

Get Listening

I can say from experience that investing in an employee listening program can improve culture, relationships, employee engagement, and help tie HR closer to business goals.

We’ve all experienced great disruption since COVID-19, and engaging employees in ongoing meaningful ways, including employee listening programs, can help us all thrive through the changes to come.

Another great example of employee listening in action is American Express’s use of surveys to help hone its flexible working model.

Some further resources to help you:

You can join in the conversation around employee listening and other proactive HR initiatives in the People Managing People Community and subscribe to the People Managing People newsletter to receive regular content to help you progress in your career and build healthy, productive organizations.

By Cyndi Wenninghoff

Cyndi Wenninghoff has over 10 years of experience working in human resources in various industries including advertising, insurance, and technology. She currently works as the Director of Employee Success at Quantum Workplace in Omaha where she oversees employee engagement, recruiting, DE&I, onboarding, and retention efforts. Previously she was the Director of Human Resources at SilverStone Group, a HUB International company as well as the Head of Talent at Bailey Lauerman. Outside of work, she is a member of the Human Resources Association of the Midlands (HRAM) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Additionally, she serves as the Director-Elect for the HR Nebraska State Council. She is also the Communications and PR Coordinator for RISE Omaha, a motivating speaker series designed to inspire and unite women throughout Omaha, helping to connect women leaders and build the next generation of female business leaders.