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Know what makes workers feel valued? Being listened to. Employee listening is extremely rewarding and there are plenty of ways to create and implement an effective employee listening strategy. 

Here I’ll take you through what employee listening is, why it’s important, and some strategies, methods, and best practices.

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. 

Why Employee Listening Is Important

All good relationships are built on effective communication, trust, and respect. Employee listening is important because you:

  • Show employees that you care and are better enabled to protect their well-being
  • Obtain feedback to drive initiatives that improve employee retention and engagement
  • Cultivate trust in leadership by empowering managers to engage their teams
  • Infuse business strategy, priorities, and goals with ongoing employee insights
  • Build an “employer of choice” brand for your company to attract and retain top talent
  • Create an engaging and successful workplace culture
  • Develop sustainable approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I’ve seen the impact of successful employee listening programs. A few of my team’s 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 benefits are there to be had, now we’ll go into the how.

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6 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.

Utilise multiple listening channels for continuous listening

If you’re going to listen well, you need multiple “listening posts.” Companies that execute employee listening best use a mix of annual surveys, pulse surveys, focus groups, 1:1 meetings, town halls, skip-level meetings, stay interviewsexit interviews, and internal social platforms to gather feedback on an ongoing basis.

Some of the most impactful listening channels I use 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 surveys and 360-feedback surveys), and upon separation from the company
  • Regular pulse surveys to measure employee perceptions of big organizational changes
  • Buddy mentors for new hires to gather feedback during an employee’s first three months.

While useful, sending out one bumper survey per year 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 fresh data to work with.

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 strategies, 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.

Demonstrate 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:

  1. 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 and that’s also what we recommend to our customers.
  2. 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.
  3. Select the critical improvement areas. I recommend the 3-2-1 model.
    1. Find three key results within your data. These could be highs, lows, or key comments. 
    2. As a team, discuss the two most significant opportunities for improvement
    3. Decide on one action you’re going to take for the benefit of your organization.
  4. 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.

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…  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, manager conversations, 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 implementing programs, training, education, and opportunities to support women. For example, we looked at workplace flexibility to be supportive of working moms, 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. 

Strategies to encourage employees share feedback

Getting employees to voice their true opinions 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 employee 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.”

Help facilitate employee resource groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are groups of people from the same organization who unify based on a common identity, lived experience, common goals, or intersectional backgrounds and aspirations.

Traditionally, ERG members belong to underrepresented groups such as women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, those with disabilities, or the LGBTQ+ community, but they can also form around other commonalities or interests such as working parents or environmental concerns.

Ultimately, the #1 purpose of ERGs for leaders and managers is to better understand employee needs.

They cna help drive system change and highlight issues such as pay inequity, equitable recruiting and equitable performance review processes.

For more, check out Katie Zink’s awesome article on facilitating employee resource groups.

Get Listening

“The way business leaders obsess over users is the same level of interest HR must have for their employees. Understand their needs, their pain points, what challenges they face, and what skills they are seeking.” - Donna Scarola, Chief People, Purpose & Culture Officer, Parcl

I can say from experience that investing in an employee listening program can significantly boost employee retention and 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.

Join The People Managing People Community

For further advice on employee listening and other engagement strategies, join our supportive community of HR and business leaders sharing knowledge and expertise to help you grow in your career and make greater impact in your org.

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Cyndi Wenninghoff
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.