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Prioritising employee listening in the modern workplace

While previous generations of workers were willing to exchange their skills for a pay cheque, the modern employee demands more than monetary rewards and promotions; they want to have a voice.

Quiet quitting. High turnover rates. Generational communication differences.  In today’s rapidly changing work environment, HR Managers are being confronted with some of their biggest challenges to date, and knowing how to navigate the balance between tradition and innovation has become more than a ‘nice to have’ —it’s now a non-negotiable skill.

While previous generations of workers were willing to exchange their skills for a pay cheque, the modern employee demands more than monetary rewards and promotions; they want to have a voice. This is why actively seeking — and listeningto your workforce has never been more vital, and yet, even with 72 per cent of businesses finding it difficult to retain top talent, a staggering statistic remains: only one in four employees feel “truly heard” at work. This underscores the urgent need for organisations not only to listen to their workforce but to foster environments where genuine communication and engagement are highly valued.

Here’s how to make employee listening a priority.

Understand the Consequences of Ignoring Your People: While there’s no denying that prioritising employee listening is important, it may also require a significant shift in thinking and strategy, particularly for those who adhere to a traditional ‘command and control’ leadership style. If you’re on the fence (or receiving pushback), consider this: when employees feel ignored or dismissed, it can have a detrimental effect on morale and job satisfaction as well as productivity and well-being, all of which can undermine your organisation’s ability to thrive in a competitive and dynamic marketplace.

Learn from the failure of others: Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of organisations that have failed their people through poor (or non-existent) employee listening. One of the most recent examples is The Post Office scandal which brought many serious cultural failings to light, including how leaders systemically ignored the voices of numerous sub-postmasters. It’s only now – years after the scandal first broke – that Post Office leaders are being forced to listen to the aggrieved. While this case is extreme, many organisations let their people down by not listening, and the knock-on effects on reputation and revenue streams can be catastrophic.

Recognise every suggestion. Successful listening requires that employees feel empowered to share their perspectives openly, and on a continual basis. Encouragement and trust play a pivotal role in this process, as individuals must not only be motivated to voice their thoughts but feel safe in doing so. Recognising their contributions by way of town halls, appreciation walls or on some other platform is a great way to nurture feelings of transparency. This will go a long way in helping to create an environment where communication thrives and employees feel seen and appreciated.

Choose the right technologies. The route to effective communication starts with choosing the right channels at every stage of the employee journey. Onboarding, pulse and exit surveys are not only a great way for organisations to better understand their strengths and blind spots, but will also help leaders make more informed decisions regarding processes and resource allocation. To do this, companies must choose channels that allow ideas to flow freely, anonymously, and securely. 

Adopt a ‘You Said, We Did’ Approach: While it’s understandable that you will not implement every suggestion, it’s important to acknowledge and follow up with every recommendation. Keeping employees informed of the rationale behind the decisions made in relation to their input is another great way to foster transparency and trust. Taking a “you said, we did’ approach works well, particularly when managing larger-scale ideas and feedback such as those gathered from surveys, forums and town hall meetings. The key is to show you heard what was said, considered it and made a decision (while sharing how and why that decision was made). Then finish with a clear outline of the next steps.

Looking at the data, it’s clear to see that good employee listening goes far beyond rolling out an annual engagement survey and sharing results. To be successful, organisations must ‘walk the walk’. This starts by making efforts to integrate listening into every area of the company, at every key moment in the employee lifecycle, elevating the employee voice to a central position and taking swift and meaningful action based on employee insights. This shifts the culture towards a two-way, collaborative leadership style, where soliciting feedback and making improvements becomes standard practice.

 

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