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What’s happening to employee listening?

“Actively listening to employees and then acting on the feedback is not simply ‘another HR initiative’ but is foundational to attracting talent, improving retention and increasing productivity – the very outcomes leaders are currently prioritising.”

Why aren’t we listening to our employees? When organisations were battling with a pandemic we saw an increased adoption of engagement surveys that ‘temperature checked’ employee sentiment. Employee listening was on the rise, giving leaders a clearer idea of what their people were thinking and feeling at different points in time. But it appears organisations have now decided to pull down the blinds and put their ear plugs in – fewer leaders are listening to their employees and the impact is – rather predictably – poorer employee engagement. So why have leaders decided to put their conversation with employees on mute?

The cost-of-living crisis over the past year appears to have rocked the boat across UK industry, and as organisations try to get more out of their people, they’re focusing on ‘harder’ business outcomes like retention, performance and productivity. This is at odds with during and immediately following the pandemic when organisations were spotlighting employee wellbeing and giving their people a voice, perhaps for the first time!

Unfortunately, supposed ‘softer’ business outcomes like improving employee engagement and the everyday employee experience have now taken backseats in many organisations as they battle with their balance sheets. In fact, it was just 12 months’ ago that HR leaders said that the employee experience was their number one priority, but this has now been replaced with staff retention as the primary focus.

And what are the impacts of this sea change?  Rather unsurprisingly, employee listening has taken a nosedive – just 17 per cent of organisations are currently using regular ‘pulse surveys’ to temperature check employee sentiment on a monthly or quarterly basis – down from a third (33 per cent) in 2022. And it’s no coincidence that 64 per cent of U.K. HR professionals admit that employee engagement levels at their organisations have either remained stagnant or worsened over the past 12 months, with just 36 per cent saying that employee engagement has improved.

These findings are greatly concerning, indicating that leaders don’t appreciate the intrinsic link between supposed ‘soft’ initiatives like employee listening and ‘harder’ business outcomes.

In fact, actively listening to employees and then acting on the feedback is not simply ‘another HR initiative’ but is foundational to attracting talent, improving retention and increasing productivity – the very outcomes leaders are currently prioritising. With engaged employees 87 per cent less likely to leave their job (source: Corporate Leadership Council), leaders are blinkered if they think that employees can be encouraged to stay for longer and work harder without giving them a voice and that invaluable sense of belonging.

Providing employees with a voice can take place in numerous ways, including through one-to-ones, team gatherings and ‘town hall’ meetings. However, there must also be a structured means for gathering and analysing feedback and then actioning the findings, such as regular and anonymous employee listening surveys. The latter can cover off a range of topics – from the effectiveness of the company’s onboarding programme through to the quality of the management team, drilling into what employees think and feel – and why. Trends, issues and an understanding of what is and isn’t working across the organisation can then be more easily identified and action plans put in place. Plus, using employee feedback to crowdsource new ideas and leverage objective data is crucial for helping leaders prioritise where to focus their limited resources.

As well as using an employee listening strategy to steer the business in the right direction, it makes employees feel listened to and important. After all, nothing quite says “we don’t care about you” like leaders failing to consult with employees when organisational changes are made.

And so, why aren’t more leaders listening to their people? With the very act of employee listening delivering so many business benefits, it’s surprising that it’s being neglected at a time when companies are tightening their purse strings and desperately searching for economies of scale. Ultimately, the employees have the answers to most of today’s business challenges and so when times are tough, listen harder!

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