Employee Experience

Why it’s time to listen to our people

Right now many of your people may be in deep distress. Are you listening to how they’re feeling? Are you listening to what they need? And not only that: are you taking action?

Are you listening to your people? Really listening? Listening is a skill too many of us don’t pay enough attention to. Or we think because we survey our people once a year that our people’s voices are being heard.

But there are many ways to listen to your people, and no one-size-fits-all way to do it.

There's a difference between hearing something and truly listening

Geoff Ho, Director, Research & Advisory, People & Culture, Rogers Communications

Give every employee a voice

Always-on feedback platforms are a powerful way to keep your finger on the pulse of your people any time, but can be particularly powerful in supporting your people through times of crisis.

Right now, for example, many employees may be feeling anger, stress, and fear around the pervasive and repetitive injustices against the black community that have led to the current protests. Add to that the fears over the COVID-19 pandemic and the outlook for the economy, it's clear that many employees will be deeply affected by issues happening outside of the workplace.

Always-on feedback gives you a way to reach out to them. It can help you to understand how people are feeling, and take action to help – and even if you might not be able to solve everything for everyone, any action is better than no action.

These feedback tools should always be confidential, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out directly to those you realize are struggling.

Listening can help identify areas of opportunities and risks.

Systematic listening

Leaders need to continually ask themselves who they’re listening to and who they’re not hearing from. It's understanding how your personal biases may come into play. You have to recognize not just the content, but the context of what people are telling you.

When you’re asking for feedback from your people, whether that’s an annual engagement survey, a one-off pulse survey, or part of an ongoing always-on listening program, you may not recognize your inherent biases.

It’s worth bearing in mind that you may be more likely to hear those people with more sensational stories, or those who you relate to on a personal level. And by doing so you ignore whole groups of your people. This could leave you with a skewed and unrepresentative picture of what’s really going on.

Systematic listening is about making sure that you’re hearing from all corners of the organization. And not just listening to those with the loudest voices, the most clout, or those in the majority.

So if you work in retail for example, that means not just those in head office, but those in your warehouse, in your contact centers and on your shop floors. It means making a conscious effort to never over-emphasize one group over another.

Deep 1:1 listening

Sometimes there’s no replacing human interaction. Deeply traumatic incidents need genuine human connection.

Deep listening is a process of listening in order to learn. It requires the temporary suspension of judgment, and a willingness to receive new information – whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

Listening here is about managers reaching out to their people and asking them how they’re really doing. And being prepared to hear that they need support of some sort.

Oscar Trimboli, author and presenter of award-winning podcast, Deep Listening, says we spend 55% of our day listening, yet only 2% of us have had any listening training whatsoever.

Enabling your leaders with the right skills to listen can have a huge impact on their performance and the people they manage. Particularly in times of crisis.

READ MORE: Oscar Trimboli recommended listening resources

Diversity & inclusion (D&I) programs

Diverse and inclusive workplaces drive better business outcomes for organizations – but many organizations are just starting to drive necessary changes that create safe and inclusive spaces.

This is only going to take on greater importance as younger generations – millennials through to Generation Z – become the dominant groups within the workforce. These demographics are set to be more culturally diverse than anything seen before, and they are motivated by values, purpose, and experience.

Successfully building a diverse and inclusive workforce gives your company a bigger competitive advantage, enabling organizations to better attract and retain the best talent. This is alongside the well-documented benefits of D&I, such as improved productivity, creativity, and employee and customer satisfaction. If you have a D&I program already, that’s great. If not, it’s time to get started.

FIND OUT MORE: The Purpose-Driven Diversity Strategy: A Tool Kit for the New Era

Open up the conversation

Employee resource groups (also known as ERGs, affinity groups, or business network groups) aim to give a voice to those typically unrepresented at work.

As well as helping to build communities among people with shared identities and experiences.

With the right support, ERGs help to create safe spaces for people to discuss their experiences. They give a voice to underrepresented people whose day-to-day struggles can often lie hidden – or, even worse, out in the daylight in full view, but with no one recognizing, confronting, or taking action to negate them. They also have an executive sponsor so the groups have a direct line of communication to senior leadership.

“ERGs are led by employees in an effort to foster a supportive environment and to enhance company policies around diversity and inclusion”

READ MORE: Diversity Best Practices 

Take action

There’s nothing as disheartening for employees than their organization continually asking them how they are without seeing any changes taking place. This is listening 101. If you’re going to ask how people are, you need to respond. Otherwise they’ll not only stop responding when you ask how they are, they’ll stop engaging with the process too.

However, if you do implement changes because of what you’ve heard, you have to feed this back to your people. And you should communicate this over and over.

“Let your people know their voice is making a difference.”

Right now is a very scary time for many people, particularly those in black communities in the US. Organizations need to be alert to the fact that their people may be trying to mask deep distress right now.

And while no one way of listening is necessarily better than another, true listening is about not necessarily solving problems but understanding how to help.

You owe it to your people to not only listen to them, but listen to them deeply.


Effective one-on-one meetings - your guide to listening to employees