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Is Listening the Key to Employee Engagement?

Are you really listening to your employees?

According to a 2016 Deloitte report, “The biggest challenge for HR in leading engagement programs is shifting from a transactional, once-a-year mind-set, to an ‘always on,’ continuous listening approach to monitoring engagement.”

In other words, listening is the key to employee engagement.

That’s why some companies have opted to develop a Chief Listening Officer role. Hiring someone just to listen to employees may sound a little extreme at first, but the role is designed to monitor both internal and external communication channels to gather information and share their insights with different levels of the organization.

So, do you need a Chief Listening Officer? Maybe not. But you do need better listeners. Here’s why:

Why You Need Better Listeners

You may be hearing employees, but if you’re not listening, you’re missing out on opportunities to improve engagement and satisfaction. Listening is a more advanced skill than passively hearing, and better listeners are more in tune with their company, employees, and clients.

When you’re actively listening to employees, you can understand if they are truly excited to work at your organization, within their teams, and in their roles.

But it’s not just about listening to lower-level employees -- you can learn a lot from listening to their managers, as well. You can determine whether your people managers are aligned with your strategy, supported by your leadership, and have the necessary resources to lead.

In addition to these valuable insights, listening to employees and managers helps to build trust and rapport, and relationships play an important role in keeping employees happy and engaged.

Signs You Need Better Listeners

So, how do you know if you need better listeners? Here are a few signs:

  • Employee engagement surveys: If you’re regularly conducting employee engagement surveys, you may think you’re already listening to employees, but that’s not always the case. After all, a 2015 IBM survey found that while 83 percent of employees would participate in an employee listening program -- for example, an engagement survey -- only 38 percent of baby boomers and 22 percent of millennials think the higher-ups would actually act on their feedback. If you’re not making changes based on your survey results, you’re not actually listening to your employees.
  • Surprising results: You’re reviewing the results from your latest employee engagement survey, and you’re shocked by what you find -- you had no idea employees felt this way. If you’re surprised by survey data and employee feedback, that’s a good sign there’s a disconnect between you and your employees. While engagement surveys can give you deeper insights, the results shouldn’t be totally shocking. If you’re actively listening to employees, you should already have a basic idea of what they think and how they feel.
  • Employees aren’t talking: If your employees are quiet and haven’t given any feedback, you may think that’s great -- they must be happy with nothing to complain about. But if employees are reluctant to give feedback or participate in engagement surveys, that may actually be a sign they don’t feel like their feedback is valued. If they think you’re not listening, then what’s the point of speaking up?

What You Can Do

You may not have the resources to dedicate one position just to listening to employees, but there are some alternative steps you can take to improve active listening within your organization.

  • Train leaders: Invest in leadership development on active listening for leaders and managers. The training should show leaders how to give their undivided attention to employees, suspend their own judgment, and how to reflect on and empathize with what employees are saying. In addition, stress the importance of asking questions to clarify what employees are saying and to repeat back what they said to make sure they’re on the same page.
  • Adopt communication tools: You can’t be everywhere at once to hear what your employees and managers are saying. But you can use tools that allow them to more easily share their feedback and you to more easily listen to what they're saying. Internal social media networks, feedback and survey platforms, and performance review applications can give you different perspectives about your employees and your workplace.
  • Take action: Listening to your employees won’t do any good unless you act on the insights you gain. Take what you learn and use it to make real, positive changes. And when employees see you taking their feedback seriously, they’ll be more likely to give it in the future. With this cycle, listening to your employees will continually help to improve your organization.

With these tips in mind, it’s time to transform employee engagement at your company. Ready for more tips? Check out our free guide on how to engage employees past the six-month mark.

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