Listening to Employees: It’s More Important Than You Think

Employees want to be heard, and hearing what they have to say can help your company progress and innovate.

employees talking in meeting
Don’t lose good employees and the potential to improve your business by failing to listen

When it comes to customers, businesses know that listening — to the pluses and minuses — is critical to retaining buyers and propelling growth. When it comes to employees, the same holds true. Employees want to be heard as much as clients, and listening to what they have to say may be more than an eye-opening experience. It could mean progress and innovation.

Experts estimate 96% of unhappy customers will not complain when they’re dissatisfied. Of that group, 91% will silently take their business elsewhere permanently. That’s a lot of lost revenue. It’s not hard to imagine similar dissatisfaction metrics apply to staff members. When employees leave and don’t provide a reason, particularly when it happens repeatedly or within the same team or department, you may consider they’re exercising their right to move on without complaining.

Failing to listen can equate to lost talent, and recruitment and retraining costs are high and tangible. The cost in lost revenue, lowered morale, and productivity is more challenging to measure, but just as significant.

The real benefit of listening

More than 1/3 of staffers think their company doesn’t listen to their ideas for improvement.

Employees who know they are heard are more engaged and productive. When staff members have a voice, they’re willing to use it. One study found that, while companies are looking for new ways to improve, 82% of their staffers have ideas that could help achieve their goals. Unfortunately, the same study found more than 1/3 of staffers think their company doesn’t listen to their ideas for improvement. Is your organization missing out on opportunities to innovate, improve efficiencies, and serve your customers? There’s only one way to find out — listen.

Start with surveys

If you don’t think your staff members are ready to blurt out concerns or ideas in a public or even private forum, surveys are a great starting off point. Engagement surveys help measure how much your employees are invested in the company, and where you can look to improve. These can be offered on a routine basis, to see how and if progress has been made.

Pulse surveys are quick snapshots of company buzz. These can be particularly effective before, during, and after something new is occurring in the company. When striving to grow, companies often try new options or procedures. Finding out whether or not they work is important. Understanding how they impact employees is critical.

You may think a change is for the better if it results in higher metrics in one area: but if it costs engagement and creates churn, the investment wasn’t worth it. Along with analyzing data for success of a project or new initiative, analyze employee sentiment. You may find ways to tweak the process for even more improvement.

As important will be acting on any information you receive: nothing’s worse than being asked for your input and having it ignored.

Active listening 

Trainers know it’s a best practice to ask a learner how to do something, rather than tell them how it’s done. Giving people an opportunity to work it out themselves allows them to think through the problem, come up with a solution, and have a sense of pride in their accomplishment.

Once an employee is fully trained, continuing to ask for their input and ideas — and allowing them to work through problems — provides these same benefits. You may think you listen to your employees all day; they’re always talking. But active listening involves more than sitting still while they speak. Be proactive in seeking out opinions and concerns. Look for ways to involve staff in the idea process and bring them into implementation.

Front-line staffers have the pulse of the organization. They know what customers want, know what works best, and what drains time and resources. Tapping into that knowledge base is smart business: leveraging the information you receive could mean a boost to the bottom line.

But active listening involves more than sitting still while they speak. Be proactive in seeking out opinions and concerns. Look for ways to involve staff in the idea process and bring them into implementation.

Keep listening top of mind

More than just the periodic engagement or targeted pulse surveys, listening should be a priority. Management staff should be trained to listen actively and seek out ideas and opinions. Listening should be as much a part of their supervisory duties as any other. When managers listen to their employees, they build cohesive teams. When they ignore the ideas and concerns of their staff, they build churn.

All levels of staff should be encouraged to offer their thoughts, ideas, and concerns, either to their direct supervisor or to management. An open-door policy should be baked into every organization. Staff members want to be heard: business owners must make it clear thoughts are valued and will be turned into action steps.

Ask for innovation

Almost everything we do can be done better, faster, and smarter. Even the most routine tasks are open to innovation. A best practice to hone your listening skills is to ask for ideas. Managers often worry when they ask for ideas, they’ll get silly or impractical answers. But even these are an opportunity to help workers stretch their critical thinking skills.

When a staffer makes a suggestion that won’t work, rather than dismissing it out of hand, talk them through the process. In addition to actively listening, you’re helping them develop problem-solving skills that might lead to practical innovations in the future.

Turned into action

Even the smallest idea that’s heard, appreciated, and acted upon prompts employees to look for more ways to contribute. Everyone wins when your staff is actively looking for:

  • Ways to improve their workload
  • The way they serve customers, and
  • Ways the company can boost efficiencies and profit

Don’t forget to offer credit where credit is due. The smallest kudos make employees shine.

Don’t forget to offer credit where credit is due. The smallest kudos make employees shine. For some organizations, rewards are a part of the process. It makes sense, for example, to let employees know that cost-saving ideas for the company could net a gift card to the staffer. How much you save could inform how large the reward is.

Don’t take it personally

Often listening involves hearing things we don’t want to hear. Employee complaints can be difficult, but ignoring them is a mistake. The old “if I ignore it long enough maybe it will go away” mindset only makes the problem worse. Where there’s a problem, there’s a worthwhile solution, no matter how difficult the path to get there.

If you’ve invested in building a team, only to have them bullied by a bad manager, address the problem head-on. If the situation is dire, you may have to take immediate, decisive steps. If the manager can be retrained or corrected, it will be to everyone’s benefit to make a change. Remember it’s a business problem — not a personal affront. It will require a prompt, professional business solution.

Encouraging staff members to offer their ideas — and seeing those come to fruition — inspires others. It can be a ripple effect that moves throughout the company. The more you open your door (and your mind) to ideas and suggestions, the more ownership staffers will have in their work and the company. That can only boost the bottom line.

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