Your Employees Won’t Feel Heard Until You Act Like You’re Listening
The extent to which employees feel they’re being heard or listened to in the workplace is often considered under the umbrella term of “employee engagement.” When people feel engaged, they’re happier at work; they’re more likely to deliver better outcomes, either individually or as part of a team; and they’re less likely to want to leave.
But engagement requires a continuous effort and continuous improvement on the part of organizations and executives.Countless consistent studies, surveys and polls about disengaged workforces over many years are a testament to the fact that employee engagement isn’t easy.
Disengagement levels on a broad basis are rising: a recent Gallup poll found only 32% of workers overall “are engaged with their work, compared with 36% in 2020.”
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An often-cited 2021 study by the Workforce Institute found 86% of employees “feel people at their organization are not heard fairly or equally.” Nearly two thirds — 63% — felt their own voice was “ignored in some way by their manager or employer.” Even more jarring: that survey found that one third of people would rather quit or switch teams than raise the issue with their direct manager, pointing to fundamental problems in the employer-employee dynamic.
The thing to understand is: these are eminently fixable or solvable problems. Basic employee engagement strategies, such as regular check-ins, can and do work. Likewise, organizations with more mature engagement strategies see proportionally higher benefits in engagement, retention and the delivery of business results.
Starting With Surveys
Surveys are the simplest way to capture the voice of the employee. This is a format that people like to engage with: 78% of employees are eager to take part in surveys, for reasons including to share feedback with management, to be heard and to drive positive change in their organizations.
Part of feeling like you are being heard is seeing action. This seems to be where many organizations misstep: Half of employees say their feedback never goes anywhere or results in any change. That gulf of inaction is a sure-fire way to create a disengaged workforce.
As a team leader, I run quarterly surveys to understand sentiment and set goals for every member of the team. I want to know what their goals are for the next quarter, what they would like to do more or less of, areas for change, things they would like to see introduced culturally, their long-term career trajectory and what I can do for them.
The surveys are a safe space: nobody is compelled to answer any questions they don’t want to or feel uncomfortable with, though I usually find every question is answered. Then, it’s on me as team leader to take these insights and incorporate them into individuals’ career plans or into process or cultural improvements.
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It’s not enough to just collect insights. The insights need to be actionable, acted upon and to drive recognizable change. That seems to be where some organizations falter.
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You’ll know when you get this right because the engagement will be clear. One employee recently told me filling in the quarterly form made them feel like a catalyst for change and that they were being heard. That’s not only humbling to hear as a leader, but also a strong indication the engagement strategy is landing right.
Driving Deeper Engagement
However, surveys only scratch the surface of employee engagement. They’re the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine — an early warning system of sorts. True workplace leaders need to layer survey data with something far more substantial.
Those extra layers are other sources of qualitative (and possibly also quantitative) data about employee habits and behaviors that can augment the qualitative data collected through regular surveys.
By using several layers of data, you can gain even richer and more detailed insights that can drive more personalized and proactive workplace initiatives to keep employees engaged. Richer, layered data also provides organizations and team leaders with a much more well-rounded view of what is going on in the organization than relying on employee feedback collected through a single source.
Related Article: 4 Steps to Level Up Your Employee Engagement Strategy
One way of collecting this additional quantitative data is by having a feedback mechanism associated with every documented and published process in the organization. The presence of this mechanism acts as an idea collection point, and as a groundswell to drive improvement.
It may also help identify administrative overhead that people would ultimately like to be doing less of. These tasks could be prime candidates for automation, which could again lift engagement if employees see the most cumbersome parts of their jobs are being invested in and remediated.
Tying feedback that’s relative to a specific process or even a specific part of a process in with the voice of the employee means organizations can really start to build and drive forward their improvement efforts.
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About the Author
Chris Ellis, director of pre-sales at Nintex, gained invaluable experience in SharePoint, Office 365 and the Nintex Platform as a pre-sales solution specialist within the partner network. Hailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, his work with the Nintex Platform exposed him to the full lifecycle from analysis and requirement gathering to delivery, support and training, contributing across a spectrum of projects in various industries and in some interesting places. Connect with Chris Ellis: