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Nimble, adaptable, empathetic and responsive – The future of employee listening

Ensuring your employees feel heard and valued in today’s business world requires an approach to employee listening and research that is nimble, adaptable, empathetic, and responsive. Your pre-pandemic approach – whatever it was – won’t work anymore. Sticking with it could even be perceived as callous or tone deaf by the people working for you. You will lose them and fail to attract their replacements if you don’t adapt.

Our 2022 research identifies that the current top three priorities for HR are: improving employee engagement and experience (44%); attracting talent (41%); and retaining talent (35%). These are closely followed by culture, learning and development, and employee wellbeing. It’s insights like this that are key to future-proofing your organisation. And based on our experience, designing an approach that is in tune with both the current and future needs of your workforce require you to focus on five key questions first:

1. What challenges are you facing?

Many leaders are understandably eager to gather feedback on an ongoing basis right now. This comes as a response to either increased churn, the cost-of-living crisis, health & wellbeing, or to design hybrid working etc. But, rushing into research without considering what you really need to learn first could be a mistake.

That’s why when we work with our clients to design employee listening programmes, we start by focusing on the business’s issues first. We then follow up with questions in mind: What are the biggest challenges your organisation is facing either now or in the future? How efficiently is your organisation operating in this new world of hybrid work? How effectively are you preparing for the future of work? What are your main people priorities? What are your employees really worried about?

By exploring these questions with our clients, before we develop their survey questions, we help them to think more carefully about what they need to learn as an organisation. And then we adjust our support accordingly. This is also the foundation for other tactical decisions we make. For example, instrument design, sample selection, administration techniques, reporting, and action planning.

2. How do you need to evolve?

The pandemic changed almost everything about the employee experience. It changed where people work from, to how they interact with clients, colleagues, and customers. And as a result, the UK workforce shrank. Many people either stopped working or decided to seek work opportunities that were (to them at least) safer, saner, and more sustainable. And, consequently, this year we have an excess of job vacancies in our economy.

Considering the size and scope of these changes, now is the right time to evaluate the extent to which your organisation is ready for the future of work. This is because forecasts suggest this situation isn’t going to change any time soon. Ask of your organisation: Is your EVP still compelling? Are your rewards and benefits aligned with the new ‘lifestyle choice’ employment contract that is emerging? Are your leaders and managers learning how to let go and share leadership? Or are you still operating with an old ‘command and control’ mindset? What impact will AI have on your approach to job design, employee development, and your operating model and structures? What aspects of your culture do you need to let go of, maintain, or embed further? These questions, and their answers, all need to be part of your people & organisation strategy.

Consider how often you’re listening to employees

Our job is to provide you with the insights you need to frame the right policy responses in your strategy. Traditionally, companies used employee surveys annually to maintain the status quo. And they were often used to shine a spotlight on the negatives and to encourage ‘levelling up’. But this strategy is no longer viable in a business environment that is becoming increasingly volatile and unpredictable. Instead, in our post pandemic world, employee listening programmes are needed to help organisations learn, adapt, evolve, and change in the moment. Therefore, the employee voice in your organisation should always be ‘on’. Otherwise, how do you pivot?

Comparably, this year’s WorkBuzz survey shows that 37% of organisations are now asking employees about their feelings and needs quarterly, or more regularly than that. Indeed, some 4% of organisations survey employees weekly and 10% survey monthly. This contrasts with our survey data from just four years ago when, in 2018, 79% of organisations running employee surveys conducted these annually or even less frequently.

If you are not listening to your employees and engaging them all the time in an ongoing dialogue about their observations and experiences at work, you could be blindsided when the next crisis hits. That’s one of the risks you are choosing to mitigate when working with WorkBuzz. This is also why we advise our clients to always put our survey tools right at the heart of their employee listening programme.

Our insights will help you frame the policy changes your people want to see in terms of culture, leadership, EVP and employee experience on an ongoing basis. None of these things should ever remain static. The only relevant question is – and your employees know the answer – what needs to change and by when? Change is now a constant in organisational life.

3. What’s the best way to implement employee listening?

Considering the complexity of current events, we believe that the best way to listen to your employees is to take a multi-method approach. During one-to-one conversations and in team meetings, managers should ask employees about their work concerns. Online focus groups and digital discussions can then be used to have a broader reach across locations, business units and even regions. Unmet needs assessments can be used to help employees prioritise their critical concerns. And our targeted pulse surveys alongside our full census surveys (as a baseline), can then be used to evaluate the effectiveness of your organisation’s response to emerging issues. We can also target specific issues such as onboarding and exit processes.

In addition, total rewards/EVP research can help determine what issues and rewards/benefits are most pressing and/or preferred by your workforce. Then, a 360 Assessment as part of a leadership development programme can help assess behaviours and competency areas right across leadership, management, or in critical areas of your business. We work with partner organisations to cover many of these other areas of employee listening, which is why we can advise you both on your overall strategy and how best to integrate all of the component parts into a coherent programme.

Remember, employee listening is as much about your culture as anything else. Asking questions but being deaf to the answers is worse than doing nothing.

4. What’s your process?

Determining who should participate in your research – and when – is critical to any successful employee listening campaign. Asking the right questions to the wrong people at the wrong time usually produces low quality data and a frustrated workforce.

When we help our clients select their research sample and determine the frequency of their assessments, we start by focussing on what’s ideal. What would be the best possible research population and cadence and how would that work in your business. Next, we think about the impact on participants. As continuous listening and regular pulsing becomes the norm (as the State of Employee Engagement 2022 shows), we take great care to make sure survey fatigue doesn’t set in. We do this by working with you at a pace your leaders and managers can sustain. We are interested in helping you, and them, turn insights into actions that count. Not just running more surveys.

This focus on impact is our raison d’être, as our mission is all about improving the working lives of millions of people. Research campaigns wither if there’s no follow up. Before launching an employee listening campaign, we always make sure first that your leaders, managers, employees, and other decision-makers have the capacity and bandwidth to absorb new research findings. If we didn’t care about this, we wouldn’t be able to fulfil our mission from working with you.

5. How will you turn employee listening into actions that will make a difference?

Surveys, pulses and focus groups create expectations for change; employees expect something to happen as a result of giving you feedback. If what they tell you doesn’t lead to insight and action, your employees will quickly become (more) disengaged.

We understand this. In many organisations, post survey action planning efforts take weeks or months. But we believe, given current conditions, this long lag between feedback and action just isn’t good enough. So, if your traditional action planning processes are slow and cumbersome, you must find ways to streamline them.

We run a network of companies that work with us (The Employee Experience Hub), as well as customer advisory boards. And we are using both to help us capture ways of speeding things up. But we already know that flash reports, rapid report outs, pre-designed best practices against key survey questions, micro-learning and micro lessons and discovery and action dialogues all help with this.

In the next few months, we will be publishing our further guidance on action planning. So, stay tuned!

In summary

If you are in charge of employee listening in your business, and you help shape the employee experience (moments that matter) for the people working for you, as well as the promise you are sending into the market place to enable you to hire the new people you want (your employee value proposition), then you’ve no choice but to find a way of balancing empathy with the current economic realities. You are in a unique position to help your organisation cope with the most profound, dynamic series of events. The five questions presented in this article can help you design an effective employee listening campaign. It will allow your leaders, managers, and employees to express their concerns, identify emerging problems, and work together to find new solutions and meet new challenges.

With WorkBuzz, you will become more nimble, adaptable, empathetic, and responsive in the eyes of your own employees. That’s a winning strategy in a difficult marketplace.

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