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Updated Oct 23, 2023

If You Listen Up, Your Employees Will Step Up

Listening to employees can lead to higher productivity and more initiative among active workers.

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Matt D'Angelo, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Being a good manager can be challenging. You must balance the organization’s needs and your employees’ well-being to create an efficient, productive workplace culture. While multiple management theories abound, developing fundamental communication skills is a simple way to improve your leadership style and employees’ well-being.  

One of the best ways to become a better leader is to focus on how you listen to employees. Active listening creates space for employees to voice their opinions on business decisions and actions, creating an environment of improved employee morale and engagement.   

Did You Know?Did you know
Practicing ineffective listening is a common leadership mistake. Others include avoiding conflict, lacking humility and not providing effective employee feedback.

What happens when employees don’t feel heard?

A study from Frontiers in Psychology found there are many ways managers can not hear their employees. The two most common – and harmful – include shutting down employees and not following through after saying you’ll implement their suggestions. 

  • Shutting down employees: Managers often shut down employee conversations and don’t make time for their input. There are no one-on-one sessions to discuss weekly agendas, and managers may dodge crucial meetings where workers need their approval or action on an initiative. In general, managers avoid team conversations.  
  • Not following through: The second form of not listening comes when managers don’t follow through. When you listen to an employee and say you’ll take action on their input, you demonstrate that you heard them and value their thoughts. However, you create disappointment when you don’t follow through on their ideas or suggestions. 

Alienated, disgruntled employees can lead to a host of issues, including the following:

  • Decreased morale 
  • Decreased productivity
  • Failure to meet crucial goals
  • Decreased job satisfaction
  • Increased job insecurity
  • Higher employee turnover

Employees value when their input is heard

According to the Frontiers in Psychology study, listening is a powerful way to improve employees’ work experience and job performance. By taking an active role in your team’s processes and listening to their feedback on business decisions, you can foster a collaborative environment that boosts productivity and helps employees feel valued. 

Additionally, a study from Penn State University found that active listening from managers can relieve employees’ feelings of job insecurity. 

“Unfortunately, when layoffs are imminent, managers often become withdrawn because they do not possess much more information about the future than their employees,” explained Phillip Jolly, Elizabeth M. King Early Career Professor and assistant professor of hospitality management at Penn State University. “Fortunately, there is something managers can do to support their employees’ well-being. They can increase their active listening about employees’ concerns.”

John Izzo, author of the book Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, believes active listening is crucial to getting the most out of employees. 

“The bottom line is that people want to be heard and feel valued,” he said. “When decisions are made without getting input from people, they tend to hold back their ideas and take less initiative to make improvement.”

Did You Know?Did you know
High morale can decrease employee turnover. If employees are happy in their positions and have a positive outlook on their managers and companies, they're more likely to stay.

What is an employee listening strategy?

An employee listening strategy means understanding the employee experience through an integrated approach that includes: 

  • Involving employees in decisions
  • Requesting feedback from employees
  • Improving the organization by incorporating employees’ ideas
  • Maintaining the company’s mission and objectives

An employee listening strategy is more than just sending out employee surveys. It involves managers creating a company culture with behavior that helps employees feel heard and valued. It’s a top-down strategy that requires implementation and buy-in at the highest levels of management and HR.

How do you develop an employee listening strategy? 

When developing an employment listening strategy, view your company as a whole, including its goals and objectives. A big-picture outlook can help you determine questions to ask and the type of relevant feedback you’re most likely to receive.

Consider all potential strategies and choose what will work best for your organization. Employee listening strategies include the following:

  • Surveying job seekers applying to your company 
  • Conducting new-hire surveys 
  • Conducting surveys as a part of exit interviews when employees leave the company 
  • Taking short pulse surveys at regular intervals so that managers can gauge employees’ feelings and perspective changes
  • Creating employee focus groups so that team members can add value and meaning when digging deeper into specific subjects 
  • Holding one-on-one discussions with management to give employees a chance to speak directly with leadership and openly discuss any topic
  • Soliciting honest employee feedback on everything happening within the company

You can implement these strategies in a matter of weeks, but an overall employee listening strategy is a constant process. You’ll need to ask for feedback, review the feedback, implement changes and begin the entire cycle again. Enacting real change is crucial, or you’ll lose your employees’ support. 

How to create opportunities for employee input

Sometimes, good listening means creating space to hear employees. Here are some examples of creating opportunities to help employees feel valued. 

  • Have one-on-one conversations. Ask your employees for feedback during one-on-one sessions. Ask about your management style, how they feel at the company, and what they think can change or be improved. Employees may be hesitant at first, but if you foster an open-door policy, you’ll ultimately produce a more creative, productive team. 
  • Host brainstorming sessions. Instead of generating ideas alone, involve your employees and democratize the knowledge-creation situation. By hosting brainstorming sessions, you create a level playing field that allows employees to grow comfortable with giving honest feedback in other areas of your management relationship. 
  • Note employee advice, and act on good ideas. Great listeners act on the ideas they’ve solicited. Give employees credit and follow through with their suggestions. If you take good ideas and don’t follow through, you’ll damage the relationship. 
TipTip
Maximize the effectiveness of your employee sessions by using effective business meeting words. For example, use power words as the meeting opens to grab attendees' attention and focus.

Focus on your employees to show you value them

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to improving your listening skills as a manager. By staying present, attentively focusing on what your employees are saying and following through on their suggestions, your employees will feel heard. By creating safe spaces for employees to voice their opinions, you’ll improve your organization while fostering a more functional team. 

Adam Uzialko contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. 

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Matt D'Angelo, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Matt D'Angelo has spent several years reviewing business software products for small businesses, such as GPS fleet management systems. He has also spent significant time evaluating financing solutions, including business loan providers. He has a firm grasp of the business lifecycle and uses his years of research to give business owners actionable insights. With a journalism degree from James Madison University, D'Angelo specializes in distilling complex business topics into easy-to-read guides filled with expertise and practical applications. In addition, D'Angelo has profiled notable small businesses and the people behind them.
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