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Employee listening: How to retain great talent

Last updated

27 June 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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An engaged workforce is critical to the success of any organization. Ensuring a happy workforce requires a business to place special value on its staff and their wellness in the organization. 

Listening to employees and allowing them to voice their opinions on business decisions is vital to creating an environment with high morale and low turnover.

Let’s dive into employee listening tools, strategies, and everything else you need to know. 

What is employee listening?

Employee listening is when an organization actively tries to better understand employees by engaging with them and getting real-time feedback about their concerns and motivations. 

The organization uses employee listening to take a holistic approach to understanding, improving, and enhancing the employee experience

The process helps organizations discover knowledge gaps, avoiding speculation on what their employees feel and want. 

Effective employee listening provides the data necessary to make informed, targeted decisions about the workforce and business. 

Why use employee listening? 

Boosted productivity

Employee listening is key to good leadership.

Workers like an open-door policy to discuss needs and issues directly with their leader. It increases trust between managers and workers, potentially improving performance and loyalty.

Employee listening helps develop an agreement on accomplishing tasks, creating a faster work rate. This improves clarity and keeps employees focused. 

Better talent retention

Employee listening can increase employee retention rate. 

Perceptyx's State of Employee Listening report revealed that listening to and acting on employee feedback boosted the chance of retaining talent by 11 times. 

The study interviewed HR officials from 600 companies with 1,000 employees and above. It found that 94% of the organizations already had a formal listening policy. 

Employee listening makes workers feel like the employer cares about their needs and desires. Employers can jeopardize their working relationship with employees when they don't listen or seek feedback.

What happens when employees don't feel heard?

Everyone wants to feel seen, recognized, heard, and understood. When workers don't feel heard, their sense of worth in the organization decreases, and they may look for opportunities elsewhere. 

Leaders must acknowledge their employees’ needs and wants, or they risk:

  • Low commitment

  • Burnout

  • Decreased productivity

  • Job dissatisfaction.

  • Employees seeking roles with organizations that appreciate them

That’s why organizations must listen to their employees and act on their feedback by:

  • Embracing a continuous listening strategy

  • Developing methods for processing the results 

  • Communicating the resulting actions with the workers

What's the best way to listen to employees?

Conduct employee engagement surveys 

Surveys collect feedback on employees' thoughts about their job, the team, its leaders, and the overall organization. They can also pinpoint issues, enabling employers to address them. 

Employees get a chance to make their voices heard and feel like they have a say in the organization’s culture and direction. 

Employers can use the feedback to introduce changes to ensure employee satisfaction and engagement. Effective employee engagement surveys can be a powerful tool for improving a workplace.

Deploy an open-door policy 

An open-door policy is about direct access to leadership and two-way communication. 

When employers have their doors open, employees can walk in and voice their concerns freely and immediately. The employer can also go to the employees to see if any issues need addressing, increasing trust, transparency, and productivity. 

Employers who implement an open-door policy show genuine care for their workers and interest in hearing them out. It gives employees a sense of ownership, improves their morale, and makes them feel valued. 

Gather ideas from employees 

The workforce is the biggest, most valuable asset for any organization. Employees have diverse skills, knowledge, and experiences, offering a wealth of innovative ideas. 

Employers who invite workers to share their ideas show they value their input. The open exchange of ideas allows for two-way communication, building trust and respect. 

Creating room for a better understanding of employees' needs and concerns improves employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Active listening

Active listening goes beyond what someone says and tries to understand what they are truly communicating. Employers get a better understanding of employees’ desires, needs, and concerns when they actively listen. 

Dedicate an email address or hotline for employee listening 

Organizations might consider having a dedicated email address for employees to share ideas and concerns. Some organizations deploy a “concern” hotline to capture this information. A dedicated line of communication reduces the risk of missing crucial messages or notifications. 

Another idea is a mailbox where employees can submit ideas for improvement, demonstrating the employer’s commitment to listening and acting accordingly. 

Take action 

Listening to your employees isn’t everything: You must act on their suggestions to show that you pay attention to what they say. 

This builds a positive feedback loop between the workforce and management. Employees want an organization to value and act upon their input, which can inspire continuous honest feedback. 

Developing an employee listening survey strategy

Here's how to develop an employee listening strategy:

Align with business and people strategy

Understanding where your business is and where it needs to go is the first step in building an employee listening strategy. You also need to:

  • Review your business goals and collect appropriate feedback. 

  • Examine the data and determine improvements to achieve these goals. 

  • Assess your people strategy and create a plan to align the two. 

An engaged workforce will achieve more, and that’s where the employee listening strategy comes into play.

It’s imperative to understand your workforce’s motivations, expectations, and willingness to go the extra mile to achieve business goals.

Involve key stakeholders

Support from key stakeholders increases the chances of success in your employee listening strategy. Bring them on board before starting your strategy development. 

The HR department typically spearheads the employee listening strategy, but you’ll also need to involve other stakeholders, such as the:

  • Organization's leadership so they endorse the strategy

  • IT department for tech support

  • Line management to encourage participation

  • Corporate communications to track employee insights

  • Legal department to offer guidance on data privacy and protection issues

  • Marketing department to work with HR on branding for external candidates

Some organizations may have more stakeholders than these. 

Ensure privacy and confidentiality

An employee listening strategy can only be successful if workers give genuine feedback. Getting genuine feedback requires workers to be comfortable sharing their opinions without fearing retaliation. 

Ensuring privacy, data protection, and confidentiality reassures the workers and protects the organization legally. 

Pick and deploy the right technology

An organization may need to add a few tools to conduct and analyze surveys

The type of tools depends on the organization's needs and the employee listening strategy. Considering the features you’ll need can guide your search to the right tool. 

Some helpful features include:

  • Survey options

  • Dashboards

  • Real-time capabilities

Examples of employee listening tools include Leapsome and Effectory.  

Determine your participating group

Determine who should be part of the feedback group: Sometimes, you’ll focus on a particular department, project, or the entire organization. 

Contingent workers, like independent contractors, may also have valuable insights to share. Including them in the strategy may improve the overall worker experience. 

Avoid survey fatigue

Consider the length and frequency of your survey approach. 

Companies usually administer long surveys yearly, while pulse surveys are suitable for frequent check-ins. 

Conduct virtual or in-person focus groups

Consider adding focus groups to gather more insight into survey feedback. This research method helps you collect qualitative feedback and opinions to complement survey data. 

They also:

  • Let you dive deeper into the issues identified via surveys

  • Give insights to reveal workplace trends

  • Unearth the organization’s strengths and weaknesses

  • Provide a more comprehensive image of how the workforce feels about the organization 

Focus groups offer an additional opportunity to show employees that you value their feedback. 

Be open and transparent

A successful employee listening strategy hinges on openness and transparency. Be transparent and share the insights you get through employee listening efforts. 

If you have an action plan, share that too. If you don't have an action plan, look into what you can do or ask for your employees’ input. 

Create a communication plan

Determine the best ways to share ongoing information about employee listening activities. 

For instance, you may want to look at how to communicate: 

  • The survey results and resulting action plan

  • With employees about their privacy concerns

  • Success stories

The communication plan must consider all employees, whether they’re in the office or the field. 

Take action

Converting employee feedback into meaningful action that positively changes the organization is the whole point of employee listening. 

Promptly produce action plans after receiving feedback to show your workers that you are listening to their input. 

Involve your employees in the action steps

Involving employees in your action plan is a great way to communicate that your organization cares about them and their opinions. 

Consider forming action groups or teams that tackle specific issues or improvement ideas. 

How often should I send employee listening surveys? 

While it’s important to gather employee feedback on an ongoing basis, survey fatigue can be an issue if you request feedback too often. 

Many organizations deploy a lengthy annual survey and supplement it with pulse surveys throughout the year. 

The three types of employee listening surveys 

The employee engagement survey

These surveys are the foundation of the employee listening survey strategy. They offer the most widespread insight into the employee experience. 

Companies send this type of survey annually to: 

  • Get a meaningful baseline

  • Uncover employee perceptions

  • Develop an action plan

  • Deploy changes that move the engagement needle

The pulse survey 

While engagement surveys form the foundation of engagement, pulse surveys take it to the next level. Benefits of these surveys include:

  • Rapid, efficient opinion gathering 

  • Flexibility, so you can use them regularly and at scale

  • Understanding the effect of a change on the employee base

  • Targeted feedback

You can use pulse surveys to measure the annual engagement survey’s resulting actions. 

Employee lifecycle surveys 

Lifecycle surveys differ from pulse surveys. They gather feedback from workers at particular milestones, such as after 30 days of employment and when an employee leaves the company. 

They offer an opportunity to listen to workers during precise points in their tenure lifecycle. New hire surveys can obtain expectations at hire, while stay surveys can help understand employee job satisfaction. 

Organizations can also administer exit surveys to understand why employees left and collect improvement suggestions.


Why is anonymity important in employee listening surveys?

Employees may only answer honestly if they know their responses are anonymous. 

Since the whole point of employee listening is to get honest feedback, they need an environment where they feel comfortable expressing their views without fearing repercussions.

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