Is It Enough to Just Listen to Employees?

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Sarah Johnson
11/18/2020

Listening to employees

Continuous listening refers to a strategy that incorporates multiple survey programs, such as onboarding, exit, all-employee engagement census, pulse surveys, ad hoc surveys and even multi-rater feedback. 

This approach to employee listening allows organizations to understand the employee experience at multiple points in the employee’s career journey with the organization, and also provides a continuous flow of insights from employees in the course of a given time period, typically a year.

When the design of survey content is inspired by the organization’s strategy, and when the data collected by the various surveys can be linked together to provide insights across the employee lifecycle, the insights obtained can be truly transformational. Research conducted by Perceptyx identified four outcomes of the onboarding experience that were drivers of employee engagement well past the onboarding process, years after the employee joined the company.  Those employees that reported during onboarding that:

  • Their initial job with the company was accurately described
  • They felt a sense of belonging and were valued
  • The onboarding process had set them up for success
  • Onboarding had enabled them to quickly establish a network at the company

These employees had significantly higher levels of engagement than those that didn’t experience these things in their onboarding experience. Further, exit survey data can be linked with employee engagement survey data to create a predictive model of attrition. Having more data in hand always feels good to those of us that do this work, as it enables great analytics and insights. It feels good to say that our company truly listens to employees at multiple points in a year and at multiple points in their career.

But is that enough? Is just listening good enough?

As it turns out, it’s not. 

Actions Speak Louder

To find the answer to this question, Perceptyx researchers examined survey scores from two groups of organizations. The first group we can call the “Ask, Ask, Ask” group. This group surveyed employees frequently (at least three times per year using a pulse approach) but did very little team-based action planning, as measured by the use of the action planning tools provided to report users in the survey reporting platform.

The second group was called the “Act, Act, Act” group.  This group not only surveyed employees multiple times, but with 70% of managers creating an action plan, also made far better use of the action planning tools than the “Ask, Ask, Ask” group. 

READ: The Two Most Important Questions in People Analytics 

We then looked at surveys scores for both groups over time. The “Ask, Ask, Ask” group of companies saw little improvement in engagement (8% of the companies in this group saw improvements, versus 74% in the “Act, Act, Act” group), and far fewer of the “Ask, Ask, Ask” companies had above-average levels of employee engagement when compared to a 50th percentile norm (25% of the “Ask, Ask Ask” group were above the 50th percentile, versus 78% of the “Act, Act, Act” group.)

While there is no doubt that listening is good, it is clear that acting on what we hear is even better. This particular study focused on actions taken at the team level, but it is important to note that actions taken at any level, particularly higher levels of the organization, are both necessary and valuable. An organizational culture that has an expectation of continuous change to reflect what employees need is bound to result in higher engagement.

Keep the Conversation Going

The challenge with any actions that are taken in response to survey findings and insights is helping employees understand what drove those actions.  There must be continuous messaging of “we took this action because of what you told us on the employee survey” so that employees can connect the dots between the input they provided in the survey and the company’s subsequent actions. 

Any of us that have a lot on our minds will welcome the message of “I’m listening” from a friend, colleague, or family member. In some cases, all we need is to get something off our chests. In organizations, though, it must go farther than just encouraging employees to unburden themselves. There is an expectation that if the question is asked, there is an intention to do something about it. If not, then why start the conversation?

Much has been written recently about continuous listening programs, and much of it is good.  But listening will only take things so far.  We have an obligation to share results with employees, and act in good faith based on what they have told us.  Avoid the “Ask, Ask, Ask” trap.  Be sure to “Act, Act, Act” as well.

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