Four Paths to Empathetic Employee Listening in the New World of Work
The way we work has changed, and priorities for businesses and employees are shifting. Now, more than ever, employees are demanding their voices be heard and that employers do what is best for them. And when these demands are not met, people are looking elsewhere. A recent Qualtrics study revealed half of leaders and employees plan to look for a new job in 2022.
Keeping employees engaged and happy in this new world is a growing struggle. Employers are now held to a higher standard of caring for their people. Another Qualtrics study of nearly 14,000 full-time employees from 27 countries indicated 72% of employees regarded well-being as a key consideration for employers in 2022.
Employee engagement strategies to keep workers motivated and happy are nothing new, and for good reason. Employees are the beating heart of your organization’s success. High levels of employee well-being and engagement improve overall employee experience at your company – driving business success. Having employees who feel more motivated at work not only reduces employee turnover costs but also increases long-term productivity.
As we negotiate immense workplace disruption and a competitive job market, engaging employees by making their concerns a priority is more important than ever. But how can you develop an experience that shows employees you are putting them first?
You listen. After all, how can you expect to offer a great employee experience if you don’t know what matters most to your people? In the words of Julia Anas, chief people officer at Qualtrics, you need to, “Use the voice of your employees as a compass to inform how you think about decisions, what plans look like, and their diverse needs. Create an opportunity for every voice to be heard.”
Here are four ways in which you can put this into practice by designing your workplace culture and employee experience around effective, empathetic, and continuous employee listening.
1. Listen – really listen – to what employees are saying
Effective listening is about more than an annual employee survey. It’s about asking employees often, truly listening, and providing solutions. It is a cycle in which you listen, make improvements, listen again, and make further improvements.
By listening to your people, you can glean new intelligence that helps you understand what they need. Then, equipped with this information, you can introduce meaningful changes that meet those needs.
Pertinent questions to ask your employees to understand how they are feeling as work continues to evolve include:
- What do your employees really need right now?
- Is their work-life balance blurring?
- Do they feel safe returning to the office?
- Are they comfortable with new office mandates?
- Are they feeling burnt out at work?
- Are their managers supportive enough?
- Do they have the tools and technology they need to be successful?
Adopting a culture of continuous listening makes employees feel heard, shows them you value their opinions, and increases engagement and trust. Employees should feel comfortable participating in this two-way dialogue because they see their feedback leading to positive change and improvements.
2. Put employee well-being first
Demonstrating empathy for your employees is not just the right thing to do – it can offer a competitive advantage at a time when workers are leaving their jobs in droves. Prioritizing employee health and well-being to help employees feel supported requires compassionate leadership, flexibility, and an understanding of their needs.
To build a truly employee-centric culture focused on listening and supporting employees in every aspect, the entire organization needs to evolve. You need to examine whether the tools, policies, and practices applied across the organization support holistic well-being and, if not, what needs to change. Then you can design a workplace that is supportive, puts health and well-being at the center of workforce culture, and helps increase productivity, creativity, and engagement.
As an employer, you now have a key role to play in helping employees who may feel unsupported through ever-changing work environments and expectations that may be taking a toll on their mental health and well-being. Through listening to your employees, you can begin to understand what employees are really needing so that you can provide the right support and flexibility they need. Whether it involves providing more time off, introducing flexible work arrangements, arranging one-to-one support from managers, or respecting more work-life boundaries, adopting an holistic, people-first approach to well-being brings in a human element that shows you care.
How can you promote a workforce culture that is centered around caring about your employees’ needs – including their health and well-being? Here are some well-being initiatives to invest in:
- Listen to and understand the needs of your employees
- Encourage managers to emphasize healthy work-life boundaries by leading by example
- Reduce demands on workers
- Give employees the option to return to the office or work from home – or a hybrid option
- Provide mental health resources for all employees and let them know how to access these resources
- Encourage blocking schedules for focus time
- Refresh leader expectations about what is required to support employees in the new world of work
- Give employees more choice
- Foster a sense of belonging and inclusion
- Launch employee resource groups
3. Understand what technology your employees need to succeed
Most employers managed to equip remote employees with the tools they needed to work seamlessly from home. But it’s more complicated to help teams collaborate and communicate as workers transition to a hybrid or remote-first model. Simply giving individuals a laptop and moving to virtual meetings doesn’t mean they have the right tools to get the job done.
Exploring technology gaps can reveal unforeseen problems. Technology may not work as well as expected, or the overall digital experience may be a struggle that actually reduces productivity. But you won’t know about this if you don’t ask. Only by listening can you help ensure employees have the tools they need to succeed in this new world of work.
Why is technology important? The right technology can enable HR by helping align employees’ wants, needs, and expectations with company goals. It can transform traditional HR functions into opportunities to drive engagement and productivity by letting HR leaders understand the key drivers of employee engagement. Get this technology wrong, whether through faulty security patches or inadequate support, and you frustrate your employees. Get it right, and you can create a more engaged and productive workforce.
So, ask questions. Do you know what kind of workspaces your people want for physical offices? Have you asked what technology and support they need for digital workspaces? And is the technology you’re providing working – or is there a gap in perceptions? You can gain visibility and insight into digital experience gaps by using data and transactional feedback loops that measure the effectiveness of technology. Creating a culture of open communication among your employees helps you understand what can enable them to work better and smarter. Setting clear expectations while offering workplace flexibility and the right technology can help improve both the digital and overall experience for employees. And it’s key for IT and HR to work together to design a hybrid employee technology experience that empowers employees.
Listen to employees about the technology they need, how the current setup is working, and how you can improve your offering – and repeat the cycle continuously to make things better as circumstances change.
4. Give employees equal opportunities to grow
To identify what opportunities your employees need to succeed, you need to understand the challenges they are facing. It is important to build a culture in which employees can grow, thrive, improve their skills, and feel empowered to own their careers. Equally important is that they feel supported in their pursuit of growth by managers and peers.
Not all employees believe their workplace supports their needs in this way. Many, including people of color, women, parents, and remote workers, feel they don’t have access to the same opportunities as others.
For example, this Qualtrics/Boardlist study revealed many employees felt discriminated against due to shifting responsibilities and workplace changes as a result of the pandemic. The study showed 45% of employees believe in-person workers have a career advantage for promotions and raises versus remote employees, and the same percentage of working parents felt discriminated against in the workplace. Meanwhile, 35% of parents with children at home said they worked more hours during the pandemic, compared to 25% of parents without children at home. As we look to the future, understanding and empathizing with the challenges employees are facing can help create a more inclusive workforce that strives for opportunities for all.
Listen to your employees to understand where your diversity, equality, and inclusion initiatives may be falling short and act to provide opportunities for all. Explore whether employees have the training they need and the right leadership and growth opportunities to thrive. What is missing? What can you do to better support your employees’ success? How can you remove bias from HR processes?
Learn more about listening continuously to evolve and improve your employee experience
As we continue to create the future of work, you can forge a robust advantage by listening to your people, understanding what they need, and taking swift action to improve the experience you offer. Understand what trends are impacting your business in 2022 & what you can do to future-proof your organization.
Learn how Experience Management solutions from SAP and Qualtrics can help you listen and understand to give employees what they need.