How to listen so your employees will speak 

By Pete Cooper, below, Director of People Partners & DEI, Personio

The hard truth is that many employees hold little faith in senior management. Our latest research found that while 84% of employees trust their colleagues and co-workers to be open, honest and transparent, just 71% would say the same of their senior leadership, and 64% for their CEO. As businesses’ bottom lines continue to be squeezed by economic pressures, trust is paramount. Employees that trust one another, and their management, will be more happy and engaged – creating the foundations of business success.

So, how can organisations build trust? A key factor that can make or break trust in leadership is whether or not they listen to their people.

Closing the Feedback Gap

One way that employers can easily boost visibility and transparency within their organisation is by implementing regular employee surveys to gather feedback. This not only allows leaders to take a temperature check on their employees and gather insights into areas that are working well, but also identify those that need improvement.

Yet, our latest research found that business leaders are missing the mark, as only 59% of UK employees are currently satisfied with the opportunities they have to provide feedback to management.

The good news is that there are myriad ways to collect this feedback – with many of these easy to implement. From pulse surveys, suggestion boxes to one-on-one meetings with management, by using multiple channels, businesses will be able to gather a comprehensive range of data.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

But what works for one business might not work for another; it’s important to continually check in on feedback processes, and refine as needed, to ensure that you’re gathering the best data and insights, and that employees feel engaged and listened to.

From Insight to Action

Indeed, listening does not necessarily mean considering or taking action and, far too often, businesses only pay lip service to meaningful change. Staggeringly, four in ten (38%) employees don’t believe the leadership in their organisation listen to and act on feedback from employees.

Constantly asking employees for feedback, with no actionable insight or results, is not going to improve employee engagement or trust. It could even risk worsening it.

So it is important that leaders are prepared to not only check in with their staff, but truly consider and address the issues that employees raise.

There are many ways to do this that don’t place immense burdens on company resources. To show employees that their concerns are being taken seriously, leaders can transparently communicate survey results, for example at all company meetings, and discuss clear and actionable next steps.

For instance, if employees highlight that managers don’t give enough feedback, management training could be introduced to target this gap. Or if different parental leave requirements are requested, a working group could be set up for employees and managers to better understand the problem and find solutions together. This allows businesses to tangibly demonstrate accountability, and reinforces the organisation’s commitment to improvement.

Fundamentally, it is key that businesses communicate with employees about how valuable their insights have been in creating change. This is not only key in increasing trust and transparency, but it can also help foster an environment where employees feel senior leadership respects their concerns. This includes acknowledging and rewarding employees who provide valuable feedback, or contribute to improvements in processes or systems.

It is by actively encouraging and creating channels for feedback, and then following through on their willingness to take on board this feedback, that business leaders can build a culture built on honesty, openness and transparency. But, to have the levels of trust in their organisation that will tangibly contribute to employee engagement, businesses need to bake this into their company culture. This means consistency, and leading by example.

With employees today demanding parity of esteem and respect from their employers, high levels of transparency and communication are the cornerstone of building a trusting workplace culture.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024