At a young age, we all learn the difference between “hearing” and active listening.
Think back to when your mom would nag you about cleaning your room or your teacher would drone on about something boring. Their words sounded like the muffled “wah wawwh wawwah’s” of the adults instructing Charlie Brown.
We heard what they were saying, but none of it actually sank in.
Now what about your employees’ voices? Are their words and feelings clear in your mind? Or do they sound more like white noise?
Even if you think you’re actively listening to the employee voice of your organization, your workforce probably doesn’t agree. A 2015 IBM survey found that although 83 percent of workers would participate in an employee listening program—for example, an engagement survey—38 percent of Baby Boomers and 22 percent of millennials don’t believe higher-ups would act on their feedback.
What are those statistics telling us?
Employees have something to say, but many don’t feel that their employers value their voice enough to consider their suggestions. Unless business leaders heed the staff’s collective voice, employee feedback is just a farcical waste of time.
Here are three ways to stop turning a deaf ear toward your workplace and start actively listening:
1. Remember the human side of communication.
Thanks to advances in digital communications, organizations are more connected than ever. In mere minutes, a manager can compose and send out a message that reaches every member of the team. Although this method can save time, if relied upon too heavily, it creates (virtual) distance between team members. At the price of efficient communication, employees are reduced to nothing more than their email addresses.
In case you forgot, your employees are living, breathing, feeling beings who deserve human interaction.
Meet regularly and face to face with your employees. This not only gives you and your team members a chance to catch up on their performance, but also allows employees to share opinions or issues they are facing. Airing those grievances face to face lets employees see their manager’s reaction and engage in an immediate discussion about what can and will be done.
Now you might be thinking, “But an email thread is sooo much easier!” It’s also lazier, and it might be undermining employee engagement. A recent survey found that 85.7 percent of highly engaged companies have regular manager/employee one-on-ones, with 54.6 percent having these meetings as often as every month. Still think email is a better option?
2. Follow up on post-survey commitments and action plans.
Remember that IBM stat about the meager percentage of employees who believe their leader will do something based on employee feedback? The reality is even worse. A 2015 survey by Motivosity looked at 5,000 companies; fewer than 2 percent of CEOs approach employee feedback surveys a second time.
If that’s the only consideration employee surveys are getting, the instructions on them might as well read:
Step 1: Please answer the following questions open and honestly.
Step 2: Upon completion, throw your survey into a trash can.
What’s the point of employee feedback if leaders ignore it?
The one way to show employees you have listened to them is to create changes based on their feedback. Analyze the collected data, and commit to action(s) that will make things better.
For goodness sake, tell employees what the plan is and how it reflects their input. This will let them know what to monitor to hold you accountable.
3. Empower employees to tell their own story.
Give your employees the power to share their experiences at your organization. They’re already being asked about it: A 2015 LinkedIn report found that when job seekers look for new opportunities, the first thing they do is ask friends and colleagues about possible openings.
Job seekers trust people in their network to be honest about whether a position with a certain company is worth their time and energy. Use that to your advantage by encouraging your employees to share their love of your company, either on social media or through testimonials on your career site. Let them be the voice that attracts and brings in other great talent—unless you’re scared of what they might say, in which case you have a different problem to deal with.
It’s become not only common but accepted for employee voices to be ignored. Sure, we let them speak through surveys, but there’s no real active listening. It’s time for that trend to stop and for business leaders to open up to change.
What other ways can you actively listen to your employees?
Greg Harris is president and CEO of Quantum Workplace. Connect with Harris and the Quantum Workplace team on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBrief.