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The Importance of Listening to Your Employees

It should come as no surprise that being heard is critical to being a happy, long-term contributor in any group — be it a family, social club or company. Asking employees for ideas on improving the employment experience is intuitive, yet too many employers miss the opportunity.

Corporate cultures have been slow to evolve from monolithic, top-down autocracies to the democratic institutions that employees increasingly desire. Conducting an annual employee experience survey simply is not enough in the 21st century. Fostering a two-way conversation and engaging in "continuous listening" is the new model for success.

Understanding the Value of Listening to Employees

Consider the following recent knowledge on the benefits of listening:

A Harvard study on the value of listening paired undergraduate students to talk for 10 minutes about a proposal. The study revealed that speakers paired with good listeners felt less anxious and more self-aware, reported higher clarity about their attitudes on the topics, and wanted to share their ideas with others more than those paired with distracted listeners. This finding can be extrapolated to a business environment.

In a recent SHRM poll of professional workers in the U.S. and Canada, 64% of the 675 workers polled agreed that "leaders making decisions without seeking input" was their biggest problem. Another SHRM poll revealed that 38% of employees felt they tend to lack initiative when leaders dismiss their ideas without entertaining them.

Why Listening to Employees Is Critical

Through a commitment to continuous listening, companies can accrue the following benefits over time:

Nurture a culture of ownership and initiative. Employees whose voices are heard and whose ideas are nurtured and, when appropriate, acted upon develop a sense of buy-in and equity in the company. Because they feel valued, they take more initiative and hold themselves more accountable to the company's needs. They are motivated to use their intellect and full range of talents when they feel appreciated.

Promote innovation. Companies that do not have a continuous listening strategy develop corporate automatons. These types of employees simply do what they are told, following directives but shutting off their creativity. The resulting culture stifles rather than drives innovative ideas.

Develop company evangelists. In today's age of social media, it's easy for employees to turn to Glassdoor, Indeed, Google, Twitter and Facebook to influence both potential customers and employees against an organization they feel does not value their input. Staff in frontline positions who feel heard are more likely to return the favor through positive endorsements on those same platforms. They are also more likely to provide good customer service.

Ward off problems. Workplace issues like sexual harassment often develop in the grassroots of an organization, and leaders up the chain can be the last to know. A positive listening culture and modern communication techniques encourage employees to speak up and be proactive. This enables companies to head off small problems before they develop into company-wide crises.

Share knowledge to promote positive change. In an efficient organization, each worker is skilled, talented and an expert in his or her job. A side effect of this model is that managers, executives and corporate leaders often know less about the day-to-day elements of individuals' jobs and concerns. They also know less about larger trends developing from the bottom of an organization than workers themselves. Idea sharing must be fostered for management to stay informed about work trends and make necessary improvements in roles and structures.

Improve employee retention. As workforces age or are replenished by newer generations with different objectives and values, companies must adapt in order to keep top talent. Listening to what matters to employees enables organizations to stay nimble and ahead of competitors in developing and revising attractive compensation and benefit packages.

The benefits of listening to employees have been demonstrated and the appeal of this practice continues to grow as newer generations rise up through the corporate ranks. The practice is increasingly becoming incorporated into MBA curricula, and Southern Oregon University embraces this movement. Earning your MBA online at SOU provides the opportunity you may need at this point in your career to acquire new managerial skills, broaden your business expertise and catapult your career in a more exciting direction. 

Learn more about SOU's online MBA program.


SHRM: 5 Reasons Why You Should Listen to Your Employees

Namely: Is Listening the Key to Employee Engagement?

Chicago Tribune: Companies See Success in Listening to Employees

Harvard Business Review: The Power of Listening in Helping People Change

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