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Resources

From Surveys to AI: The Evolution of Employee Listening

Discover the power of employee listening to drive engagement and productivity. Use these effective strategies and tools for employee listening.

Paying attention to what employees say is crucial today because it helps companies drive better results. That's why we are seeing a renewed push for companies to implement employee listening programs. They want to know what their workers think and go through.

All in all, 70 percent of companies want to do more employee listening. The business impact can be real. However, using the ways of the past isn't helping companies get to the future. Traditional employee listening methods are too slow, too manual, and just too much of an effort. However, technological advancements - specifically AI - can help programs move into the future.

Let's dive into the details.

What is employee listening?

First and foremost, employee listening is a deliberate effort by an organization to understand and address the perspectives, experiences, and ideas of its workforce. It's about understanding the employee experience. That enables the company to make informed decisions and implement meaningful improvements.

Two reasons why employee listening matters:

  1. Effective listening enhances organizational performance. When executed properly, it empowers companies to be more responsive, adaptable, and resilient in the face of challenges and change. Insights gathered from employees provide invaluable information for strategic decision-making.
  2. Listening improves the employee experience. Numerous studies have shown that when employees feel heard and valued, they exhibit higher levels of motivation, creativity, collaboration, and engagement in their work. A well-designed and implemented listening program can significantly boost employee morale and loyalty.

Traditionally, organizations have relied heavily on quantitative methods such as surveys and analytics. However, there is growing recognition of the importance of qualitative, dialogue-based approaches. Employees are more likely to take action based on meaningful conversations and interactions.

Engaging in open communication with employees is crucial for uncovering emerging issues and understanding their experiences. The most effective approach combines both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Advantages of employee listening

Getting employee listening right has major advantages for the organization and its people. Companies that excel at listening and acting on workforce feedback tend to see gains like:

Reduced turnover rates

Employees who feel heard are more likely to stay. Listening conveys that the organization is invested in its success and well-being.

Improved motivation and engagement

Listening is engaging in and of itself. Plus, the ensuing improvements to the employee experience move the needle to a happier workforce.

Increased innovation and agility

Listening surfaces ideas from all corners of the company that leaders might not have considered. It enables the organization to identify emerging opportunities or risks and pivot accordingly quickly.

The downstream effects of employee listening ripple across every aspect of the business that depends on motivated people to succeed.  From individual performance to company profitability, listening has been linked to positive outcomes.

Strategies: How to really listen to your employees

There are various methods organizations use for employee listening, ranging from qualitative to quantitative approaches:

  • Conversational research:  An emerging method that leverages online platforms and AI to engage large, diverse groups of employees in ongoing dialogue. Provide a deeper understanding of the employee experience, powered by the collective wisdom of the workforce.
  • Focus groups: Guided small group discussions on specific topics. They allow for interaction and idea sharing but are limited in scope.
  • One-on-one interviews: In-depth discussions between a manager or HR and an individual employee. Useful for getting detailed perspectives but time-consuming and impossible to scale.
  • Town halls: Larger employee gatherings, often with senior leaders presenting and taking questions. It gives many people a voice but can be challenging to moderate.
  • Pulse surveys: Short, frequent check-ins on key metrics like engagement or satisfaction. Provides quick snapshots but may lack depth.
  • Annual engagement surveys: Comprehensive assessment of the employee experience, typically done yearly. It is thorough but not frequent enough nowadays.

Traditionally, organizations have relied heavily on quantitative methods like surveys and analytics. But there's a growing recognition that qualitative, conversation-based approaches are also critical.

Cutting-edge tools that combine proprietary AI technology with generative AI are now enabling organizations to analyze employee conversations and feedback at scale. AI can help rapidly distill insights from vast volumes of open-ended input, going beyond the limits of traditional surveys or interviews.

No matter the method, companies must listen actively to get the most out of employee listening - which platforms like Remesh make possible at scale.

What is effective listening?

Effective listening in an organizational context means being attentive when receiving employee input. It's about creating channels for employees to express themselves completely and then demonstrating that their views are heard, valued, and acted upon.

Some key elements of effective listening include:

  • Cultivating psychological safety and trust so people feel they can share openly and honestly
  • Offering options for anonymous feedback to alleviate any fears of negative consequences
  • Clarifying that participation is welcomed and will influence decisions, not just be an empty exercise
  • Drawing out more details with an open-ended question
  • Following up to close the loop on how the input was utilized

When organizations enable employees to be true partners in listening, it becomes a collaborative dialogue that generates meaningful insights and spurs productive action. The company tunes into its internal experts, and the employee feels like a valued contributor. That's when listening shifts from a passive data collection event to an engaging, trust-building conversation.

Challenges with current listening approaches

One of the main challenges with current employee listening approaches is the over-reliance on quantitative methods. Many organizations have been trained to take a quantitative approach, focusing on survey research and people analytics.

Data is undeniably important, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Traditional surveys with closed-ended questions can't always dig into the "why" behind the numbers or uncover hidden issues. Some things that matter to employees may not even show up in the survey if you didn't know to ask about them.

Another limitation of conventional listening programs is that they are often too slow and cumbersome to keep pace with fast change. Annual engagement surveys provide a useful baseline but can't offer real-time insight into emerging trends as they happen.

Many companies also make their surveys far too long, which taxes employees' time and attention. Response rates and data quality can suffer as a result. Over a third of employees think their organization's listening program is too long and overcomplicated.

Perhaps most concerning is that employee trust in surveys is declining, largely because workers don't see enough meaningful action taken afterward. Only 30 percent of employees believe their feedback will be acted on, a figure that has steadily dropped over the past few years.

New approaches to employee listening

AI research tools are a fresh way for businesses to check in with their employees and get feedback at scale. Quickly and on an ongoing basis.

Here's what these platforms can do quickly:

  • Engage employees anonymously
  • Gather feedback quickly
  • Analyze it in no time and give companies an overview of the feedback

An employee listening platform can do several tasks at once by analyzing the information they get; they can focus on what each person says, sort the audience into different groups, and send insights to the leaders of the company to act upon.

With generative AI, organizations can rapidly make sense of vast amounts of open-ended employee feedback. Something not possible in bygone years.  The AI sorts through thousands of text responses to identify key themes and sentiments, then generates reports with data visualizations to bring the insights to life.

This is a huge step forward from coding each comment by hand. It allows for analysis of employee input at a much larger scale and faster pace. Companies can stay on top of emerging issues.

AI tools like Remesh can also explore complex topics that are hard to probe with standard surveys.

Final thoughts

Companies want to actively foster psychological safety, where people can share their truth without fear of negative repercussions.

Tactics like allowing anonymous feedback, setting an open and non-judgmental tone, and demonstrating vulnerability from the top help cultivate that trust. Employees need to believe that candor is welcome and won't be held against them.

The process for participating should also be crystal clear and user-friendly. The easier the feedback process is, the more likely employees are to engage.

Also, companies must make it crystal clear that they plan to do something with what people tell them. Employees get excited and expect things to happen when asked for their thoughts. If nothing happens afterward, all that excitement can fizzle out fast. Companies should have solid plans to use what they learn.

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