Few things are more demoralising than feeling like you’re not being listened to at work. You go from the high of sharing a fantastic new idea — this one could be a game-changer! — to the crushing low of having your idea passed over with barely a word of acknowledgement. At a certain point, if your ideas are continuously ignored, you might start to wonder if anyone can even hear you or if you're just talking to a brick wall!
Unfortunately, most people can probably relate to this feeling all too well. As we’ll explore below, listening to employees is an area where many organisations fail to meet expectations. 83% of people think they aren’t heard ‘fairly or equally’ at work, while a whopping 41% have left a job because they didn’t feel listened to.
These findings should set off alarm bells in managers’ offices the world over, and they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, we’ll discover a widespread lack of listening that, if left unchecked, can quickly spiral into an engagement epidemic.
Something as ostensibly simple as listening to employees and taking their feedback seriously can be the difference between being a high-performing team that consistently attracts and retains top talent and a disengaged team that falls behind its competitors.
So, where are companies going wrong? How can we ensure everyone feels heard fairly and equally at work? We’ll start by analysing why listening to learners is essential in the modern workforce, before sharing three critical business benefits of listening to employees, and outlining practical tips to ensure your team feels heard. Hopefully, that’ll be music to everyone’s ears.
It should be no surprise that listening to employees has always been essential. After all, no one likes being ignored! Still, in the last few years, with the challenges of staying connected while working remotely and the growing risk of disengagement, the importance of listening to employees has grown exponentially. Ideally, your team is already two steps ahead of us, practising well-honed active listening skills. However, the statistics tell a less flattering story.
According to research by The Workforce Institute in their The Heard and the Heard-Nots report, 83% of employees think they aren’t listened to ‘fairly or equally’ at work. Already, this statistic should be alarming. But it gets worse, as 47% say that underrepresented voices aren’t being heard, while 60% believe their views and opinions are ignored in the workplace. Finally, 35% agree with the statement: “my manager doesn’t care about me as a person.”
These issues are exacerbated among younger workers. Just 16% of Gen Z workers feel they can freely express their views and opinions with their manager, compared to 67% of their older colleagues. To help address this issue, check out our recent article on becoming an employer of choice for Gen Z.
Further along the age spectrum, 69% of parents feel ignored by their managers. So, while everyone is affected by this lack of listening, as usual, underprivileged groups are being silenced the most. Parents, younger workers, and underrepresented voices, such as people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ and gender diverse workers, and people from traditionally marginalised racial groups, are disproportionately impacted.
These findings should come as a jolt to action, as workplaces that claim to value diversity and inclusion must work to redress these issues, empowering traditionally marginalised groups to feel heard in the workplace.
Despite most employees not feeling heard, many teams fail to acknowledge that they have an issue listening to employees.
Research by Nudge reveals that 39% of employees don’t feel heard by their organisation, yet, 78% of leaders believe they’re fostering a feedback culture. Here, a significant disconnect emerges — there is a 39% gulf between what leaders believe and what employees are experiencing day-to-day!
While it may be difficult and require honest self-reflection, the first step to overcoming the issue of employees not feeling heard is for leaders to openly acknowledge it exists.
To be clear: this issue isn’t merely a case of employees being ignored and occasionally getting their feelings hurt. While that would be bad enough, in truth, it is a pervasive and impactful issue that can seriously sabotage your team’s culture and your talent attraction and retention efforts.
For example, All Voices’ State of Employee Feedback 2021 Report reveals that 41% of employees have left a job because they didn’t feel listened to. Additionally, 18% have considered leaving but decided not to, thereby harming engagement.
Similarly, The Workforce Institute shows that 34% of employees would prefer to look for a position in a different team or company than share their views and concerns with management, rising to 40% among Gen Z employees.
For practical tips on reducing this retention risk, see our article on 5 tips for long-term employee retention.
Another reason why listening to employees is essential is that it boosts everyone’s sense of belonging.
In fact, The Workforce Institute finds that employees with a very high level of belonging are 4x more likely to feel heard than those with a low level of belonging. Yet, still, 39% of employees don’t feel appreciated at work.
To demonstrate this point, LinkedIn’s Inside the Mind of Today’s Candidate report asked workers: “What would make you feel like you belong at the company where you work?”
Unsurprisingly, the three most common responses related to being heard at work. 59% of respondents answered “being recognised for my accomplishments”, 51% said “having opportunities to express my opinions freely”, and 50% said they feel a greater sense of belonging at work when their contributions in meetings are valued.
Notably, 55% of women indicated that their "contributions in meetings aren’t valued" compared to 48% of men. Sideways6 corroborates these findings, showing that 39% of women feel their ideas are not listened to, compared to 30% of men.
Unfortunately, this makes sense, given the prevalence of workplace trends such as ‘hepeating’ — a phenomenon so common it has its own portmanteau. As Yahoo explains, “hepeating is the process by which a man repeats something a woman has said, which may have fallen flat the first time around, and then receives credit for it.”
Thus, while it’s important to listen to everyone, it can be especially vital to ensure female employees feel heard, especially in male-dominated workplaces.
Ultimately, these statistics underscore that many employees yearn to be heard. Showing employees that you hear them and value their contributions can create a greater sense of connectivity, purpose, and belonging.
In an ideal world, we should listen to everyone’s voices fairly and equally at work because it’s the right thing to do. However, as we all know, the bottom line often trumps all else in the world of business.
Thankfully, listening to employees isn’t just the right thing to do from a diversity and equality point of view — it also has meaningful business benefits. Here are three business benefits of listening to employees:
Highly engaged employees are three times more likely to feel heard at work (92%) than highly disengaged employees (just 30%).
Further, 74% feel more engaged at work when they think their voice is heard.
According to The Workforce Institute, 74% of employees are more effective at their job when they feel heard. Plus, 71% feel more confident to share ideas and feedback in the future.
88% of employees whose companies financially outperform competitors feel heard vs only 62% of employees at financially underperforming companies, according to The Workforce Institute.
Sometimes the simplest answers are also the best. So, let's start with the basics: the easiest way to ensure your team feels heard is by actively listening to everyone and fostering a feedback culture.
How? Let’s find out.
To ensure your team feels heard, you first need to understand where you’re currently going wrong.
According to Nudge, employees want to provide more feedback on the following topics, but either don’t feel comfortable or aren’t prompted to do so:
To ensure employees feel heard, start by addressing these specific topics.
The 2021 State of Employee Feedback Survey finds that the number one thing (68.4%) employees need to feel heard is for their company to take feedback seriously and implement meaningful change. It really is that simple!
Yet, currently, 40% of employees don’t feel their feedback leads to actionable change. What’s more, over a third of employees (34%) think their company doesn’t listen to their ideas for improving the business.
As a result, many companies aren’t collecting honest, accurate feedback (if they’re collecting any feedback at all — more on that below). Rather, 43% of employees are more likely to tell leaders what they think they want to hear rather than how they actually feel.
This finding should be highly concerning for many senior leaders. Ask yourself: are you fostering a psychologically safe workplace where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas openly and without judgement? Or are you merely creating a closed feedback bubble?
To clarify, taking employee feedback seriously doesn’t mean actioning every piece of feedback you receive. Everyone’s different, meaning that could quickly become contradictory, not to mention a logistical nightmare. However, you should strive to create a workplace where everyone feels comfortable sharing their feedback, knowing it will be heard and taken seriously — not ignored or treated as an afterthought.
Therefore, to show employees you’re listening, the most important step is to make it clear that you take their feedback seriously and are willing to action their ideas when appropriate. Taking employee feedback seriously may seem obvious, but a surprising number of teams fall at this initial hurdle. And for many companies, the feedback process requires a complete overhaul.
To emphasise this point, 36.1% of employees want their leaders to showcase changes made due to employee feedback. However, this is an issue in itself, as 36% of employees say they either don’t have a feedback program or aren’t aware of one at their company.
Accordingly, making everyone aware of your formal feedback channels is an excellent way to ensure your team feels heard. If you don’t already have formal feedback channels, then creating these channels is step one.
These findings align with the recent Talent Implications Survey, which showed that 60% of teams are doing the right thing by increasing “employee listening efforts.” While this is a good start, just 31% currently conduct regular employee feedback surveys.
Again, a significant disconnect emerges between what leaders think is happening and what employees experience. Nudge finds that 84% of leaders say their company has channels to collect employee feedback. In contrast, just 24% of employees say their company asks them for feedback as often as they’d like, while 22% say they never ask for feedback.
Despite this, 65% of employees want more feedback, while employee turnover rates are 14.9% lower in companies that offer regular feedback. Not only that, but 35.5% of employees would feel more heard if leaders stressed the importance of feedback. As always, change starts at the top.
Most importantly, 40.7% want their organisation to normalise giving and receiving feedback in the workplace. Destigmatising feedback is crucial to creating a psychologically safe workplace and allowing employees to feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts and opinions.
Finally, many employees want more secure and anonymous feedback channels. Anonymous feedback channels encourage employees to voice their opinions freely without fear of judgement or repercussion and therefore feel more heard at work.
For example, All Voices’ State of Employee Feedback 2021 Report found that 57.3% of people want their company to ensure anonymity and confidentiality when giving feedback. They elaborate, noting, “employees would be more willing to provide feedback if it was anonymous. Employers need to think through ways to provide anonymous and confidential channels in order to get more authentic feedback.”
Moreover, The Workforce Institute finds that 47% of employees (rising to 53% of younger workers) are “more likely to share feedback anonymously via a third-party site…than they are via internal channels, such as employee engagement surveys.”
Whatever your preferred feedback channel, the message couldn’t be clearer: employees want better, more secure feedback to help them feel heard and engaged at work. Failing to do so may lead to a full-blown engagement epidemic.