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The growing need for employee listening

‘Remote’ working wasn’t invented during the pandemic. For senior leaders at large organisations, managing geographically-dispersed employees has long been the norm, be it a large retailer with frontline staff spread country-wide or a construction company with hundreds of active building sites.

But the pandemic has made managing staff harder. According to Capterra’s 2022 Change Fatigue Survey, 78% of employees experienced more workplace upheaval during the pandemic than ever before and 71% were overwhelmed by that change. To make matters worse, internal changes were often imposed at short notice with top-down broadcasts from senior management.

At a time when frontline staff were re-evaluating their employment expectations - craving more flexible and fulfilling work - they were increasingly disconnected from senior decision-makers, compounding frustration and accelerating the ‘Great Resignation’. During the pandemic, 51% of frontline workers felt less valued than HQ counterparts, 45% considered quitting and just 26% trusted their organisation's communications.

Today, 80% of the global workforce is deskless, but having no desk doesn’t mean having no concerns. Working without a phone doesn't mean working without a voice. If you can’t see an employee, it doesn’t make them invisible.

The need to truly understand frontline staff (and for them to understand what you’re doing), keep on top of pressing issues and improve the overall employee experience has become even more business-critical post-pandemic. But traditional methods of employee engagement are no longer fit for purpose. The solution? A modern employee listening strategy.

From gathering continuous, real-time feedback and ideas from employees to uncovering and mitigating employees’ priority concerns, a modern employee listening strategy is a crucial tool for senior managers to continually get ahead of emerging issues and drive organisational change.

In this article, we’re going to look at the importance of a modern employee listening strategy, which companies need a modern employee listening strategy and how to implement the right employee listening strategy for your company. 

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What is a modern employee listening strategy?

A modern employee listening strategy is an organisation-wide initiative that creates a safe space for honest and continuous dialogue around employees’ most pressing issues. It enables senior leaders to connect to all of their people, surface diverse opinions, track employee sentiment and make faster, better-informed decisions that deliver effective change at scale.

But, there is no one-size-fits-all. From quarterly surveys and weekly polls to focus groups and engagement platforms, an employee listening strategy can comprise many different listening methods, but to be truly effective in 2023, it must satisfy these five criteria.

Continual, not sporadic

Employees don’t just have concerns on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, so an effective employee listening strategy must allow them to share their feedback every day of the year. Always-on listening means always on time responses, so you always know what’s going on and can act immediately.

Dialogue, not monologue

Just as top-down management broadcasts are rarely successful, one-way listening is also ineffective; managers need to be able to respond to individuals and groups directly. Two-way dialogue enables leaders to engage with all of their staff, empathise with their concerns and avoid potential obstruction to change.

Anonymous, not identifiable

Identifiable methods of voicing opinions lead to the same voices speaking up, leading managers to misread employees’ core concerns and risk ignoring people who could silently block change initiatives. Optional anonymity encourages employees to provide open and honest feedback so leaders know their real concerns.

Moderated, not unrestrained

Unmoderated employee listening platforms can lead to unconstructive Twitter-style arguments with senior managers trying to defuse simmering tensions they’re not trained to handle. Independent moderation provides a safe space for employee-leadership dialogue and enables senior leaders to deal with sensitive topics professionally.

Prioritised, not guesswork

Some employee listening methods gather helpful data, but require managers to sift through thousands of responses to work out where to take action. Employee listening tools should produce a prioritised list of actionable insights, so leaders continually stay on top of emerging trends and know which issues to address first. 

Why is employee listening increasingly relevant in 2023?

Diverse employees. Dispersed locations. Disjointed communications. It’s no surprise that senior managers only know 4% of employee concerns.

According to Sidney Yoshida’s Iceberg of Ignorance, ‘only 4% of an organisation’s front-line problems are known by top management, 9% are known by middle management, 74% by supervisors and 100% by employees.’ If leaders don’t hear from employees at every single level, they struggle to retain talent, manage the company’s reputation and deliver meaningful change. 

Rungway Icerberg of Ignorance

Improve employee retention

High employee turnover is expensive and disruptive, but employee turnover is especially high in industries that rely on frontline workers, such as retail’s 60% annual frontline attrition.

From toxic cultures and inadequate working conditions to bad managers and poor leadership connections, there are a range of factors affecting employee churn, but many boil down to appreciation with 82% of workers wanting to be treated as a person, not just an employee.

This is where employee listening comes in. In an article titled The next competitive advantage in talent: Continuous employee listening, Mckinsey explains how continuous dialogue and real-time people insights are essential to ‘building trust, improving employees workplace experience and enhancing companies’ ability to retain top performers’.

Disconnection is baked into the dispersed employee business model, but by bridging the gap between staff and senior leaders - enabling employees to air their true concerns and senior managers to respond directly - you can improve frontline staff’s psychological safety, motivation, productivity and job satisfaction.

Manage company reputation

Glassdoor. Twitter. Reddit. For some senior managers, these words alone can instil cold sweats. When internal frustrations find their way onto external platforms, they can adversely impact your company’s ability to attract talent and damage your reputation among customers, ultimately hurting your bottom line.

Warren Buffet’s old adage that ‘it takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it’ has never been truer than in today’s social media age. An effective employee listening strategy is needed to help senior managers mitigate damaging issues before they escalate to public forums.

For example, your company might suffer a critical operational error affecting thousands of employees. If you try to resolve the problem with top-down broadcast emails, it’s likely to exacerbate the situation and lead to an outpouring of pain on external forums. But by finding out the most affected employees, engaging in active two-way dialogue, and resolving their immediate concerns as a priority, you can turn a reputational risk into a positive employee-leadership experience. 

Deliver meaningful change

Companies that don’t change, die. Whether it’s implementing a new culture following a merger or rolling out a new company-wide initiative to boost sales, driving organisational change is critical to company and senior leader survival: 92% of executives believe the need for organisational change is accelerating and those ineffective at driving change are 56% more likely to be replaced. But leading change is really hard if you don’t know what employees are thinking.

“Having an employee listening strategy is key to driving a positive change within your organisation,” says Neelie Verlinden, host of the All About HR podcast and co-founder of AIHR. But to get the widespread buy-in needed to implement that change successfully, you need every single employee to understand what you're doing and why.

When people are truly invested in change, it’s 30% more likely to stick. An effective employee listening strategy helps leaders gain broad employee support for change by facilitating open and honest conversations that uncover the real obstacles to change.

What are the benefits of a modern employee listening strategy?

From improving an individual employee’s experience to implementing finance-boosting organisational change, a modern employee listening strategy helps leaders make small changes that have a big impact. 

In large companies with multiple employees at multiple sites in multiple locations, it’s very difficult for senior managers to understand what is affecting their staff, let alone why.

Boost frontline morale and productivity

An employee listening strategy gets to the root cause of employee concerns enabling senior leaders to address them directly. This not only shows that senior leaders are committed to improving the employee experience, but helps build a culture of trust, boosts workplace morale and enhances productivity. 74% of employees are more efficient when they feel heard, so better leadership engagement leads to better results.

Resolve issues before they become a problem

Quarterly surveys and weekly polls. Focus groups and town halls. One-on-ones and ‘open doors’. The traditional methods of employee listening not only fail to engage employees, but also give outdated data to managers. If your employees have a concern today, what use is the manager finding out 90 days later?

An effective employee listening strategy requires more than just a temperature check at a certain point in time. Senior leaders need to understand what's happening right now, so they can do something about it right now. With an employee listening platform that’s always-on, leaders always know which situations to prioritise and can act quickly to diffuse simmering tensions before they boil over. As Mckinsey states: “the traditional survey approach is no longer sufficient.”

Hear from all voices, not just the loudest

By default, traditional employee listening increases inclusivity (anyone can participate no matter what seniority, gender, ethnicity or background), but that only tells half the story. The same demographics that are more likely to speak up in meetings are more likely to respond to traditional employee listening methods. To surface more diverse opinions, you need psychological safety.

Anonymous employee listening methods provide a safe space for quieter voices to come to the fore, be it women, people of colour or junior staff. Senior leaders therefore hear a wider range of ideas to drive the company forward and can also find out what makes their talent tick (i.e. juniors wanting more mentoring opportunities), which helps improve employee development and retention.


People of colour post 3x more than their white colleagues on the Rungway platform

Connect to employees at every level

When companies prioritise connections, they’re 2.3 times more likely to have engaged employees and 3.2 times more likely to have satisfied customers. But not all ‘connections’ are the same: a top-down email is an order, not a discussion; a one-way broadcast is imposed, not deliberated.

On the other hand, leaders using employee listening methods to engage in real two-way conversations can directly respond to individual and group concerns with empathy and compassion. By authentically connecting with staff across the HQ, regional offices and the frontline, leaders can tackle the ‘us vs them’ mentality and get the whole company committed to the same direction.

Get employee buy-in for change

Implementing change initiatives across large dispersed companies is never easy; it’s even harder when employees don’t understand what you’re doing or why. According to Gartner, 74% of employees were willing to support organisational change in 2016, but only 38% say the same today. Given just 15% of employees typically understand the rationale behind their leaders’ strategy, this is hardly surprising.

An effective employee listening strategy garners broad employee consensus for change initiatives. By listening to employee concerns, curating a solution that addresses these concerns and then articulating that plan to employees, you’re going to have a much better chance of delivering successful - and meaningful - change. 

Five signs you need a new employee listening strategy

An accountancy firm with 200 employees in one building does not have the same employee listening needs as a retail giant with 10,000 UK employees in diverse roles and locations. So how do you know if you need a new employee listening strategy?

Do you have knowledge gaps between surveys?

Do you have an ‘open door’ policy but no-one is walking through it? Do you feel like you’re making decisions in a vacuum? Traditional employee listening methods just don’t cut it. For instance, if you're only getting survey results every quarter, you can only address concerns months after they arise. Employee listening should continually monitor employees' shifting needs, so leaders can stay ahead of emerging issues and track the progress of specific initiatives.

Are you only hearing from the same voices?

Or not hearing about employee issues until it’s too late? Traditional methods of voicing opinions (in meetings, town halls or conferences) don’t suit everyone, leading to ‘louder’ voices always rising to the surface and important issues going unreported. Anonymous two-way dialogue enables leaders to engage with all of their staff, surface wider voices and avoid potential obstruction to change.

Are you struggling to implement change?

Rebranding? Merging departments? Rolling out a new SaaS app? Companies often encounter blockers as their messaging around new initiatives or rationale for change isn’t cascading down to employees properly. To avoid missed deadlines and stalled momentum, you need a continuous employee listening platform to get people onside and get change initiatives back on track.

Do you know if your change initiatives are working?

86% of leaders think they send meaningful communications to their workers, but 59% of workers say the communications aren’t useful. Without being able to see how your message lands, you can’t make meaningful employee-centric decisions. An effective employee listening strategy should provide data-driven insights and actionable progress reports on change initiatives, so you can take steps to streamline implementation.

Are you going through a restructure?

Wide-scale organisational change is difficult at the best of times, but almost impossible without employee listening. By engaging with employees and addressing their concerns, you can ensure that any restructuring process - be it a merger with a new company or downsizing a division - runs smoothly. 

How do enterprise organisations use employee listening in practice?

Limiting the damage after a high profile operational error impacted thousands of employees

No matter the industry, no matter the company, mistakes happen. It’s how you deal with them that counts.

After a high profile operational error, senior leaders at a large industrial company turned to Rungway to help defuse the situation.

Without Rungway this could have led to a bombardment of employee concerns from all angles, line managers distracted from their day-to-day work by having to deal with escalations, and potentially to employee frustrations spilling into public online forums.

Cascading their message all the way to the frontlines

Time was of the essence. The client informed Rungway the operational issue would become public knowledge in 15 minutes and they needed help to diffuse the matter quickly. Rungway put in a “circuit breaker” hold on the many questions that quickly came in on this topic to pause them going out on its public feed, with all posters assured that their query was important and being worked on. This meant line managers were spared significant time and stress involved in having to field all these questions themselves.

The themes and concerns from the individual questions were analysed for the client who were then able to craft a tailored response which then reached thousands of employees who clicked through to read it. All the question posters who had submitted questions were directed to this carefully thought through leadership response as part of the Rungway ‘asked & answered’ service. This saved huge amounts of time for the leadership and HR teams.

Rungway’s independent moderators were able to pinpoint which areas and which colleague groups were most affected, and which would be the most effective posts to open up and respond to for maximum reach and impact.

Merging cultures following an acquisition of a smaller rival

It’s a story as old as corporations themselves: a large company buys a smaller competitor to deliver economies of scale and grow market share. But what happens if the culture clash between the two organisations is greater than expected and potentially puts the benefits of the deal into jeopardy?

This unwelcome situation happened to a FTSE 100 Professional Services company. Having completed the acquisition, the ‘Buyer’ initiated a top-down integration strategy with direct communications from the CEO (including monthly town halls and weekly emails) around the alignment of systems and working practices. In particular, the FTSE 100 company announced a major rebranding across external retail hubs and on internal employee channels.

However, tensions soon arose with employees resisting efforts to unify and refusing to embrace each other’s ways of working. Senior leaders struggled to understand the root cause of the friction, let alone know how to address them.

Building consensus with two-way dialogueThe management team brought in Rungway to find out what was really going on.

Rungway advised that traditional methods of voicing opinions, such as town halls and surveys, don’t suit everyone, while too many corporate top-down broadcasts can mean key messages actually get lost in noise. Instead senior managers need to engage with individuals in real time and prioritise resolutions based on the scale of sentiment and potential impact.

The company used Rungway to understand, engage and empathise with individual and group concerns. In particular, they prioritised those questions relating to culture, so potential blockers to cultural integration could be addressed first. The company also used Rungway’s question matching feature to ensure they had a cross section of responders from both companies.

With Rungway’s two-way dialogue and option of anonymity, leaders were able to surface true concerns, learn about flashpoints and tailor their integration strategies.

After three months, senior leaders had surfaced and responded to hundreds of posts, and learned about a wide array of previously unknown flashpoints affecting integration, such as culture differences over meetings style, use of language and even what was considered appropriate profile photos. In particular, some employees did not support the external rebranding campaign, so the company created an alternative set of messages for internal communication.

Driving data-based change

The leadership had previously tried to drive organisational change without real data on employee concerns. However, with Rungway continuously tracking colleague posts, sentiment across different cohorts and providing actionable metrics on key themes, the new leadership team and the board had visible success measures for cultural integration and a means to truly hear colleague voice across both organisations.

As such, the leadership team were able to realise the economic rationale for the deal and retain key talent through the unsettling period.

Get started: how to launch a modern employee listening strategy

You don’t just pluck an employee listening strategy off the shelf, you need to curate one suited to your bespoke needs. When devising an employee listening strategy, much will depend on where your staff are based, the size of your workforce, the type of work done and your company structure, but there are three steps every company should take to maximise the strategy’s impact.

Establish what employee listening methods are right for you

There’s no point going blindly into the process of building an employee listening strategy without knowing why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve. For example:

  • Do you want to improve communication between leadership and employees?
  • Are you trying to improve workplace morale?
  • Do you need to find out why people are blocking change initiatives? 

This will help you determine which employee listening methods you need as certain channels are more effective than others. For instance, one-time polls can be effective if you’re looking to quantify people’s opinions at a point in time, but aren’t as effective as continuous engagement platforms at monitoring ongoing employee sentiment.

When choosing employee listening methods, remember to look for the five key criteria:

  • Is it continuous?
  • Is there two-way dialogue?
  • Is anonymity an option?
  • Is the data moderated?
  • Do you receive priority recommendations?

Explain roles and rationale for employee listening

Just as a top-down broadcast is cold and corporate, launching an employee listening method without consultation will lead to poor take-up. You should:

Identify key stakeholders

From HR and legal to line managers and senior leaders, determine each stakeholder’s role in the listening process (i.e. outline clear responsibilities), so you can develop a cohesive strategy from the offset.

Create understanding

For the employee listening strategy to work, everyone involved must understand why you’re doing it and what needs to be done. If your employees understand why you’re taking these steps to gather feedback and data, they’re more likely to buy into it.

Get ready for uncomfortable truths

Not everything you hear will be positive - but that’s the point. By embedding psychological safety in an employee listening strategy, you’re enabling staff to say what they really think and unearthing the negatives will teach leaders a lot more than just hearing the positives.

Leverage all the employee listening features and functionalities

Employee listening methods are invaluable sources of information and data, helping leaders to garner widespread benefits for both individual employees and the company at-large - but only if they’re used properly. Take an employee listening platform, for example.

Use platform functionality

If the platform provides two-way dialogue, make sure to engage with your employees, listen to their concerns and respond to posts directly. If one employee refuses to use the platform, it still works. If one senior leader refuses to use it, it doesn't.

Use platform knowledge

You may never have implemented an employee listening strategy before, so lean on the knowledge and expertise of the platform provider and, if they offer it, moderators. If the platform shows a list of prioritised actions - trust it. If the independent moderators advise how to respond to sensitive posts based on best practice from experience with other similar organisations - take it.

Use platform data

Driving organisational change without employee data is just guesswork. Employee listening platforms continuously track the platform content, analyse the impact of specific initiatives and provide actionable insights into employee concerns. If you use platform data, you’ll be able to react faster and make better decisions.

A direct line to your frontline

From Belfast to Berlin, Cardiff to Carlisle, Newquay to New York; it doesn’t matter where your frontline staff are based if you have a modern employee listening strategy.

With a continuous employee listening strategy in place, senior leaders will be able to learn more about employees’ day-to-day operations, engage with diverse voices at every level and ultimately improve organisational performance. 

Rungway enables leaders to deliver effective change at scale by creating a safe space for honest and continuous dialogue around your most pressing employee issues - no matter the size of your organisation. Our employee listening solution continually identifies the priorities that matter most to your people through constructive anonymity, independent moderation and a managed service, so you can get ahead of emerging situations. With Rungway, senior leaders get real dialogue, take real action and drive real change.