Listening to improve employee engagement

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

Many organisations are reporting higher levels of employee engagement as teams come together to work through immediate Covid-19 challenges.

As we progress through the crisis and plan the return to the workplace, sustaining the gains in engagement will be much harder.

One way to maintain, and improve employee engagement levels even further, is to focus on listening. Although we’ve known about the value of employee voice for many years, it has not yet become commonplace. 42% employees in the UK say their manager is very good or good at seeking their views and 39% say their manager is very good or good at responding to suggestions (source: UK Working Lives, The CIPD Job Quality Index). 

My PhD research showed a clear association between listening (and responding) to employees and organisational engagement. And the benefits of high levels of employee engagement are well-established. 

I’ve recently been doing more research into listening with Howard Krais and Mike Pounsford. In December 2019 we published our first ‘Who’s Listening?’ Report (available as a free download here). It identified four themes:

  1. The way we define leadership – the way that leadership is understood to mean the ‘need to provide answers’ rather than involving listening to employees.
  2. Under-investment in listening capability development – are leaders are ‘wilfully deaf’?
  3. Cultural barriers – organisational cultures are not very conducive to listening and employees are often fearful of speaking out.
  4. Structures and processes not developed to support listening – organisations do not always have a systemic approach to listening to employees.

Since the original report, we’ve been interviewing more communication experts for an updated version. It will include a full list of listening tools with detailed explanations of how they can be used. We’ll be presenting the findings at the virtual IABC World Conference. The free to download report will be available shortly after this. 

Better employee engagement through listening is a win for organisations (as it is linked with innovation and performance) and a win for employees (as it is linked with better wellbeing).