It might seem simple at first, but listening to employees is not a maybe, it’s a must in the future of work.
Collecting feedback and ideas from employees isn’t new. Companies of all sizes have been doing this for years to improve the way systems and processes. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently announced a new initiative called the “Simplicity Sprint,” which will solicit ideas from its more than 174,000 employees on where to focus and improve efficiency. Today, enduring companies know that their growth and resilience depend on their willingness to listen to their own people through a culture that encourages continuous feedback.
Benefits of listening to your employees:
Retain your talent:Research shows that by encouraging employees to speak up if they have any frustrations you can stay in front of any major problems that may cause employees to resign.
Increase engagement: Showing that you value your employees’ opinions and want to understand them better will build trust, transparency and increased workplace wellbeing.
Take timely action: A constant flow of feedback from employees will highlight areas of opportunities and risks where immediate action can result in the growth of your company.
Creating a feedback culture is about more than just lending an ear, it’s about incorporating feedback channels and tools into the everyday workflow of employees, especially in a hybrid workplace. More often than not, critical input is lost when companies give limited opportunities and channels. It can often lead to a build up of negative emotions leading to low engagement, poor productivity and surprising resignations.
Gartner’s research shows that traditional annual engagement surveys, while still important, are increasingly being augmented (and sometimes replaced) by other feedback tools.
By 2023, 80% of enterprises with 2,500+ employees will augment annual engagement surveys with pulse, focus-group-based or indirect methods to better understand worker sentiment.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “one way to help employees feel heard is to regularly conduct anonymous surveys that allow them to give feedback on various aspects of their roles. When people can speak up about their frustrations without facing consequences for it, managers can gain valuable insights into what their employees want and need.”
To keep pace with changing employee sentiment, many organizations are trying new tools and methods to understand employee sentiment and collect meaningful feedback. You’ll have to decide for yourself and your company which feedback initiatives would be the most beneficial. Once you know what you want, you can start evaluating possible feedback options, tools and methods. The common employee feedback methods are:
Surveys – they were effective before and they’re still effective in most situations especially surveys tied to specific changes, e.g. hybrid working, management change etc.
VoE tools – VoE “listening” is growing in response to employers’ need to better understand and assess their employees. Their underlying goal is to deliver in-depth insights with actionable guidance. HR leaders can then use this information to help improve employee engagement, experience, productivity and performance.
Continuous listening: There are platforms and tools that are embedded into existing systems to gather employee feedback across the employee lifecycle. So, you are collecting valuable input at all stages: recruitment, on-boarding, exit etc. This always-on listening strategy can help identify key employee perceptions and needs beyond what may be picked up in a survey.
Do you use customer personas? Most companies would be familiar with the concept, so it’s not too much of a stretch to flip that on its head to get employee personas.
By 2025, more than a third of organisations with a customer experience initiative will see synchronisation with their employee experience initiative as vital to sustainable success and reduced customer and employee turnover.
Just like customer personas are important to elevate the customer experience, employee personas can be used to tailor your employee experience, improving workplace culture and performance.
What are employee personas and why you should be using them
Personas are all about understanding different groups of people by highlighting a quasi-fictional individual’s priorities and experiences. By projecting these traits onto your target market, you can craft an employee experience that directly addresses people’s wants and needs.
It’s just like putting yourself in another person’s shoes. The data you have on your employees will be your starting point and will help shape your employee profiles. By grouping common values, characteristics, wants and needs, you can start to see a better picture of what your workforce looks like.
Global technological research and consulting firm Gartner describes employee personas as employee profiles created to aggregate and summarise information based on the behaviour and preferences of real-life employees
Employees are more outspoken than ever in what they expect from their company, whether it’s hybrid working or professional development opportunities. Just like with customers, your employees will have different priorities that will dictate their needs.
Benefits of creating employee personas
Personalised employee journey: Depending on the size of your organisation, you will be able to create experiences for groups of employees that resonate with them, making personalisation more efficient and cost-effective than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Communication: According to Gartner, effective internal communication is the main goal for separating employees into groups. Employee personas will help you speak in a way that will appeal to each group and engage employees by making a program relevant.
Inclusive employee experience: Every employee feels represented in your organisation and they can see that their needs are acknowledged and heard.
Learning and development: Your organisation is always changing and adapting. Employee personas will be key to planning a tailored training strategy to helping employees up-skill and prepare for the next technological advancement.
What does an employee persona look like?
There are a few ways of putting together an employee persona but all of them typically outline a list of similar characteristics, skills and pain points.
Let’s start with a name: Sales-Savvy Susie. She is the account executive of her company, has been in her role for about three years and works from home. There’s often also a short accompanying quote or bio that gives us an idea about our persona’s character. For example, “As the face of my company, technology helps me seamlessly and virtually connect to prospects and customers.”
Already we have an idea that Susie is skilled in communicating with people using technology.
Next, we can consider what motivations and challenges Susie faces while at work. This part of the persona will help highlight areas that you as an employer can help with. Some examples of what motivates Susie might be recognition and autonomy, while challenges may include working in a small apartment with roommates and no dedicated office space.
As our understanding of Susie grows, we can respond better to her personal needs by promoting personal working places and a stipend to work in co-working space if she prefers remote work.
Finally, we can list Susie’s skills and experience: Susie has over 5 years of sales experience and appreciates ease of use and predictability of technology and uses her personal phone for work calls. She manages a team of 3 salespeople with different levels of experience.
We might conclude from this that Susie may find it beneficial to participate in a training session on how to give feedback for the next time performance reviews come around.
With the help of employee personas like this one, you can predict what your employees may need in the future and what they will find beneficial, so that they have the information and resources to complete their work at a high level.
5 Steps to creating your own employee personas
Step 1: Do your research
All the information you need may not be at your fingertips, but with the right method of extraction, you can find everything you need.
Surveys, interviews, listening tools and focus groups are all good methods to build data on the work environment and how people are working together.
As you gather more information, common traits and behaviours will start appearing and you’ll start to see clear groups of people form. While consolidating your employees’ information you will also benefit from outlining potential areas of improvement for your organisation as a whole.
Step 2: Identify your employee personas
Developing a set of criteria for your personas can help differentiate them and organise the data you’ve collected from your research. You may wish to take special note of quantitative data like age and years spent in a particular role, as well as qualitative data like career goals and workplace challenges.
Using this knowledge can help you build an employee journey, very similar to a customer journey. Ask yourself questions like:
“What was their first contact with this organisation?”
“How was the onboarding process?”
“What sort of professional development has been completed?”
Answering these questions will help your personas take shape and feel like they could actually be an employee at your company.
Step 3: Narrow in on the strongest candidates
You’ll likely come up with many different types of employee personas, but you should try and aim for four or five. Any personas that seem similar enough can be merged together.
Give your final candidates names, photos and other relevant quantitative data and then based on your previous research describe their:
Career goals and history
Skills and experience
Step 4: Check in with your employees
Make sure to consult with your employees to see if you are on the right track or way off the mark. They’re the ones you are trying to represent with these personas, so it’s important to listen and incorporate any of their feedback.
You can complete this process in a group workshop or a one-on-one interview with a representative of each group. It will also encourage future involvement and use of the personas within the workplace if employees feel they have been part of the process.
Step 5: Use your personas
Set up your shiny new personas where they are visible, and it is clear when and how to use them. They’ll do you no good tucked away in a folder.
When you have a workplace initiative to introduce or have a specific project to complete, use your personas to anticipate possible challenges. They will also help connect leadership with the needs of employees, so that everyone is on the same page.
Let’s look at how you can help your employees adapt and evolve to meet the needs of the future of work.
1. Help your employees help themselves.
What happens in the first year of hiring a new employee will define the relationship between yourself and your employee. Will they learn to rely on their abilities or will they fall into a habit of dependence?
It can be a careful balancing act between letting your employees know that you’re there for them and falling into the trap of hand-holding them through every problem.
Charity Katz, a leader in training and people relations, had her revelation about self-reliance early on in her career. She was just starting out as a training manager but had come across a problem where she felt out of her depth and automatically ran to her boss with the issue.
Her boss’s response, “Did you Google it?” made her realise that she needed to help him help her. She needed to do her own research and come prepared. Katz later shared that lesson with her own employees.
“Yes, I want them to come to me. Yes I want them to feel I have an open door and that I am here to support them. I do not, however, want them to bring their garbage, drop it on my desk, and expect me to clean it up and take it out.”
Working in a remote-only or hybrid environment can put employees’ self-reliance to the test, so now is the perfect time to figure out what you can do to boost their confidence and encourage autonomy. Try these tips:
Get the wheels turning inside the minds of your employees by asking questions:
How did that come about?
Why do you think that is?
What do you think we should do?
Once your employees become used to these discussions, they will come to you having done the research and maybe they’ll even solve the problem on their own.
When employees know that you trust them and their abilities, they will grow in confidence and performance. You can build trust with your employees by:
encouraging them to share their ideas and allowing them to follow through with them.
support but don’t try to solve their problems for them.
Becoming self-reliant is a learned ability and you can help your employees grow in this area by letting them know how they’re doing. Tell them when they’ve done something well and show them how they can do better in areas where they need improvement. Actively listen and learn to nurture self-reliance in your employees
If your company has information silos, your employees probably have to go through several gatekeepers to get the information they are looking for or seek out their managers to get answers to their questions. We recommend creating a shared knowledge platform to help employees find information and answers easily. This will lessen the tendency to interrupt co-workers and managers for answers and promote self-reliance.
2. Nurture digital skills and talent.
Technology is always changing, upgrading and evolving, and most businesses have at least one foot in the digital space. To keep up with both the competition and your market’s needs, your employees need to be in the know and be appropriately skilled.
In late 2021, Salesforce surveyed people’s attitudes and thoughts across 19 nations on their readiness to acquire the digital skills needed to close the skills gap and succeed in the workplace. The global index score for digital readiness (the average) is 33 out of 100. Research by McKinsey reinforces this, predicting that by 2030, up to 30 to 40 percent of all workers in developed countries may need to move into new occupations or at least upgrade their skill sets significantly.
Creating a digitally savvy workforce doesn’t have to mean hiring from outside your organisation. Training your staff internally saves time introducing new employees to the goals and values of your company, and is a better use of your budget.
Plan your digital future Think about which technologies can help your business become more automated and free up your employees’ time for high-value tasks. Don’t be scared off by the initial costs and make technology work for your business by thinking about how it can be used to generate revenue in the long run.
Set up personalised training programs – Listen to what your employees would like to do and learn so that you can prepare the right training, resources and tools for them.
Provide new opportunities for employees – Start moving your employees into new roles while they develop and apply new skills. If they find value in their new role and position, they will not take their newly acquired skills to your competitors.
It can be a bit confusing with everyone moving around and acquiring new skills in a company. Creating an employee-skill database can be a good resource to help you organise your up-skilled workforce. In one case, a financial-services firm created a database of their employees and their skills by combining their internal and LinkedIn data. They then asked the employees to look over the information to correct it if needed. Having this type of database can be valuable when matching employees with the digital goals of your organisation.
3. Create emotionally intelligent teams.
Recruiting people with high IQ can be done simply by looking at resumes or a technical skills assessment but it can be hard to read if someone is emotionally intelligent. The good news is that there are ways to improve emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) for existing and new employees.
What is EQ and why do we need it?
EQ involves all the skills that help us interact and communicate successfully with each other. Skills like empathy, listening and self-awareness allow us to build relationships, manage conflicts and improve decision-making. EQ ensures we are not swayed by emotions that have little to do with what we are currently doing.
“People are driving and it’s frustrating, they get to work and the emotions they feel in their car influences what they do in their offices. Or they invest money based on emotions that stem from things unrelated to their investments. But our investigation reveals that if they have emotional intelligence, they are protected from these biases.”
Stéphane Côté, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management
Leading by example is an important part of improving emotional intelligence (EQ) in the workplace. Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, highlighted five key elements of EQ that, when managed, can help leaders recognise their emotional state and that of others.
Self-awareness – honest feedback is crucial to building self-awareness but leaders can be insulated from this when their employees don’t share feedback due to fear of negative consequences. So, ensure you have a safe and confidential channel to collect regular feedback from your team.
Self-regulation – giving yourself time to pause and think about your response can prevent you from acting on emotions that aren’t useful to the situation.
Motivation – ask yourself ‘What motivates me?’ If you are driven by more than money and fame, you will be more in tune and satisfied by the work you do every day.
Empathy – also known as social awareness, is a hard one to work on even though many of us are taught as children to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Margaret Andrews, instructor of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, advances this idea further by saying, “it’s not about how you would feel in their situation, but rather, how they actually feel”.
Social skills – building relationships with employees and stakeholders depends on social interactions. Recognise that each situation will demand different social skills depending on the circumstances. Over time you can build your knowledge in this area and quickly adapt from communicating with an employee to a client or stakeholder.
Creating a culture of high EQ in the workplace can be difficult but it will have long-term benefits for each employee and your organisation as a whole. For example, Four Seasons hotel trains their staff with feedback tools, mindfulness exercises, coaching, and leadership development, with the aim of increasing self-awareness and empathy. Here are three simple tips to get started.
Set the norms – champion the type of communication and social interaction you want to see in your employees.
Recognition – Acknowledge and praise those employees that are getting it right.
Cognitive training – EQ is a learned skill and you can help your employees improve theirs through training sessions and exercises.
4: Build connections between your employees
New work arrangements continue to force everyone to adapt to remote and hybrid working. Organisations around the world are dealing with an increased level of distance between employees, employers and customers.
At a time when social interaction continues to be dominated by Zoom meetings and Teams calls, mentoring is a good way to keep people feeling connected and supported. You can explore a few different ways to do this:
Reverse mentoring – a new, younger employee mentors an older, experienced employee and updates them on the latest business and technological trends.
Career mentoring – show your investment in each employee’s career advancement by sharing paths to career advancement, new projects and increased pay.
Mentoring circles – Mentoring circles can help to remove barriers, confront bias, and build more empathetic relationships across an organisation. For example, you can introduce a peer-to-peer format where employees find colleagues who have different backgrounds than themselves and share experiences in a group. It is important for underrepresented employees to feel a sense of belonging early on, especially if those connections are virtual. This also works for your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to promote inclusivity at work.
You can introduce a buddy program where a new hire is paired with a seasoned employee to informally share knowledge and build a connection with the organisation. For example, New Zealand startup Auror has created an Auror Ally program that mentors new hires in the values and culture of their workplace. Through workshops, they upskilled every member of their team so each person could play a role in promoting the culture Auror was aiming for.
5. Prepare for flexible work
Working remotely and the hybrid workforce is here to stay, so recognising the benefits and the costs of flexible office is commonsense.
Employees expect organisations to offer options for flexibility. Both old and new employees are asking questions about what they want from employers and many are no longer ready to settle for less.
Betsy Sutter, Chief People Officer of VMware says in People Matters that their workforce only comes into the office if they want to. Her company plans to rely on building a culture that can hold everyone together despite the separation.
“We need to continue establishing a strong culture that is inclusive of all communities to drive collaboration and innovation and foster a sense of belonging.”
Create guidelines for flexible work that will support your employees. Gartner recommends collecting data on your employees’ wellbeing, experience with technology and what hybrid work arrangements suit them. When you listen to what the needs and wants of your employees are and use that information to help your distributed workforce, you can use the flexibility to their advantage and help them stay engaged and productive.
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