3 ways to a meaningful employee listening program

employee listening
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What are your employees experiencing during their workday? Leaders can’t always be aware of what challenges their employees may be facing. Add in a remote or hybrid workforce, and it gets even more difficult.  In order for your workforce to have a positive employee experience, they need to be heard.

Thus the importance of employee listening.

Employee listening is all about how you round up and understand the employee experience. Through performance reviews, requesting feedback, sending out polls and surveys, as well as being open to new ideas, companies are better able to interpret – and act on – the needs of their employees and ultimately boost employee engagement, motivation, commitment, and morale. 

We know that employee engagement is crucial to the success of a company, so how can you ensure your organization is working towards your objectives?

By listening. A lot.

Having a meaningful employee listening program in place not only gives you data-driven insights into your employees’ experience, but you will also be able to make impactful decisions that drive engagement of your employees, and in turn, business, forward.

So… how do you do it? Here are three ways to jumpstart meaningful employee listening and seek out the essential conversations about your employee’s workplace experience.

Build better polls and surveys

While the standard old-school annual employee surveys used to be the norm, they aren’t really enough in today’s working world. According to Gallup, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their competitors by 147% in earnings per share, so it’s important that organizations do what they can to make sure employees are feeling the love. 

One surefire way to ensure employees feel they are being heard is to run surveys on a regular basis. Surveys seem simple enough to put together, but in reality, even small tweaks to your questions can boost the impact of the responses received. 

First of all, you don’t want to send the same survey time and time again. You should be asking questions that you want answers to that you can act on, not generic “how’s work?”-type questions. Changing up the subject matter each time (mental-health questions, questions about resources, morale, etc.) will get better responses.  You’ll want to keep them short and to the point and avoid the use of jargon, and do your best to not just make them another daily/weekly/monthly task your employees have to take care of. 

Here are a few ways you can level up your polls and surveys:

Offer a variety of formats

Just like ad blindness on the internet, sending out the same old survey format time after time will likely lower your response rate. Frequently changing up the style of poll will encourage your employees to actually take part in them. Try a few of these next time you send a poll out:

  • Radio buttons
  • 1-5 Ratings
  • Rankings
  • Stars/Emoji polls
  • Picture polls
  • One question/open text

Ask the right questions

By asking deeper, relevant questions of your workforce you can better understand what they are thinking as they will be more likely to take part.  And by avoiding certain phrases and poll types, you can lower your chances of turning your employees off to even taking them. 

Some good poll questions to ask:

  • When have you felt most valued and appreciated? The opposite?
  • What aspects of the company culture do you appreciate most? What do you wish were different?
  • What resources, benefits, and approaches to work are you finding most helpful right now? What needs attention?
  • Do you feel you have opportunities for growth and encouragement to explore them?
  • If you could change something about work right now, what would it be?
  • Do you have an idea for a poll?

What you should avoid when drawing up poll questions:

  • Coercive/leading questions that make it clear that one of the answers is the “right” one. Example: “How awesome are we?”
  • Ambiguous questions that can’t really be answered. Example: “Are we the best company that does/makes this?” 
  • Assumptive/loaded questions. Example: “Why aren’t you married yet?”
  • Negative questions. Example: “I don’t enjoy working from home. True or False?”

Target your surveys to specific audiences

Ever received a survey at work about a project or department you had nothing to do with? Those certainly aren’t helpful to management or employees! So, you should avoid sending generic all-company polls out when possible. You will want to have segmented targets that you can directly communicate with about certain topics that pertain to their work and life. 

By using a workforce communication platform like Firstup you can send surveys and content to targeted workers when relevant to them, without unnecessarily filling up their inbox, and discover which communications are resonating and optimize what isn’t.

Have some fun once in a while

The last few years have been difficult enough; don’t burden your employees with even more dread. When polling, don’t ask questions only about work, have some fun with some of your surveys! What band from the past would they want to go see today? Who is going to win the Super Bowl? What did you want to be when you grew up? Friendly, team-bonding questions are always a good conversation starter.

Empower those closest to your colleagues

Not every poll or survey needs to come from the top or from Human Resources. Sometimes it’s more important to be a facilitator but not the owner of a conversation. There is often a level of trust between co-workers that leadership struggles to pierce, so finding those connections of established rapport is key to delivering – and generating – the survey responses that are most useful to your organization.

The key is to discover ways to remove the mystique around asking employees for their insights. They need to be comfortable with giving honest responses and assured that their opinions are valuable. Some ways to do that include: 

  • Empower managers with toolkits and resources to have deeper, more meaningful conversations.
  • Consider ways to tap into safe zones for employees, empowering those closest to their colleagues and building on existing levels of trust.
  • Engage with employee resource groups to target tough questions and discussion guides. Often, employees are more willing to be open in these conversations.
  • Offer location-specific or role-specific focus groups.
Firstup allows us to make it happen
“The best way to reduce turnover is to increase engagement. One of the best ways to energize the team about the work they’re doing is to highlight it for the rest of the organization to see.”

Commit to response and action before even asking

Workforce communication is not only about communication from leadership to staff, but also staff to leadership. Two-way communication is a lifeblood of your organization, and it’s up to you to make sure not only are employees being heard, but what you are hearing is being acknowledged and acted on. So before you ask any questions in your polls and surveys, be ready to respond to what you get back.

  • Know and communicate the course of action for your findings before you even ask the first question.
    • Will the info determine the decision or guide decision-making? 
    • How? Who will use it?
    • Will it only form the basis for additional discovery, such as focus groups or employee task forces?
  • Know that when decisions are made without input from employees, they tend to start holding back their ideas
  • Learn the value of transparency and making a commitment to act quickly, including forming action plan teams before the results
  • Communicate if and when specific audiences will learn the results (ideally within 30 days) 

When taking part in workplace surveys, employees are more willing to respond with genuine thoughts and care if they know they will be considered.


Because companies with a high level of employee engagement are more profitable by a factor of 21%, it’s vital you listen and act on input from your team.  Building an effective employee listening strategy takes time, effort, and commitment. You can’t expect every employee to respond to every survey, but by opening up more purposefully to what your workforce needs, wants, and expects ensures not only their engagement but also the success of your organization.

For additional information, you can catch the lightning talk we did at Ragan’s Employee Communications & Culture Conference, or check out the Firstup platform. It is a solution and partner that values listening and helps you communicate and connect with your entire workforce.

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