How to Make Employees Feel Heard: Setting the Tone for Open Communication

Nataša Mlađenović
Nataša Mlađenović
Nov 08, 202210 minute read

Everyone wants to feel like their voice is being heard, and that their opinions matter. This is especially true at work, where livelihoods and careers are on the line.

Feeling like you don't have a say in how things are run at your job can be frustrating, to say the least, and this is true for all employees, regardless of their position or tenure.

Employees Feeling Heard

As leadership, it's your responsibility to ensure that your team feels empowered to speak up and share their ideas. Doing so will not only make them happier and more engaged, but it will also help you tap into new perspectives and create a more innovative workplace.

But how exactly can you go about making this happen?

In this article, we'll talk about things you can do to help your employees feel heard and valued at work, and why it's important to do so.

Learn to Listen to Your Employees or Watch Them Leave

The first step to making your employees feel heard is, of course, to actually listen to them. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often leaders fail to do this.

Two in three (63%) employees feel their voice has been ignored in some way by their manager or employer, according to a survey by the Workforce Institute at UKG.

And this feeling of being disregarded can lead to all sorts of problems, from decreased productivity to high turnover rates.

“At a time when organizations are desperately vying to attract and retain top talent, people leaders must first listen and then act upon the voice of the employee in order to sustain long-term business stability and success.” - said Chris Mullen, executive director of The Workforce Institute at UKG.

So regardless of the size of your company or the industry you're in, it's crucial that you create an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas.

The Importance of Company Culture in the Matter

Company culture is often seen as one of those nebulous, hard-to-define concepts. But at its core, company culture is simply the shared values and beliefs that hold an organization together.

It's the personality of a company if you will, that shapes everything from the way employees dress and interact with customers to the way decisions are made, and yes - how employees are treated.

Employees with very high senses of belonging (95%) and engagement (92%) are significantly more likely to feel heard than those with very low belonging (25%) or engagement (30%).

So employee engagement should be a key focus for any business that wants to create a culture of open communication and collaboration.

A Vicious Circle?

This appears as somewhat of a chicken-and-egg situation: Are employees more likely to feel heard because they have a strong sense of belonging and engagement, or do these things come as a result of feeling heard?

It's actually a bit of both.

"The more we engage our employees, the more we give them a sense of belonging, the more they’ll feel heard and express what their opinions and needs are." says Dr. Mullen.

And creating such a culture will require you to empower your employees to actually participate in shaping it.

This means giving them a platform to share their ideas and concerns, and then actually taking those things into consideration when making decisions about the company.

It also means creating a transparent workplace where information flows freely, and employees feel like they have a good understanding of what's going on.

It's a virtuous circle, rather than the vicious one we started with.

Because all it takes is setting things up in a way that allows your employees to feel like their voices actually matter - and the rest will follow.

What Does “Being Heard” Actually Mean?

That's actually a great question, and the answer may vary depending on who you ask.

For some, it might be that they tried to contribute an idea at a meeting but were shot down without any real consideration, leaving them feeling deflated and unimportant.

Others might have tried to voice their reservations regarding a new strategy or even point out potential problems with a new system, and their concerns got simply dismissed.

But then once it was implemented and things went wrong, they were the ones who had to deal with the fallout, leaving them feeling frustrated and resentful.

In general, though, it means feeling like you're part of the decision-making process rather than just being told what to do.

It means feeling like you are trusted to do your job and that your opinion actually matters.

Finally, it means feeling like you have a certain level of control over your work life and that you're not just a cog in the machine.

And the best way to find out what your employees need to feel heard is, you guessed it - to actually ask them.

What to Do About Shy Employees?

The thing with being heard is that you need to actually speak up in order to be, well, heard.

That can be a problem for some employees who are naturally introverted or shy. They might have great ideas but never say anything because they're afraid of being shot down or dismissed.

In fact, 34% of surveyed employees said they would rather switch teams or even quit than voice their true concerns with management.

And that is a problem. A huge one in fact.

Because if your employees are afraid to speak up, you're never going to know what's really going on.

You're not going to know about the little problems that can be fixed before they turn into big ones. You're not going to get those great ideas that could take your business to the next level.

And you also risk losing some of your best employees over time. We're all human, and mistakes happen, but if there's no room for a dialogue simply because someone is afraid to speak up, that's a recipe for disaster.

So what can you do about it?

How to Help Your Employees Feel Heard

This might seem like a herculean task, considering how nuanced the topic is. Creating the right culture, empowering your employees, and opening up the lines of communication are no small feat.

But in actuality, it comes down to a few key things that, if done right, can make a world of difference.

1. Encourage Open Communication

Sure, this one might seem obvious. But it's worth repeating because it's so important.

If you want your employees to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, you need to create an environment where open communication is encouraged.

According to surveys, almost half of all employees, and more than half of young workers, are more likely to share their feedback about their job anonymously on a website like Fairygodboss or Glassdoor, instead of using internal channels, such as employee engagement surveys.

And the most cited reasons are: my voice has been ignored by my manager or employer (63%), managers don’t take my ideas and feedback seriously (34%), my manager doesn’t care about me as a person (35%), and my manager doesn’t proactively seek out my ideas or feedback (39%).

So what pattern do you see here?

It all starts with you, as the leader of the organization. You need to be approachable and available, and you need to make it clear that you're open to hearing what your employees have to say.

Make it a habit to ask for their opinions and feedback, and then actually listen to what they have to say. Not only will this make them feel heard, but it will also give you some great insights into how you can improve things.

2. Encourage Transparency

In order to build trust with your employees, you need to be transparent. This means sharing information about the company's plans, goals, and decision-making process with your employees.

It also means being honest about the challenges the company is facing and being clear about what role each employee plays in meeting those challenges.

This will not only make it more likely for employees to trust you and feel like they're part of a team, but it will also encourage them to be more open with you about the things that are important to them.

3. Empower Your Employees

Empowerment is again one of those terms that get thrown around a lot, with very little clarity about what it actually means.

In the context of this article, empowerment refers to giving your employees the autonomy and authority to make decisions and take action on their own.

This doesn't mean that you need to give them free rein to do whatever they want. But it does mean trusting them to use their judgment and skills to do their jobs well.

It also means giving them the resources they need to be successful, such as access to information, mentorship, and education beyond mandatory corporate training.

When you empower your employees, you send a strong message that you trust them and believe in their ability to contribute to the company's success. It's easy to see how that will make them more comfortable speaking up, and more likely to feel heard.

4. Adopt the Right IC Tools

Traditional means of communication, such as email, phone calls, or even face-to-face conversations are simply no longer enough in the modern workplace.

Be it hybrid work models, fully remote workforces, or just the need for more timely communication, what's become evident is that we need new tools to help us stay connected and engaged.

Connect the Silos Across Your Company

Bridge silos and foster greater cross-team collaboration across the company.

This is where internal communications (IC) tools come in. These are software solutions that help employees stay connected, regardless of location or time zone, and improve communication in the workplace.

The key is to choose the right one for your organization. There are a lot of options out there, so it's important to take the time to evaluate your needs and find a tool that fits.

5. Suspend The Hierarchy

One of the biggest hurdles in open communication is the hierarchy. Many employees are reluctant to speak up because they feel like their opinions won't be valued if they're not in a position of authority.

Others might be afraid of rocking the boat or creating conflict, but the reality is, conflict is inevitable in any organization, and hierarchy shouldn't be a barrier to open communication.

That's why it's so important to suspend the hierarchy from time to time - to create opportunities for employees and managers to interact on a more equal footing.

There are a few different ways to do this:

  • Town hall meetings: These are open forums where anyone can ask questions or share ideas.

  • Informal comm channels: These are channels, such as Slack or your social intranet, where employees can have casual conversations without worrying about hierarchy.

  • Regular Huddles: These are short, daily meetings where everyone in the team can share updates and ideas.

Suspending the hierarchy doesn't mean getting rid of it altogether - it just means creating a more level playing field where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.

6. Encourage Feedback

Feedback is a two-way street. It's not only important for managers to give feedback to employees, but it's also important for employees to feel like they can give feedback to their managers.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as:

  • Anonymous surveys: These can be sent out periodically to get employees' thoughts on various aspects of the company, from management to company culture.

  • Open-door policy: This gives employees the opportunity to schedule one-on-one meetings with their managers to discuss any concerns or give feedback.

  • Group discussions: These can be held regularly to get employees' collective thoughts on various topics.

Encouraging feedback shows that you're open to hearing what employees have to say, and it creates a more collaborative environment overall.

7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

The most important thing of all is: to communicate!

It sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget in the busyness of day-to-day life.

Even the best channels and IC strategies won't do you any good if you're not actually using them. So make sure you're communicating regularly, and that your messages are clear and concise.

To Wrap it Up

Open communication is essential for any organization - it's the foundation of trust, transparency, and empowerment. And it all starts with you, as the leader.

You need to be approachable and available, and you need to make it clear that you're open to hearing what your employees have to say. From there, you can encourage transparency, promote employee empowerment, and adopt the right IC tools.

But ultimately, it all comes down to creating an environment where feedback is welcome and employees feel like their voices are being heard. If you can do that, you'll be well on your way to building a more open, effective organization.

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