Welcome back to the employee experience economy blog series. We’ve been discussing how Generation Z employees are changing the way that companies go about important tasks, such as selection and development. Another key piece of what this newest generation of employees wants is to be heard and valued. Generation Z has grown up with access—access to information and people—ultimately creating an expectation that they will have access to company leaders and their voices will be heard in the workplace. For this to happen, company leaders have to be willing to listen.

Leaders at all levels must make time to listen to their employees. The excuse of being “too busy” to listen isn’t going to cut it in the employee experience economy. According to research from Gallup, listening to employees’ work-related challenges is a critical factor in reducing employee burnout and increasing morale. Listening is also necessary for increasing employee engagement. When employees do not feel as though their opinions and ideas matter, they become disengaged. If we want everyone to be interested and involved in making the company better, then we have to listen to them. So, here are some tips on how to listen in a way that makes employees feel valued.

1) Train Leaders How to Listen: Listening is a skill that needs to be taught properly and practiced regularly. Start by training managers on what it means to listen actively (i.e., providing one’s full attention to the information being shared). While all managers will tell you they know how to listen, the problem is often found in their preference to listen while completing other tasks or checking emails. Truly listening to employees means creating an environment and time where there are no distractions—it means giving 100% of your attention to listening to what they have to say. Leaders must also engage in empathetic listening whereby compassionate attention is given to an employee’s needs. When we show employees that we understand and care about how they feel, we create the opportunity to hear the best ideas, have a pulse of our employees’ engagement, and know the needs of our people.

2) Offer a Variety of Communication Channels: Leaders must create outlets where employees can voice their opinions and frustrations. These outlets must go well beyond an annual survey—they must include consistent methods for employees to share input and feel heard. Companies need to evolve their communication channels to ensure they are hearing their employees in their preferred communication method. Pulse surveys are an effective communication tool, allowing employees to anonymously voice feelings at any time on fundamental cultural mechanisms and leaders’ behaviors. Other ideas include using an online platform, conducting regular group meetings, or one-on-one meetings between leaders and their direct reports. The key is to create multiple methods for employees to share what’s important to them.

3) Respond and Follow Up Appropriately: Managers cannot be afraid or defensive about what employees might share. Research suggests that over 40% of junior-level employees are afraid to bring concerns or ideas to senior management. Employees must be allowed to voice frustrations, share a difference of opinion, and explain their needs without fear of any type of retaliation. Creating a platform for employees to voice their needs and concerns does not mean that managers and companies need to do everything that employees ask of them, but it does mean that listening requires a response and action. Companies must make adjustments when possible and must follow up with their employees so that employees know that their feedback is valued. When reviewing employee feedback, it is important to consider whether it is one or two employees voicing concerns or the broader employee population. Focus on what really matters to the majority of your employees and prioritize the most impactful changes to make.

When leaders prioritize listening, they reap the advantages of increased engagement, motivation, retention, performance, and profits. As Generation Z enters the workforce, consider what changes your company needs to make to ensure you are providing a work environment where their voices can be heard.

Stay tuned for more insights from the employee experience economy blog series.