Your workforce is trying to tell you something.
How they really feel.
The risks of failing to listen to employee concerns are real: a disengaged workforce. Lower morale. Higher turnover. If your employees feel like they aren’t being heard, they will not experience the sense of common purpose that creates true motivation and fulfillment on the job. Without insight into the sentiment in the workforce you’ll have a harder time holding onto top talent and your business will struggle to achieve its strategic goals.
For decades, employers have grappled with this concept and the need to check the pulse of their people. Companies spend millions per year on engagement surveys, yet only 34% of workers are engaged at work and 13% of employees are actively disengaged.¹ Why? The truth is that many formal attempts to gauge employee sentiment don’t obtain honest, complete results, and are sluggish to bring about change—if the results are acted upon at all. So, it shouldn’t surprise managers when nearly half of employees don’t believe surveys are accurate.
In the past, typical employee surveys have consisted simply of mass solicited feedback: a large number of multiple-choice questions commissioned by HR and delivered to the entire workforce. Leadership often expects paltry response rates and conducts these surveys only once a year or even less. Before employers reach the stage of analyzing the results, this approach is already riddled with flaws. The needs and concerns of any given team or individual is unlikely to mirror those of another, so survey results drawn solely from the workforce at large are open to dramatic misinterpretation by managers and executives.
The next hurdle comes in reviewing and analyzing the results. In many cases, management requires a lead time of weeks or months just to interpret the raw data and form conclusions. Then comes the preparation of an action plan to address the concerns that have been raised, and finally implementing the changes. It’s very likely that conditions in the workplace will often have already changed by the time management is ready to act on the survey findings. In other words, even if the results were perfect, the data from most traditional surveys is already outdated by the time it is applied. This process is no longer sustainable in the new era of work. So, where do we go from here?
The single most impactful change you can make to improve performance, productivity, and retention is to be attuned to the true feelings of your people. Feelings drive behavior! Management has a direct impact on their employees, and when employees feel listened to and heard, engagement and retention are likely to increase. Plus, when you can accurately gauge how your employees are feeling, you can work on enhancing the employee experience, which also plays a part in employee engagement.
Traditional engagement surveys rely far too much on solicited feedback; fail to foster an ongoing, open dialogue between managers and employees; and focus too broadly on the entire workforce to draw conclusions.
of employees believe surveys aren’t an accurate reflection of reality.²
The Voice of the Employee
The Voice of the Employee (VoE) is a measure of the true sentiment of your people, leveraging rich quantitative and qualitative metrics that go far beyond traditional surveys. It relies on continuous listening and robust, two-way feedback to bypass an employee’s instinct to tell managers what they want to hear, and focuses on parts of the workforce at a microlevel to prioritize concerns and act quickly to address them.
Continuous listening is the process of frequently gathering and analyzing employee feedback throughout the entire employee lifecycle.
The Voice of the Employee has quickly become just as important to businesses as the Voice of the Customer and extends far beyond the office walls. It is a necessary part of any organization’s overall brand identity. Read on as we analyze the persistent issues with traditional survey methods that have fallen short and examine the extraordinary potential of harnessing the VoE to create true engagement, boost retention, and improve business outcomes.
The Cost of Limited Feedback
Traditional workforce surveys are a form of limited feedback: an often-transparent attempt to obtain desired results from your employees to justify either the status quo or the changes that had already been planned. It creates a mindset in the workforce that feedback is only ever desired when it is asked for. Such surveys often take on the format of a quiz, with multiple-choice response options that have obvious implications for the leaders who drafted them. In essence, these attempts are much like saying to your people: “Here are the questions—we hope you’ll give us the right answers.”
Soliciting limited feedback in this way often creates discomfort for employees out of the gate and may even shake their faith in management to meaningfully address their concerns, especially when no action is taken. Let’s look a little closer at some of the problems that could arise when receiving limited feedback.
Drawing conclusions based on limited feedback has several potential problems:
- If your goal is to obtain a true understanding of how your employees feel and what is important to them, there cannot be any biases in the way responses are collected. In one HRmarketer study, results revealed that 48% of employees did not answer surveys accurately or honestly.³ When employees don’t answer honestly, frustration stems from both ends, true employee issues aren’t being addressed causing engagement to worsen, while managers wonder why it continues to fall after receiving employee feedback.
- Multiple choice, by definition, offers limited choice. While multiple-choice responses are not always a bad idea, if this is the only method used to obtain employee feedback, results will inevitably be incomplete. True sentiment analysis must allow employees as much freedom to respond honestly as possible, ideally in their own words.
- Solicited feedback that is not mandatory often has low response rates and is also often prone to self-selection bias. If the survey is administered to the entire workforce at large or to a random sampling of employees, those who elect to respond may have dramatically different sentiments than those who choose not to participate. And may even vary drastically from department to department. If one department is more vocal than another, the results won’t give you a clear picture into your workforce.
- When taking a survey with this format, employees are often under the impression that the results are processed and analyzed instantaneously, in a similar manner to simple online polls. In reality, they often require lengthy analysis periods to reach any meaningful conclusions or return results to the workforce, which can be a source of frustration for everyone involved.
Instead of relying on limited feedback, employers must embrace the notion of continuous listening and cultivate ongoing feedback in an environment of open communication and trust rather than a one-off survey.
The Value of Continuous Listening
Communication and trust have always been important to employees, and this has only become more pronounced in the workforce in recent years. In fact, employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.4 According to Gallup, 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be directly related to a person’s manager.5 Knowing how all of your employees feel at work can be the difference between high productivity and high turnover.
Trust is earned over time. It cannot be gained or maintained through a one-off engagement survey. It’s good practice to conduct an employee engagement/experience survey at least once a year. After analyzing the results, it’s important for management to act on the results, whether positive or negative, to show their employees that they’re actively listening to what they have to say. So, when organizations distribute surveys with no intentions of acting on the results, it only weakens employee trust.
of companies said they are not taking meaningful action after they receive their survey results.6
Continuous listening is more subtle and requires both management effort and augmentation by technology. It means that employee feedback is continuous, valued, and given and received freely. It also means that leaders are aided by a deeper understanding of their people with new technologies such as natural language processing (NLP) engines that can detect meaning, intent, and emotion from unstructured text. It contrasts sharply with solicited feedback in that employees who are being continuously listened to will want to speak up, with the certainty that it will be considered and potentially acted upon, rather than feeling obligated to complete an annual task. Continuous listening is what separates companies with engaged employees who feel like they are working with leadership toward a common goal from those without. By using NLP and predictive analytics, you can monitor employees who might be flight risks, who have untapped potential, and more, thus leading to a greater employee experience. How can your workforce understand that common purpose if the VoE isn’t being heard?
Despite these obvious advantages, businesses struggle to open the channels that can drive a positive employee experience. NLP and predictive analytics can show you the unique needs of each employee and how to best work with them to help boost their experience.
Instead of asking employees if they are satisfied in their role and offering a handful of simple responses, a continuous listening approach might regularly pose this query to employees: “Do you feel like you’re contributing as much as you are able? Why or why not?” Instead of a leading question that might influence your people to give a positive response, this question tackles the same concept but offers an opportunity to speak honestly about what’s important to them—maybe they feel they are contributing at their full potential because of new tools made available by a manager (suggesting value elsewhere in the organization), or perhaps they feel like they aren’t because they need further training or coaching. Alternatively, an employee might see a chance to voice concerns that they are being held back due to interpersonal circumstances within their teams that managers hadn’t even considered.
By encouraging regular feedback, relying on more open-ended questions, and empowering employees to use their own words, continuous listening sidesteps the pitfalls of solicited feedback and obtains a richer, more nuanced view of your workforce and their true feelings on the job.
The Power of Perspective
We’ve discussed the problems with obtaining feedback from certain types of questions asked in traditional surveys and the methodology used to deliver them. However, these issues extend even further into who is being asked, as well as why.
Companies that are interested in hearing the Voice of the Employee have to balance maintaining individual employee anonymity with gaining deeper insight into their workforce, all while recognizing that a macro-level view of the workforce is inadequate. Surveying only the entire workforce at once (or a random sample of the full workforce) for overall engagement information, without following up with more targeted pulse checks, is not just inadequate, but potentially dangerous—leading managers to conclusions that may only benefit a small fraction of their people and may even negatively impact others. Existing problems may be missed outright, especially at the level of the individual or small team.
This kind of imprecise approach to sentiment analysis renders managers unable to drill down to hear the voice of their employees—both the cumulative feelings of their team as a whole and each individual member as well. This “wall” between the macro-level survey results and the direct manager-employee relationship can only reduce trust over time. Glaring problems, especially at the individual level may be completely drowned out by the total tonnage of data gained from a traditional survey.
Truly hearing the Voice of the Employee means that an organization’s executives not only have an accurate understanding of the sentiments of the overall workforce, whether they are positive or negative, and also have a grasp on the health and engagement of each department and team. Managers, then, must also understand the true sentiments of their team as a whole, as well as each employee. Once they understand the sentiments, they must implement change.
Ultimate Software's UltiPro Perception® is an unparalleled employee sentiment analysis tool that goes beyond simple surveys to give you a direct line to what your employees are thinking and feeling.
Through the best-in-class application of robust natural language processing, UltiPro Perception enables employees to respond to open-ended questions in their own words and automatically parses their word choice, identifying emotions behind their answers. As soon as a question is answered, this powerful technology analyzes their language in real time. Using machine learning, UltiPro Perception isolates recurring themes within an employee’s response and correlates them across teams to deliver individual and team-wide engagement scores to managers—with real, actionable data behind them. Any single open-ended question provides many times the value of even a handful of traditional multiple-choice survey questions. Furthermore, these open questions can be delivered alongside ranking-based questions or other quantitative measures to obtain an even richer total understanding of how your people really feel, all while keeping employee identity confidential.
The solution also empowers managers with a fully interactive, high-level and/or granular view of their teams to check the health of individual employees and prioritize concerns for immediate action. UltiPro Perception can be leveraged on an ongoing basis to determine how effective actions to address these concerns have been over time and course-correct if necessary.
It’s time to begin truly listening to the Voice of the Employee. By taking advantage of continuous listening philosophies and providing both a big-picture and micro-level perspective of the workforce, UltiPro Perception offers a new platform for open communication and deeper understanding between employees and managers.
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