We know employee engagement is essential to higher-performing teams and more successful companies. Why, then, do so many companies — established organizations and startups alike — still ignore it? When the C-suite focuses on generating revenue while totally ignoring employee needs and relationships, the company is destined to fail.

One of the best ways to improve employee engagement is by providing the workforce with a voice and listening to its needs. Improving the experience of your front-line workers creates a strong foundation for success throughout the rest of the organization.

Listen to Your Employees

Managers have heavy workloads and get pulled in a thousand directions. It’s no wonder employee engagement often falls to the bottom of a manager’s to-do list.

However, the key to employee engagement success is when you stop viewing engagement as a task and start viewing it as an opportunity to strengthen your team. Listening to employees will allow you to identify opportunities for engagement as they arise.

Heavy workloads may be indicators of rampant miscommunication within the ranks of your team. The greater the workload, the greater the possibility you’re not listening to employees, clarifying their goals, and meeting their needs. Making room for genuine conversations with employees can help streamline workflows and avert mounting to-do lists.

To illustrate an example of how listening to employees can help you identify opportunities for engagement, let me tell you about “Snackgate.”

At IQTalent Partners, we provide snacks for employees to encourage social interaction and give employees a way to de-stress during the day. For a period of time, however, we stopped offering those snacks. As a result, employees began to grow less engaged and satisfied at work. Many of them missed the snacks, but no one felt empowered to solve the problem.

I noticed the waning morale, so I started asking questions. I discovered people felt unsure of how to step forward with their concerns, so they chose not to act or speak up. Nobody felt like they had permission to solve the problem. To counter this situation, we held a meeting where I reinforced teamwork, employee voice, and taking charge in times of distress.

The key takeaway from the Snackgate situation is this: If there is a problem, talk about it as a team.

When employees know their voices are heard, they’re more open to sharing ideas, knowledge, and skills. Not only does this help you identify opportunities for engagement and areas for improvement, but it also encourages knowledge-transfer and skill-sharing between your employees.

Listening to your employees has a slew of other benefits as well, including:

  1. Happier Employees: Nothing’s worse than having a job where no one cares about you. When employees feel like their voices are heard, they feel valued. When employees feel valued, they are happier and more passionate about their work, resulting in higher productivity.
  2. Decreased Absenteeism: When employees don’t feel valued, they begin to wonder why they should even show up to work. When employees know they are contributing team members — because you truly listen to their voices and address their concerns — they feel more motivated to be at work and give it their all.
  3. Increased Retention: Employees who feel valued feel like they have a place at your organization. The resulting sense of community and belonging will motivate employees to stick around for longer.

Encourage Your Employees’ Voices

Whether you think you are listening or not, it’s important to promote inclusivity and openness so your employees feel comfortable with and capable of reaching out with their ideas and feedback. Otherwise, you’re missing out on what your people have to say.

It’s easy to fall into a top-down, authoritative feedback process, so remind employees often that they have the ability to speak up. Strong indicators that your employees lack a voice in your company include:

  1. Managers and leaders don’t regularly asking for employee input on decisions
  2. Employees feel a lack of support, guidance, and resources
  3. Employee requests often go ignored, forgotten, or overlooked
  4. Hard work goes unrecognized
  5. Feedback conversations often focus on the negative over the positive
  6. Leaders and managers do not check on employees’ personal well-being (e.g., stress levels, work/life balance, etc.)

Take a look at these indicators and determine which apply to your company. Then, identify the areas where your organization needs the most improvement. Write down specific goals and specific plans to achieve them. Create a timeline and a plan for following up once a benchmark has been hit.

Identify areas you feel need the most improvement and write down goals for how you plan to change. Create a timeline for meeting them and how you plan to follow-up after you hit the benchmark.

Here are some fundamental steps to take in order to encourage employees to share their voices in real, concrete ways:

  1. Talk to Your Employees: Invite employees to voice their honest opinions on projects, processes, and other organizational matters. Let them do the talking. The more you listen and the less you talk, the better. When employees offer suggestions for improvements, collect feedback from the rest of the workforce to determine whether or not implementation makes sense.
  2. Evaluate and Integrate Employee Ideas: Not every idea will be a good fit, but some will. The ideas you choose to implement should make a majority of employees feel engaged and heard while still supporting overall company success.
  3. Measure the Results: Once you have implemented an idea and a sufficient amount of time has passed, measure the results of the implemented idea. Ask employees how they feel to see if implementation was effective or if something needs to change. When an employee’s idea is not implemented, follow up with them. Make sure they understand why their idea was not implemented and that you still value their opinion.

A version of this article originally appeared on the IQTalent Partners blog.

Chris Murdock is the cofounder and senior partner of IQTalent Partners.

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