Five Reasons to Get Off Your Butt and Go Listen to Employees

There’s a lot of yada
yada yada about listening to employees. Companies know it contributes to more
effective communication, increased productivity, improved retention, higher
engagement.  They know it’s the smart thing—the “right thing” to do. Heck,
even if they don’t know that, they sure know it’s good optics. Well, I’m not
going to scream from the rafters about it anymore. I’m simply going to state my
case; you take it from there.

Reason #1: You can’t see
everything from that big ol’ desk. 

En route to the train
station one morning during the Philly SEPTA strike, I asked my taxi driver
whether he was busier as a result. Here I was, thinking the strike would be a
boon for him. He said yes, busier—but he wasn’t earning more. Turns out,
traffic kept him from getting places fast enough to benefit from the increased

Perspective. There’s
only one from your chair. Maybe more if you swivel. 

Reason #2: Contrary to
popular opinion, you don’t know it all.

I recently chatted with
someone who told me how a new product idea was developed. Turned out, a focus
group participant had essentially made a prototype of this company’s eventual
award-winning communication. 

Who knows better than
the person with the problem? 

Reason #3: You really
think that’s gonna fly?

In a recent trip through
a manufacturing facility, I noted the posters the company had created and
distributed for an upcoming walking challenge. They were up on the plant walls
in various places. +1 

I looked around: all
men, over 50, various degrees of overweight. The poster? A young, pencil-thin
urban chick walking her dog. Sure, she’s cute. But you think her perky self was
going to get their feet moving? –5

You can’t create
communications that’ll hit their mark without knowing the environment and the
people in it. And you can’t get that on a fly-by.

Reason #4: Hey, I got
somethin’ to say!

I have kids. You? If you
do, or if you’ve had a chance to interact with kids, you know that they demand
to be heard. And they won’t budge until they are. In my experience, there’s a
simple, effective response. Listen and acknowledge their feelings. Often,
that’s all they want. 

A lot can be learned
from interacting with kids. 

Reason #5: Defuse—don’t
detonate—a problem.

Some time ago, I was
working with a client who was changing their sick day policy. Because the
policy had been extraordinarily generous, they were scared silly that employees
were going to revolt. By design, we test-drove the proposed changes and
communications with representative groups of employees. We pre-surveyed them
about their attitudes, walked them through the planned presentation, and
post-surveyed them. You know what? They thought the changes were not only fair,
but far better than what was coursing through the grapevine. We said thanks and
sent them back to their work locations.

And defused a
potentially bad situation with our newly made friends.

So, in the words of James Brown, the King of Soul…

FOT Background Check

Fran Melmed likes to write everything in lower case letters over on her other blog, free-range communication, because she finds it more aesthetically pleasing... but we took away that freedom from her on FOT because the consistency of capitilization on this blog is more aesthetically pleasing to the editor. Her blog is an offshoot of context communication consulting llc, which Fran founded to help organizations communicate better on workforce issues... imagine that. Organizations not doing a good job communicating around workforce issues...


  1. Tim Sackett says:

    Welcome to FOT – Great Post today. I have 3 sons all of whom want to talk at the same time when I get home from work. My wife is amazed at my listening skills, in that I can sit down and play Mario Kart on Wii with all 3 boys, and not be bothered by all 3 talking to me at once. I tell her you have no idea – I’ve been listening to employees all day – this is easy!

  2. You make excellent points on the need for managers to take the initiative in establishing a dialog. Managers easily lose track of how firmly boundaries emerge between them and employees and between various groups of employees. People do want to connect and share their views of work, but personal dynamics easily get in the way.
    Passively waiting for insight from the suggestion box will not create a dynamic workplace.

  3. fran melmed says:

    tim, thank you for the welcome! and funny, i heard absolutely nothing about listening to your 3 boys….
    michael, i agree and add…there’s often a need to create a safe place to share opinions, especially around confidential or tough issues. that’s where external parties can play a hand.
    jessica, i get to write in lowercase in the comments!!!

  4. Fran,
    Great comment. It’s amazing how something as simple as listening can be overlooked or undervalued in the workplace. And in these trying economic times, it is even more important. How can employers expect to keep employees satisfied (and on their payroll) if they don’t know what their pain points are? Now, more than ever, is the time to communicate, build trust and develop close relationships with your employees. Doing so will help ensure they remain loyal to you and your organizations, even as jobs begin to become available once again.
    Adam Lawrence, Blogger for The Seamless Workforce
    (Some additional thoughts on employee retention:

  5. fran melmed says:

    adam, thanks for stopping by. loyal i’m not sure we can get, unless it’s loyal for now. in line with what you’re doing, working hard to help you achieve it, recognizing they gain when you do…? that’s definitely the aim. fyi — i’d love to see your post. the link was broken when i tried it.

  6. mklankenau says:

    I spent 8+ years in restaurant operations and am now trying to transition into HR.. While doing it I am serving a.k.a. “on the other side of the fence”. It still amazes me that managers don’t get it- and how much more simple it makes their job when they listen. They have the opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive to a variety of situations!! Serving has been an means to an end for me but certainly has provided a learning experience to take with me as I make this move!!

  7. Pete C says:

    Today,appreciating age diversity seems to be just as important as any of the topics listed, but was completely left out of the discussion.

  8. Fran Melmed says:

    pete, thanks for pointing that out. i shared my thinking on diversity (training) in another post on fot. check it out and let me know your thoughts.
    mklankenau, i was a waitress through grad school and as a second job during some tough financial times, so i know all about those transferable skills you’re talking about.

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