3 Keys to Great Employee Listening at Scale

Effective workforce and employee listening is one of the most critical skills for HR professionals. To address workforce needs, HR team members must be actively and attentively listening to their employees and workers. Gathering information about the workforce is vital, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple.

Listening to your workforce means giving each member respect, time, and attention, so you can truly understand what’s going on and identify the best way to respond. This becomes more difficult in a hybrid workplace and can be complicated at scale for larger organisations.

So let’s dive into three ways your HR team can practise effective employee listening at scale.

1. Facilitate more meaningful conversations

Speaking to the workforce and using their feedback to support decision-making is how HR really began as a profession. Conversations refer to the 1:1 interactions, observations, and ethnographic tools that HR uses to understand the workforce and what your workforce needs. These are very human tools that can be a powerful method for HR storytelling within an organisation.

When conducted effectively, conversations allow HR personnel, managers, and leaders to gain a nuanced understanding of their workforce that technology can’t yet replicate. For instance, it will be a long time before computers can comprehend how grief impacts performance, the unsettling chaos of a reorganisation, or the pride of a promotion. Despite recent advances, empathy, connection, and meaning-making will remain distinctly human domains for some time.

On the other hand, bias and human error in conversations is a concern, and there are dangers in relying solely on conversations to inform the HR decision-making process. These are issues that must be thoughtfully planned for and mitigated — so you want to use other employee listening strategies to help validate, verify, and correct for bias in information gathered from conversations.

There are three types of conversations that HR teams can use to practise effective employee listening:

1. Formal Conversations

These include regular 1:1s, performance reviews, and formal checkpoints that ensure the workforce is heard, managed, and supported. These conversations not only help managers and HR leaders evaluate their employees' performance but also provide an opportunity for the organisation to gather information and better understand the employee experience.

2. Informal Conversations

This refers to casual chats that take place around the “watercooler” (in person or remote), where employees can share what's really going on. These conversations can lead to surprising insights about the workplace, culture, and organisation. For instance, employees might discuss work-related challenges, share ideas for improvement, or provide feedback on a topic that you wouldn’t expect. Such conversations can help managers and HR leaders identify potential issues before they become problems. Informal conversations can be a great avenue for HR to gain business context that isn’t captured elsewhere.

3. Ethnographic Research

The most formalised version of conversation-based information gathering is ethnographic research — referring to scientific and qualitative research techniques such as observation, participation, and immersion in the workplace to gain cultural and organisational understanding. Ethnographic research can provide a validated and scientifically sound understanding of employee behaviour, well-being, and attitudes, and it can also uncover hidden dynamics and cultural norms that might not come to light through formal or informal conversations alone. By conducting ethnographic research, organisations can gain a deeper understanding of their workforce and tailor their strategies and policies accordingly.

2. Collect information through surveys and forms

Engagement surveys and other forms, like performance or training reviews, capture new data that might not be otherwise captured by conversations or other avenues. Surveys are a great method for gathering information from a large number of people quickly. You could spend 30 minutes speaking to every person in your organisation, or you could send a survey that everyone completes on their own time. Surveys can provide a structured, valid, and reliable method to collect information about workforce needs, attitudes, opinions, behaviours, and demographics.

Here are three elements you might include in your next HR survey to improve your employee listening strategy:

1. Structured survey questions

This includes questions that are answered by a multiple-choice scale like, "How satisfied are you with your current role?" and "Do you feel valued by your employer?". With numeric responses, it’s much easier to parse through and analyse the responses.

2. Open-ended survey questions

These questions provide a prompt with a text box for a response. These could include a variety of open-ended topics like “Please tell us about your onboarding experience.” or “Do you have the tools you need to succeed in your role?”. The volume and variety of data that is brought back through open-ended surveys is much higher than structured surveys, so these require further coding or understanding before they can be used in decision-making.

3. Psychometric surveys

Psychometric surveys gather information about employees' psychology, attitudes, and sentiments, which can be helpful in understanding variations in trends such as retention and attrition. These questions can be either structured or open-ended, depending on the desired results. 

3. Use data from your technology systems

As technology is increasingly integrated into workplace operations, your workforce’s interactions with technology can generate a wealth of data about people, processes, and work habits — making your tech stack a powerful employee listening tool. Skilled data engineers, analysts, and data scientists can process this data to extract valuable insights about the workforce.

Systems data exists already for nearly every aspect of the work experience today, from hire to termination and from performance management to learning. And it can be collected quickly, passively, and with less bias than conversations or surveys. Plus, when handled correctly, this dataset allows for more sophisticated data techniques and broader perspectives of the organisation as a whole. For an end-to-end approach to employee and workforce listening, which is needed for workforce planning, workforce readiness, or skills gaps analysis, you can use the data within your technology systems. But today’s organisations use so many different technology systems, making it difficult to aggregate this data into an understandable format that can help inform HR decisions.

Here are three types of technologies that offer systems data HR teams can use for better employee listening:

1. HR tech

This is the traditional tech stack managed by HR tech teams, including systems that handle HR-related processes and programmes (e.g., Core HRIS, ATS, Performance Management, LMS). For example, when a worker is hired, the applicant tracking system (ATS) captures data about their demographics, prior experiences, and the interviewing team's assessment.

2. Collaboration tech

Systems capturing collaboration (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Docs, etc.) can be powerful tools because they produce information about teams, interactions, and how work gets done within an organisation. Techniques like organisational network analysis can reveal how information flows through an organisation or identify influential individuals.

3. Work tech

Work tech refers to technology capturing broad work data outside of HR tech (e.g., procurement systems, code tracking, or attendance). Systems like intranets, timekeeping, expense systems, and ticketing systems fall into this category. These work tech systems also produce data that can be used to recreate, model, and analyse the flow of work in the workplace. By associating these systems with HR tech systems, we can build powerful stories connecting HR data to work outcomes.

How One Model supports employee listening at scale

One Model is an AI-powered people analytics platform that empowers HR teams to centralise data from multiple technology sources into a single place — for easier analysis and better HR decision making. By bringing all HR data into One Model, HR leaders can get deeper insights into their workforce and perform more effective employee listening at scale. This allows you to listen to your entire workforce from every possible angle, so you can uncover workforce needs, increase engagement, reduce burnout, and address issues in a timely manner. Plus, you can refocus valuable HR time from building dashboards and aggregating data to analysing reports and improving the organisation.

Discover how Colgate uses One Model

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Written By

Lauren has been copywriting in the B2B SaaS tech space since 2015. From her home office in Northern California, she focuses on telling stories that help readers find new ways to solve their business challenges.

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