If You Don't Listen to Your Employees, Someone Else Will

Balancing employee wants with business needs isn't always easy, but by following four principles, you can construct a workplace that employees want to be a part of.
If You Don't Listen to Your Employees, Someone Else Will
Image credit: adamkaz | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO and Founder, Lemonlight
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Conference Board’s C-Suite Challenge 2019 survey revealed that the top internal concern of global CEOs and executives isn’t disruptive technology or ever-evolving data privacy rules -- it’s keeping good people.

As a business owner and CEO, I’m inclined to agree. Top talent is hard to find (especially in the current labor market), and it’s even harder to keep.

Take the millennials portion of the workforce. Its members generally have different expectations of work than their predecessors.They demand rapid mobility and new experiences, and they frequently seek out companies that share their personal values.

Members of this cohort also know about and use a multitude of websites, recruiting services and apps to connect them with potential employers; and the gig economy gives them options for making ends meet until the right full-time opportunity shows up.

At the same time, heavily funded tech startups have transformed the way we live, work and play -- further influencing employees’ expectations of work. Whereas in the past, a competitive salary and a good benefits package were enough to keep most workers satisfied, today’s top companies have raised the bar, offering unlimited vacation, catered lunches, nap pods and more.

The big tech firms in particular can not only check all those boxes but can throw in exorbitant salaries, to boot. They also work hard to cultivate a “cool” factor that’s especially appealing to younger workers.

For many young, self-funded companies, however, these perks are hard to match. When Amazon or Google offers your best employee a job, good luck trying to match that offer, right? So how can smaller businesses compete? In fact, they can, as I describe below.

Lending an ear

At my company, we’ve worked hard to create an open, communicative culture. As the CEO, I’m always listening.

Related: How to Listen to Your Employees Better so You Can Improve Your Business

Every few months, I’ll hear someone say, “I really love working here. I love the team and the clients, but I want to be challenged more.” We always want our employees to seek new challenges, but we can’t always afford to move talented people into management positions. Still, we don’t ignore them: We explore the parts of the employee's existing position that he or she loves -- and the parts that aren’t as enjoyable -- and evaluate this person's personal and professional goals.

We then ask the employee what interests him or her about our company and what that "dream role" would look like. This process helps us arrive at a plan to keep this individual engaged and excited yet still working in the company's best interests. And there's more:

By relying on the following four principles, we’ve been able to build a culture of transparency that employees want to be a part of:

1. Ensure psychological safety.

Allowing employees to be authentic is critical to building a productive, happy workforce. Employees should be able to walk into work each day knowing their teammates will support them, even if they make a mistake. They should have the freedom to be vulnerable and honest without fear of consequences. Business leaders can cultivate psychological safety by leading by example

When Google’s LGBTQ employees felt they were being ignored after Google-owned YouTube failed to ban a channel on its platform that consistently promoted bigotry and discrimination, Google CEO Sundar Pichai quickly issued an apology. Pichai did the right thing by validating LGBTQ employees’ specific concerns. While Google’s internal discord won’t be solved overnight, Pichai’s decision to personally get involved is a good starting point for developing long-term solutions.

Related: Investing in Your Employees Is the Smartest Business Decision You Can Make

2. Make yourself emotionally and physically available.

While it would be unrealistic for Pichai to meet with every LGBTQ employee at Google, he did take the time to meet with representatives from the company’s LGBTQ group. The CEO admitted that those conversations were tough and uncomfortable at times, but he also recognized how necessary they were for progress.

As the CEO of a small business or startup, however, you can be visible to employees at every level. So, do that: Schedule office hours ata specific time each week so employees can meet with you one on one -- and encourage them to take advantage of that time.

I do this every Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Anyone in the company can schedule a meeting with me during that time, and the results of this policy have been incredible. I’ve been able to connect with team members to proactively address work-related issues. Additionally, I’ve built stronger relationships with employees by talking to them about personal challenges.

3. Pay attention to team members’ nonverbal cues.

Some team members love taking advantage of open office hours, while others don’t. That’s why it’s important to schedule one-on-one meetings with all employees regularly.

Consistent planning for monthly, quarterly or semi-annual check-ins ensures face time with everyone and allows for thorough feedback. Research shows that employees who don’t receive feedback from managers are far more likely to become disengaged at work. The Predictive Index's People Management Study found that 44 percent of managers surveyed offered little to no feedback, even though most employees wanted to receive it.

You should also try to observe employee behavior outside of these meetings. If you notice someone struggling, working late every day or demonstrating some other change in behavior, schedule a time to chat in order to reach the root of the problem.

Related: Want to Be a Better Leader? Show Employees You Care.

4. Promote and reward work-life balance.

As a typical entrepreneur, I love to work. But I must remember not everyone is like me. Make sure your team knows that work-life balance is important, and if an employee is working overtime on a regular basis, find out why. Encourage team members to leave the office early or take an extra day off if they’ve been putting in too many hours.

We take a half-day the first Friday of every month and use that time to do something fun as a team. Employee participation is optional: If some people would rather head home for an early weekend, they’re encouraged to do so. Team members who are feeling social enjoy a night on the company.

Other brands encourage a healthy balance of work and play, too. Slack deliberately redesigned its offices so workers could take mental breaks from their work, creating smaller one-person rooms and even turning some chairs to face windows and down hallways that no one uses. The company also bucks the Silicon Valley trend of staying late for cocktail hours or companywide yoga. The motto “work hard and go home” is even written on an office wall.

Entrepreneurs succeed by blocking the voices that tell them they can’t accomplish their goals. Unfortunately, many tend to block the voices of those who help them do just that. If you’re leading a business, invest time in the people helping you achieve your dreams. You'll be rewarded for it with loyalty and respect.

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