In 2020, pharmaceutical company Organon & Co. spun off from Merck—right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, among the many challenges facing the new enterprise as it got off the ground was strategizing for eventually bringing the temporarily dispersed workforce back into the office.
Employee listening was the driving force behind that effort, Matt Grossman, director and head of workforce analytics at Organon, said Wednesday during an HRE webinar sponsored by people insights platform Perceptyx. As opposed to simply polling employees about their work-site preference, however, the organization took a more comprehensive approach—which, Grossman says, has come to define its broader employee listening strategy.
In addition to gauging sentiment, Organon married in data about in-office attendance to understand not just what workers thought they might want but what they were actually doing. From there, they paired the data with its tripartite model of employee flourishing—which looks at employee wellbeing, belonging and engagement—for some interesting results.
Namely, there were significant gender differences. Men were most eager to get back to the office—and those who were showing up in person more had higher engagement and wellbeing. However, women were more hesitant, and, while the organization found some jumps in engagement tied to their in-office time, more in-person work bogged down women’s wellbeing scores.
Using that data, Grossman says, Organon determined that the “sweet spot” for in-person work would be once per week; now, employees are asked to report only on Wednesdays—and can come in early in the morning or later in the day to avoid rush hour and allow for at-home obligations.
See also: Why flexibility is just the start to draw women back to the workforce
So far, the arrangement is working well—and has been a valuable tool to illustrate to employees that leaders are acting on their suggestions.
“A lot of executives will do armchair pontification based on the way they think things should be or what research says but they don’t really know,” Grossman says. “So, being able to arm executives with the data from both surveys and employee behaviors and information on how they’re doing [helped us] come up with a model that seems to work very well for everyone.”
Related: Listen to the full webinar presentation here.
As transformations like the pandemic prompted employers to make major shifts in the last few years, employee listening has become a cornerstone of HR’s focus, says Emily Killham, director of research and insights at Perceptyx. During the webinar, she unveiled the results of the organization’s second-annual State of Employee Listening Report, which found that employee listening is most commonly used to manage performance, followed by wellbeing, attrition, financial performance, safety and DE&I.
Historically, business leaders have turned to employee listening in times of change and crisis, but the tide appears to be turning—particularly among HR leaders. Nearly 60% of HR leaders recognize the value of continuous listening, while about one-quarter say they deploy listening strategies in “good” times and 18% lean on them most often when business is trending down. Other business leaders surveyed were nearly evenly split among those three approaches.
Continuous listening, Killham notes, allows business leaders to address ongoing problems—and get ahead of others before they snowball.
“It keeps us from being overly reactive and allows us to be more proactive,” she says.
Most organizations still have work to do to hone their listening strategies, however. Perceptyx considers listening maturity in four stages:
- Episodic: This is the most traditional listening strategy. Organizations deploy one or a small handful of employee surveys per year, but they are relatively disconnected from one another and the larger business strategy. These efforts are largely controlled by HR. About 20% of organizations are at this level, Perceptyx estimates.
- Topical: This is the most common approach (30% of employers) and includes a primary survey as well as surveys related to topics or events happening throughout the employee lifecycle. This strategy is somewhat related to other business activities and is mostly managed by HR, though other departments are consulted.
- Strategic: This more mature approach involves multiple listening methodologies—such as looking at employee behaviors and having open conversations with employees, in addition to traditional surveys. Data is often shared throughout the organization, and multiple entities, in addition to HR, take ownership of the strategy. Approximately 27% of companies are in this phase.
- Continuous Conversations at Scale: As the ideal for organizations aiming to strengthen their listening approaches, this stage matches listening methodologies directly to business problems. Action is taken across many levels, with the belief that employee experience is “everyone’s job,” Killham says. While employees are asked for continuous feedback, it’s approached “not as an interrogation, but a conversation.” About 23% of organizations have reached this level of listening.
Perceptyx found significant business outcomes connected to listening maturity: Compared to organizations in other stages, Stage 4 companies are between six to nine times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, have high levels of customer satisfaction and workforce engagement, adapt well to change and innovative efficiently.
Reaching the highest level of maturity is a transformative process and, along that journey, Killham says, the most important thing to focus on—rather than the type of listening methodologies used or data analysis conducted—is ensuring employees see genuine action in response to their feedback.
“Actions are more important than the survey itself,” Grossman agrees. “If you’re going to listen to people and then not take action on the data, you’re going to get a boomerang effect that will pull engagement down.”
Related: Listen to the full webinar presentation here.