Employee Research – Considerations for more frequent listening

"In the moment Insights"

Vijay Mistry - Head of Employee Research

The employee research market is flooded with technology and innovation, primarily exploiting techniques used in consumer and market research by repurposing them to measure employee experiences in what is being touted as non-traditional (not an annual survey). Some feel pressure to be at the forefront of this perceived innovation to keep ahead of industry trends; however, the reality of implementing more frequent listening is not as simple as it may seem.

‘Realtime’, ‘Pulse’, ‘Ongoing’, ‘Always on’ are just some of the term’s beings used to get organisations to think differently about their internal listening mechanisms, but in some cases causes organisations to feel pressure to keep up with the latest trends. These types of listening deliver in the moment insights and we, at Harris Interactive, are strong advocates of that as it’s part of our digital strategy, but organisations must be ready for it. And herein lies the challenge.

Frequent listening provides a host of benefits including:

  • Helps organisations keep abreast of important issues in the here and now
  • Encourages an agile organisational culture
  • Ensures businesses and leaders address current employee issues
  • Deployed quickly to gather feedback to make rapid decisions

But to mobilise and deliver on more frequent listening, there are lots of considerations. Here are the main ones:

  • Managing employee expectations, especially where there has been an established process of listening and responding. If you are planning to listen regularly, are you also planning to respond regularly? Employees want to know they have been listened to so it’s not just about capturing the feedback but also having plans in place to respond, otherwise the programme will lose credibility (‘what’s in it for me’ syndrome). Purpose needs to be clearly defined so employees can perceive the value in taking time to respond regularly.
  • You’ll be increasing the volume of data you receive, which in the era of big data can be invaluable, but you need to consider whether you have the technology and resources to turn that data into insight and act. Imagine a monthly poll – this will require monthly questionnaire design, administration, stakeholder management/feedback and possibly action. The technology to deploy in moment and frequent listening is here, but there is a reason that few organisations do this at all or well. It’s also worth mentioning the GDPR requirement for having an unambiguous legitimate reason if you are planning to link back to personally identifiable data, which you may have to re-establish frequently.
  • Organisational culture plays an important role in whether frequent listening will land well. In modern, dynamic, technology led and agile workplaces, this makes sense. But for larger organisations with more traditional structures – this will be much more of a challenge; especially where there are larger cohorts of blue-collar workers not sat at a computer all day e.g. retail. Perhaps a well thought out, structured and planned survey process would sit better…sounds like an annual/bi-annual survey to us!
  • Organisations need to have demonstrated the implementation of a great listening and responding activities and have high levels of engagement for people to buy-in to the more frequent listening. When people are engaged they want to want to contribute. Listening and responding frequently is no longer a standalone activity but is used as a management tool that is embedded into the day to day running of an organisation. It’s built on the foundation of having successfully delivered employee surveys and creating high levels of sustainable engagement.

Over the years we have seen organisations dip their toes into the water of more frequent listening to varying degrees of success; however, they ultimately retain and rely on their annual survey for ‘catch all’ feedback allowing them to take a pause and draw a line in the sand. Always on and frequent listening is more akin to a steady jog without rest periods to reset. Examples of organisations trialling more frequent listening are provided below:

  • High street retailer with +50k employees ran a monthly poll of just a handful of questions. Initial opt-in (of less than 10%) soon declined and there was little perceived value. Although this provided an ongoing engagement tracker supported by extensive communications, there was no clearly defined purpose and interest was soon lost. The programme ceased after 12 months.
  • Supermarket with +100k employees had the ambition to move to quarterly listening having previously tried bi-annual surveys. The organisations ability to deliver the survey more frequently with the same resources to manage critical survey processes such as reporting hierarchies meant this was impractical. There were practical considerations in data collection as not all stores had Wi-Fi. This organisation stuck with bi-annual.
  • UK Bank with +20k employees has a strong culture of listening and feedback. Working with a technology partner they developed and app to provide frequent positive disruption to improve the working lives of its people. This also included pulse type measures and mood monitoring. The feedback was useful but didn’t provide the depth of information needed to take action despite its sophistication. A decision was taken not to renew the facility.

Pulse and frequent listening has merit, especially when it’s targeted to explore specific aspects of the employee experience, such as H&S or a comms audit. It acts as a symbiote of the annual survey to help further define action and dig deeper but it doesn’t replace the annual survey, which provides time to see the impact and the benefit of initiatives and make sure they are prioritised and seen through, before setting too many hares running and too many initiatives up – otherwise focus, purpose and benefit are lost. Big surveys clearly have a place, but so do shorter, sharper and speedier ones too. Ultimately, all employee research needs to be well thought out with a clear purpose, and not exclusively thought of as an annual survey OR more frequent surveys. It’s about defining the right approach for your organisation, with your own purpose in mind delivered through the resources you have available. Agencies like Harris Interactive have the technological capabilities to deliver slow and fast – but it’s ultimately about delivering what’s going to keep you ahead of what’s next, whatever that looks like!

  • Employee Research
  • in the moment
  • pulse surveys