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The war on talent has never been more prevalent — or more confusing. Between mid-March and mid-April 2020, shifts worked in the U.S. dropped by more than a third as Covid-19 entered country borders. While the global health pandemic raged on, furlough and unemployment levels skyrocketed as businesses struggled to keep the lights on.
However, the churn we’ve seen in recent months isn’t what we thought it would be: Employees have seen firsthand the immense, tangible value they bring to their organization — and they want more for their loyalty. Job openings are high and labor force participation is low, creating a deeper gap between operational capacity and consumer expectations where the pendulum of corporate power has swung in favor of prospective employees.
As a result, organizational focus on talent attraction and retention has never been greater. From increased wages and signing bonuses to new benefits and perks at work, employers are working hard to entice prospective employees off the sidelines, boost engagement and meet business demand. It’s creating a challenge for all organizations, leaving those who had a great workplace culture to wonder why it’s not working anymore — and those who were already struggling with engagement to suffer even more.
From brand new startups to established global leaders, the biggest weapon that any organization has in its toolbelt is one that is most often overlooked and undervalued by business leaders: the insights and input of their people. Company growth — operationally, globally, professionally or developmentally — is most valuable when people are at the center of that growth and contributing to decisions being made.
With this in mind, here are three key actions that leaders can take today to utilize employee feedback and build a corporate culture by and for their people:
1. Employees are our best resource. Let’s listen to them.
One of the reasons that employees are leaving is simpler than it may seem: They aren’t feeling heard.
A survey conducted earlier this year by The Workforce Institute at UKG found that two-thirds of employees feel their voice has been ignored in some way by their manager or employer. This can have a devastating impact on retention: The same survey revealed that a third of employees would rather switch teams or outright quit than voice their true concerns with management. Where has the trust gone? Was it ever there in the first place? All during a time when organizations are struggling to hire and staff adequately, the cost of not listening is at an all-time high.
The good news? We have countless opportunities to meet employees where and when they prefer to be heard to capture sentiment and feedback before it’s too late. These include more intentional practices, such as regular manager-employee meetings or biannual employee engagement surveys, as well as more unique platforms, like meetings and collaboration with senior management, town halls with functional leaders or all-hands company meetings.
By understanding where, when and how employees prefer to be heard and provide feedback, organizations can build a culture of engagement that is personalized and in direct response to their people. Take the time to understand the whole employee.
2. Ensure all voices are heard and respected.
When asked if they feel heard, the majority of employees say yes — yet there seems to be a discrepancy in who’s heard and who isn’t.
About 9 in 10 employees feel people at their organization are not heard fairly or equally and nearly half say that underrepresented voices remain undervalued by employers. This is particularly apparent for essential employees, young Millennial and Gen Z employees, non-caregiving or child-free employees as well as employees who identify with underserved races and ethnicities.
Leaders must not shy away from the difficult elements and must be more forthcoming and transparent in key areas such as organizational commitments and investments, personal and professional development, goal setting, workplace culture and environment. As part of this, employers must broaden their scope of employee support, such as adopting a mentorship program and empowering employees to create internal resource groups.
In short, the corporate identity of an organization must serve and support the individual employee.
Related: How to Create a Culture of Feedback
3. Transform ideas into actionable change.
Ultimately, simply gathering employee feedback isn’t enough — it needs to be part of a larger cycle of listening, enacting and communicating.
When did communicating become so difficult? If leaders want employees to truly feel included in their own career path and the success of the business at large, they must recognize areas where their organization can evolve and improve based on pertinent employee input.
Data also suggests that investing in the voice of the employee isn’t just good for attracting and retaining talent — it’s good for improving other business outcomes, too. Employees with very high senses of belonging and engagement are significantly more likely to feel heard than those with very low belonging or engagement. And this directly impacts the bottom line: Organizations are much more likely to perform well financially when their employees feel heard, engaged, and have a sense of belonging.
To sustain growth for the long term, businesses have to center their growth strategy around transparency, communication and action. And as we begin to evolve our pandemic-era practices to compete in a tight labor market, let’s not just remember the people who helped get us here — let’s make sure these employees, their energy and their loyalty are here to stay.