Why listening is key to employee engagement


In this blog, we explore how you can learn to become a better listener to create longer lasting connections with your employees to increase engagement. 

What’s the one thing that could improve all of our lives? No, it isn’t cash. Although you’re not entirely wrong.

There’s a simple behaviour trait that can impact all of our relationships, at work and at home. You might be good at it already, but for managers, it’s possibly the best communication tool in your arsenal.

It’s the art of listening.

That’s right, many organisations fall over themselves to get customers to listen to them, paying out thousands of pounds in the process. But more often than not, the same won’t be said of their employees.

If that’s you, it’s time for some major behaviour changes.Because if you truly listen, and respond to what staff have to say, you’ll create some serious employee engagement.

And that’s got to be worth hearing about, right?


As part of Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ study, we examined the necessary ingredients needed to create an incredible employee experience. 

The report reveals four main engagement essentials as outlined by management consultancy, Deloitte: 

  1. Hands-on management
  2. Positive work environment
  3. Growth opportunity
  4. Trust in leadership

If managers can’t recognise what it is their employees really want from their place of work, it means they’re just not paying enough attention. Listening is key to each of these four pillars of engagement.

Take ‘growth opportunity’ for example. How do you know where to provide relevant learning, development and progression, if you’re not listening to employee’s individual needs?

Sodexo’s research also found that, “Only 17% of employees ‘strongly agree’ that they trust their line manager to treat them fairly and make the right decisions.”

It’s a sign that not everyone is listening properly.


Time for the ‘sciencey’ bit. It seems active listening is a life skill we could all do with perfecting.

As Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why?’ says, “Good listeners have a huge advantage. For one, when they engage in conversation, they make people ‘feel’ heard. They ‘feel’ that someone really understands their wants, needs and desires. And for good reason; a good listener does care to understand.”

As effective engagement tools go, listening is the one thing that goes hand in hand with strong leadership. It can also help to create very real behaviour change.

Psychologist Carl Rogers states that, “active listening is a difficult discipline. It requires intense concentration and attention to everything the person is conveying, both verbally and nonverbally.”

Kathryn Robertson, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, goes one step further to say that active listening is more about what is not done, than done. 

She argues that often you have a set way of responding to the person you listen to, but as a manager you must learn to sit on these common responses to really hear what’s being said.

At all costs, you should avoid ordering, threatening, moralising, excessive questioning or advising. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds.

Don’t shoot the messenger as they say.

If you’re seeking to channel your energies into transforming behaviour in the workplace, start by practising active listening. With a bit of consideration to the way you pay attention, you can give employees the space they need to speak up in their own way. And you’ll soon be upping the ante when it comes to engagement at work.


Many leading management books will tell you just how important the art of listening to employees is. In ‘The One Minute Manager (1982)’ authors Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, tell us that the best way to create employee engagement is to allocate time to listen to them. 

Here are a few reasons why listening well makes better business sense:

  • Head off problems
    Dare we say it, listening can cure many workplace issues. If you know your employees are facing the strain or have difficulties in certain areas, you can take proactive steps to deal with trigger points before they get out of control.
  • Get to know your staff
    By getting in front of individuals and really listening to them, you can get to know people and make sure they feel valued. You can then tailor any workplace initiatives to make these more relevant and inspiring to better engage people.
  • Better knowledge sharing
    A collaborative workplace environment can lead to greater idea sharing and help create motivational success stories. If people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with leaders, knowing they won’t be shouted down or spoken over, you’ll have a better chance of hearing where the business needs to go.

Suffolk County Council Employee Benefits Scheme Case Study - Click here to read



It’s time to pay attention. Employees want to be heard. If you don’t listen, they’ll become disengaged, even finding their way to your competitors. That’s not going to help anyone – and we all know how talent retention rates can affect a business.

Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive and Recognition, Sodexo, says, “becoming the ‘employer of choice’ will be the biggest boardroom conundrum over the next decade. It all starts with listening. Lifting up the bonnet and finding out exactly what’s going on.”

Dale Carnegie talks a lot about listening in his book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. In it, he says, ‘80% of those dissatisfied with managers are also disengaged from employers.’ Employees demand good leaders who will give them everything they need to do an exceptional job.

So, what can you do to become better at listening? 


Beyond the physical ways of listening like not interrupting staff, you have lots of options to open up dialogue between line managers and their teams.

In our fast-paced digital world, the importance of face-to-face contact cannot be stressed enough. With so many distractions in the workplace, it’s time we all stepped away from that screen.

Phone phubbing and poor attention spans need to be worked on – and we all do it, don’t we? We say, it’s time for some serious behaviour change.

Here are a few options to help build up your listening skills:

1. Pulse surveys

These are quick and easy surveys that can be carried out anonymously online to measure everything from employee engagement to the overall health of the company. They often get good response rates and can help employers to nurture a culture of transparency.  

2.  Feedback platforms/suggestion boxes

While surveys are great, some employees are wary of online forums because they may not be confidential enough for them. Yet old school suggestion boxes in break rooms or office receptions can be a great way to collate thoughts across any area of the business. The employee will also feel more empowered when they see their suggestions having an impact on company life.

3.     Ongoing face-to-face feedback

When employees have regular reviews, you can hear first-hand exactly how the employee experience is. Focus on body language and listen to the types of words they are using. While you’re at it, avoid any temptation to let your mind wander or any attempts at leaping in with rebuttals. A face-to-face meeting can reveal a lot more than a digital one, that’s for sure, so make the most of it. 

However, employee communication isn’t just about one-on-ones. Christine Riordan, a leadership coach and president-elect of Adelphi University, says, “to be able to motivate and inspire others, you need to learn how to listen in both individual meetings and at the group level.” 

As we’re hearing, when it comes to good communication with employees, there are lots of ways to reach your staff from websites to portals, mobile apps and offline. A good engagement solutions company will be able to point you in the right direction. This is a great option if your business has lots of people power working across all sorts of locations and areas. 


When people spend a third of their working lives at work, it’s only right, as managers, that you show them the respect and attention they deserve.

We’ve heard how employers have had an impact on staff facing mental health challenges. In fact, employee mental health remains one of the most difficult subjects to talk about at work.

Yet some forward-thinking employers are readdressing their attitudes towards health and wellbeing at work and with great results.

Rarely a day goes by where we’re not reading articles about new employee wellbeing incentives like Wunderman UK’s new ‘wellness studio’. By prioritising employee health and wellbeing programmes, managers are showing that they’re really listening to their people’s needs. 

Don’t be worried about what you hear from employees, either.

There are plenty of ways you can respond to an individual’s concerns and difficulties. A robust employee benefits programme is certainly one way to go about it.

Whether that’s taking the stress out of an employee’s daily commutes, or helping their wages to stretch further with employee discount schemes, there are lots of options around improving quality of life.

The important thing is you’re showing you’re listening in the first place. Do that, and it won’t be long before you’re transforming behaviour and discovering the irresistible benefits of employee engagement as a result. 

If you can be a mindful employer, you’ll be an employer of choice – pay attention now and your business will reap the results.

The employee experience positively demands it.

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