Winning workplaces have (your) ears

Feb 04, 2019

A lot of people leave their jobs because they hate their bosses. They stay because the C-suite listens to what they have to say.

The results of the Best Small and Medium Workplaces 2018 present both a challenge and an opportunity for leaders. After analyzing feedback from more than 158,000 employees, the survey identified five small and five medium size companies as top workplace winners. Comments from employees in the winning companies signal an important theme.

  • “No matter where you are in the hierarchy of the company, your opinion is heard, respected, and responded to.”
  • “They treat employees like equals...(It) doesn’t matter how busy they are, they always find time for their employees.”
  • “Everyone has a voice and is encouraged to exercise that right.”
  • “Workers appreciate being in the loop. As one says, ‘The transparency that the company provides is unique.’”
  • In short, employees value working in an organization where their opinions matter.

Quality of life at work has always counted. Work requires too large a proportion of one’s waking hours not to care about how they are spent. People leave jobs for many reasons: they hate their boss, unequal pay, or boredom because they have stopped learning or the work fails to address their true calling.

Whatever the reason, loss of talent is disruptive, expensive, and detrimental to growth.

What gets less attention is why people stay.

A good start is to correct the issues that send people to the door.

Bad managers should be rehabilitated or managed out. Pay levels must be scrutinized to eliminate biases due to gender, longevity at the firm, or politics. Helping employees incorporate their true calling requires managers to spend time learning what gives them passion.

But then there is the squishier, less obvious reason for why employees stay. The survey comments point to the importance employees place on having their opinions not only considered, but proactively sought by leadership.

For many leaders, this may not come as welcome news. It is hard enough to set strategy, satisfy customers, and build market presence without spending valuable time soliciting workforce opinions. And yet, based on feedback from the winners of the 2018 survey, openness to employee input is an important driver of how they perceive their employers.

Below are common excuses I hear executives make to explain their reluctance to involve employees in decision-making:

  1. I don’t have time to finish what’s sitting on my desktop now. Where am I supposed to find the time to talk to people? If what engages and retains your talent is you listening to them, your desktop comes second. Without talent, you don’t have a company. The payback for taking the time is information from the front line, buy-in for your decisions, and more motivated employees. Making time improves their trust in your concern for them. It also gives you an opportunity to share your thinking. As trust grows, conversations may actually shorten, returning you to your desk with the benefit of more knowledge.
  2. Does this mean I have to hold awkward conversations that could go nowhere? Yes. Awkward conversations mean something new is happening that could contribute to both parties growing. For leaders, it might be relinquishing control. For employees, it could be learning to share ideas without knowing how they will be received.
  3. My employees aren’t used to me asking questions and will suspect my motives. Maybe. The door is more likely to crack open, however, if you start by admitting that while you are not used to it, you believe learning from them is important. You’ll be successful if you actively listen, and if you ask relevant follow-on questions.
  4. I have to make decisions on things employees lack authority to decide. Most employees just want to be heard. They know they can’t decide such issues as compensation or major capital transactions. Human resource questions lie in a grayer area. Hiring has room for participation. Firing bumps into legal matters of privacy where lack of inclusion can be explained. In all of these scenarios, digesting diverse opinions will more likely improve, rather than harm, your decision-making process.

Overcoming excuses and taking the time to connect to employees will improve commitment, retention, and your business.

Julie Benezet spent 25 years in law and business, and for the past 16 years has coached and consulted with executives from virtually every industry. She earned her stripes for leading in the discomfort of the new as Amazon’s first global real estate executive. She is an award-winning author of The Journey of Not Knowing: How 21st Century Leaders Can Chart a Course Where There Is None. Her new workbook, The Journal of Not Knowing, a self-guided discovery guide based on the Journey principles, was released in fall 2018. She can be reached at

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