Communications — How to Listen to Your Employees

February 16, 2017

Michelle Branigan

Open and honest communications play an important role in any positive and respectful workplace. Quite often failure to pay attention to this important skill set sees misunderstandings arise between co-workers or employees and their managers, leading to tension, conflict and an overall reduction in morale and/or productivity.

For management, an open-door policy ensures that employees at every level can approach senior managers with any questions or concerns. This freedom fosters a sense of mutual respect and consideration in the workplace. Relationships are strengthened as a result.

As important as this openness may be, to be fully effective you need to develop a well-structured approach to your policy.

Consider these tips to keep the doors open at your company:

  1. Commit and communicate — announcing that you have an open-door policy is not enough. A manager who asks for feedback is also committing to action. You need to follow through. Those who leave issues unresolved will actually harm morale and productivity alike. Employees will feel more disenfranchised than ever. In contrast, managers can offer timelines around how issues will be addressed. The answers and actions don’t always need to be in an employee’s favour, but everyone should understand the reasoning behind the decisions.
  2. Manage the time — open-door policies require leaders who are receptive and take a solution-oriented approach to business matters. But the time has to be managed wisely. It would be all too easy for approachable managers to spend a large portion of their day, at the expense of other duties, dealing with employees who “just need a minute.” Identify how and when you will be available to chat.

  3. Develop a structure — different layers of managers are put in place for a reason. Junior and middle managers may feel that their authority is undermined if employees continually go above their heads. Many issues can be resolved by ensuring that employees contact their direct supervisors before taking issues to senior managers. Ensure that your managers are aware of the importance of listening to those in their team, and that they too are committed to a culture of openness.
  4. Open your own door — some people will always be uncomfortable about approaching a boss. Managers can help break down these barriers by stepping out of their own offices and approaching employees. Engage in conversations with employees throughout the workplace, whether in an office or in the field. After all, informal conversations can be just as insightful as formal complaints.
  5. Monitor the trends — as important as individual concerns may be, the most telling insight can emerge in broader trends. Do some employees open your door more often than others? If they all seem to report to the same manager or supervisor, there may be a personnel issue to resolve. Or does one employee make complains about everyone they work with? Maybe there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed with this person.

An open door policy will not only show your employees you are serious about their wellbeing and value their input, it may prompt you to consider new opinions and ideas as result of the feedback you receive. And that is a good thing.

Michelle Branigan is CEO Electricity Human Resources Canada.

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