Why You Should Listen Differently in 2021

Alyse Matteson, Implementation & Marketing SpecialistCOVID-19 Response, Employee Engagement, Experience-Driven Survey, Pulse SurveysLeave a Comment

What hasn’t changed as a result of 2020? Not much. The way we work, how we connect with others and pretty much every element of ‘the employee experience’ is in the process of being redefined.

It’s not surprising then that our listening strategy – including how we listen, when we tune in, and what we measure - should also evolve.  

In a world where we’ve come to expect customized experiences and personalized service from every interaction, the ‘one size fits all’ approach has proven itself ineffective. And, while the key drivers of engagement are largely consistent across organizations year to year, the action required to shift perceptions in these areas can vary across departments, teams, and demographics. Listening strategies deliver the insights necessary to tailor action and create an exceptional workforce. 

Furthermore, in times of change, communicating the right message at the right time guides employees through uncertainty with confidence. Listening equips organizations to do just that.

How to Listen in 2021:

1. Check In More Frequently 

The once-a-year engagement survey is a great option for setting a baseline and measuring progress over time. However, the current pace of change may require more frequent check-ins with employees. Follow-up pulse surveys are great ways to gauge morale on an ongoing basis and course correct when needed. These surveys can be kept short, align with larger, existing surveys, and explore specific items of engagement.

Pulse surveys are short (5-10 questions), targeted surveys that allow organizations to do a quick check-in on critical topics.

  • Are change efforts having the desired impact?
  • How do employees feel about specific topics such as recognition, change management, or diversity?
  • Do employees have feedback on a specific event, such as a key meeting or company announcement?
  • Are there certain segments of employees whose feedback would be valuable on a particular issue?

2. Leverage Experience-based Questions

In any year, engagement can be impacted by the unique experiences of an individual. Onboarding, participating in professional development, becoming a people manager, or going on leave can each influence perceptions differently.

These questions can surface useful correlations to engagement, especially given the atypical environment of the past year.

For example, in the last 12 months have you:

  • Had a change of supervisor?
  • Had regular 1:1s with your manager?
  • Taken a full week off of work to do something fun/relaxing?
  • Transitioned to working from home 50% of the time or more?
  • Had to be the primary caregiver during your work hours for a family member or child at home?
  • Experienced physical or mental health concerns due to COVID-19?
  • Been affected financially due to COVID-19?

3. Measure Areas of Relevance

As you think about your strategy for 2021, consider the lasting effect this past year has had on our work environments, needs, and expectations. While the traditional pillars of engagement continue to be key drivers, new factors may be influencing perceptions. The mental health challenges of your single employees, who have faced more isolating circumstances, may differ from those with others in their household. Financial wellbeing will undoubtedly be top-of-mind as we work to recover economically.


  • Employees are calling for new forms of flexibility – including where and when work is done. Having demonstrated that productivity can be maintained remotely, employees are now evaluating how to best accommodate their professional and personal responsibilities. 
  • The camaraderie we used to experience in the office has been brought online in the form of slack chats, zoom happy hours, and virtual conferences. New applications and methods for connection and collaboration will continue to emerge. Virtual reality, anyone? 
  • Social events and movements are calling our societal and professional cultures to step up and act. Organizations are looking to move past cultivating DE&I* mindsets to produce behaviors, policies, and strategies that prompt real change.  
  • The support employees need to do their best work and be retained looks different – from enhanced technology to expanded wellbeing benefits that foster physical, mental, and financial health, as well as caregiving assistance.

Adjusting survey items to explore these trends and more will help organizations navigate the year ahead.

For example, consider:

  • Do you need additional tools for long-term remote or hybrid work?
  • In a remote setting, do you feel connected to your colleagues?  
  • Do you feel mental health is supported by the organization?
  • Do you feel financial wellbeing is supported by the organization?
  • Do you feel diversity is important and valued within this company?

4. Strengthen Your Day-to-day Listening

Surveys are central to an effective listening strategy – but these efforts are amplified when all elements of internal communication engrain listening into company culture. Step back to evaluate your practices and consider:

  • Manager training for hosting effective virtual conversations and soliciting feedback. Encourage managers to ‘get a pulse’ on how their teams are doing weekly or monthly by asking open-ended questions such as “how are you doing” or “how do you feel about the recent change that was announced”. Discuss this feedback within departmental leadership.
  • Zoom fatigue is real. Look for opportunities to have traditional calls vs. video conferences to give employees a break from the facetime or make turning the camera on optional. Address various communication styles and preferences through virtual communication policies and guidelines.
  • Leverage interactive elements – such as polling or chat – to encourage participation and engagement in virtual meetings.
  • Schedule time for routine team and 1:1 conversations that may have previously occurred organically.

The uncertainty of change is hard, and it is something we will all continue to face in 2021. Gain clarity by listening thoughtfully and acting with intention. To discuss your 2021 listening strategy and the options available, contact Newmeasures.

*diversity, equity and inclusion