Employer of Choice: What it means and how to become one through listening

This is the first article in a series themed “Employer of Choice.”

Imagine this: Your top engineer, who’s been with you for two years (you hired her fresh out of college), has been recruited away by your competitor, I’m The Best Employer Corporation. On top of annual bonuses, you offer perks like “Free Beer Fridays” and “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” So why on earth would anyone ever leave? What does ITBE Corp have that your company doesn’t?

What they have is the distinction of being an “Employer of Choice.”

What is an “Employer of Choice?”

A simple Google search of the term “Employer of Choice” (EOC) will return this definition:

An organization that is a great place to work. If a company doesn’t genuinely act to become an employer of choice, then good employees will simply vote with their feet and move to a forward-thinking employer who offers them what they want.

As you can see, being an EOC goes way beyond allowing employees to bring Fido to work. The key to truly being an EOC lies in the last part of this definition: “what they (employees) want.”

Old-school thinking might have you rolling your eyes and thinking, “they should just be happy to have a job.” But this is 2019 and we are currently experiencing an employee’s job market. Help-wanted signs are everywhere and signing bonuses have reentered the recruiting process. So offering a paycheck, stability, and even free beer on Fridays won’t cut it when it comes to finding and retaining talent.

To become an EOC, start with learning to listen

The most powerful bit of advice I can offer you is this: Listen to your employees.

Pubali Chakravorty-Campbell, SHRM-SCP and CEO of Human Resource Partners, always includes a segment on listening when presenting on various leadership topics. She talks about Three Levels of Listening:  

Level One: Listening to Respond

Also known as “distracted listening,” this is the least ideal, yet most popular form of listening. Level One Listeners “listen” while driving, or eating, or on a device, not making eye contact with the speaker. They listen only to provide a response because they have to (vs. wanting to), because they’ve squeezed so many things into their already packed days (vs. waiting until they’re able to give the speakers the time they deserve), and because they’re always being spoken to (between partners, children, colleagues, community…and even social media).

Level Two: Undistracted Listening

This level of listening involves two steps: 1.) Acknowledging that you’ve been L1 listening and need to change, and 2.)  Wanting to be better. Level Two Listeners make educated decisions about if and when they make or take phone calls. They put their phones and devices away when their kids, spouses, friends, or colleagues are speaking with them. They are doing their best to limit the number of distractions that are challenging their attention.

Level Three: Listening by Leaning In

EOCs are Level Three Listeners. They lean into conversations physically and mentally. They listen with more than their ears. They don’t just flip their phones over so they sit on the table in front of us face-down – they actually put them away. They leave their offices, computers, tablets, and other distractions behind to have a conversation with a person in a different room. They eliminate distractions entirely while on phone calls – they aren’t driving, eating, working out, or doing several other things at the same time. Level Three Listeners make eye contact, pay attention to body language, and are fully invested in the person with whom they’re speaking. While not impossible, this is the least popular form of listening. Why? Because it requires the most time and effort.

There are many vehicles through which you can listen, and which ones you choose to employ will depend on the makeup of your company (i.e. – the size of your company; if it’s smaller you can listen 1:1 but if it’s larger you might have to utilize surveys). The most important thing is that you or your leadership team are the ones initiating and doing the listening.

How to listen like an Employer of Choice

You’re likely thinking, “how on earth can I talk to everyone and cater to their individual needs? And what will it cost me?” Becoming an EOC is not about saying “yes” to every employee request or going broke to make employees happy; it is about listening, responding, and taking action.

At Human Resource Partners, we often conduct listening sessions for our clients. We then synthesize the input and follow up with an all-company meeting to share the feedback we gathered. This is the time when leaders can pledge to make changes and also be honest about those things they cannot change and why. (The “why” is often the overlooked step when sharing that you won’t move forward with an employee’s suggestion.)

Here are some examples of what we’ve heard our clients’ employees share when we listened:

  • “Currently my wife is going through chemo, so I need the flexibility to work from home occasionally.”
  • “I’d like to come into work early so I can leave early on the days my daughter has basketball practice.”
  • “I’d like to take a class so I can improve my skills at work. Would the company consider cost-sharing?”

Notice how “free beer” wasn’t on this list?

Most employees want to do a great job for their employer. Most employees want to expand their skills. But remember – employees are people who need to juggle home life too. Listening is a key way to help them accomplish their professional and personal goals and to strengthen your overall company culture and performance while you’re at it. True listening on the part of leadership can create a positive workplace and impact your bottom line in ways employees might not even realize, such as:

  • Keeping turnover low
  • Attracting talent
  • Increasing productivity
  • Decreasing absenteeism
  • Reducing workplace injuries

This month’s EOC challenge

Here’s our EOC challenge to you this month: Ask your employees open-ended question about their employment experience. Make sure your questions span the entire cycle, including:

  • Hiring & Recruiting
  • Onboarding/New Hire Orientation
  • Training & Development
  • Compensation & Benefits
  • Recognition & Career Advancement
  • Leadership & Employee Relations
  • Company Goals and Values
  • Social Impact/Community Involvement
  • Facilities

Then, listen to what they say. Then, implement what you can, and be honest about what you can’t or won’t…and tell them why.

Efforts on behalf of you and your leadership team to understand employees on an individual level can make all the difference between achieving EOC status and falling short. Next month we’ll examine other ways to work toward EOC status. And, by the way, there is nothing wrong with the occasional free beer.

If you have a topic you’d like us to cover in future blogs posts, please let us know. We want to ensure our content is useful and applicable to you and your workplace.

Delise West, SHRM-SCP is President and Founder of Human Resource Partners. To learn about how to become an Employer of Choice visit: h-rpartners.com or call 603-749-8989.