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Hearing them out: Active listening holds the key to an inclusive workplace

Friday October 22, 2021, By Janani Sampath

Richard Branson as chief executive officer of Virgin Mobile, made it a point to speak to his employees often, ushering in a culture of active listening.

Active listening is without judgment and bias and with the sole intent of understanding the query, woe, opinion, and statement, no matter how divergent they are, in an attempt to weigh them in. For Branson, such active conversations fructified and were probably instrumental in driving the company to greater heights.

Companies experiencing exponential growth may find it difficult to have frequent personal interactions. But the need to create a sense of belonging and inclusiveness remains. Companies that have been intentional with their DEI goals have focused on receiving constant feedback and updates to address employees’ concerns and grievances.

Voicing issues to find solutions

In organizations that follow a well-thought-out DEI strategy, active listening is enmeshed, along with a well-constructed redressal system that aims to listen in and resolve the issues faced by the employees.

Active listening can do wonders– it can help reduce attrition rates, apart from ensuring productivity.

Take the case of Sharon*, an employee with an IT major in Bengaluru. In the first two months of her new job, she felt over-burdened by work. She found a way to express the problem when she attended an in-house platform where she could raise her issues. Her manager reached out to her, and the problem was resolved. They realized it was due to miscommunication at both ends.

Such grievance redressal systems are integral to the companies assessed by the Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI), Avtar, and US-based Working Mother’s annual gender analytics exercise. Companies like Tech Mahindra, which is part of Top 10 BCWI Companies 2020, have a corporate ombudsman and stand-alone disciplinary committees. The company also has The CARE (Connect with an employee and Resolve with Engagement) platform that helps employees raise grievances related to interpersonal issues like harassment and bullying. Tech M has diverse cultural clubs like ‘Lean In’ for women to meet for candid discussions.

Among the Top 100 BCWI for the same year, HDFC Life Insurance Company Ltd goes by its motto to listen and understand every query and grievance. Through ‘eSparsh’, an online grievance tool, they attempt to make it possible for each employee spread over 400 branches to reach out for help. On the same list, Thales India Private Limited runs forums such as ‘Women Resource Group’, which acts as an informal discussion platform to address grievances.

Companies keen on ensuring gender balance in their workforce are also serious about adhering to the clauses in the PoSH Act or the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. There are internal complaints committees set up in the top companies to look into complaints of harassment. The companies also ensure that their policies towards POSH extend to include virtual environments.

‘Talk to me’

Remote working has brought about a change in the concept and understanding of the workplace. With work from home as a default option, leveraging technology has become imperative. AI-enabled bots now help HR personnel in companies to identify unhappy and needy employees.

Imagine a new employee in an organization, working in a remote setup, is suddenly feeling overwhelmed with work amid faceless interactions over phone, mails, and occasional Zoom calls. Contrast this to a scenario in which the same employee is contacted by a chatbot that asks him questions to gauge his mood and satisfaction levels. If he expresses dissatisfaction, it is conveyed to his seniors. The chatbot also keeps track of the progress, regularly to see if the corrective steps have worked.

That is how chatbots like Amber designed by a company called InFeedo based in Gurugram, function. They keep in touch, seeking responses from the employees regularly. The Chatbot is also programmed to change its questions depending on the answers. The HR and senior leaders receive the feedback, which helps them to spot the person who might resign in the future. Genpact in India has been employing Amber not just for mapping and analyzing the employee’s journey in the organization, but also to ascertain the well-being of the employee amid the pandemic, ensuring their health and safety.

Like Amber, there are AI-powered disruptions like Chia; and Engazify, which has a happiness score for people in a team, stressing appreciation and recognition for work, complementing the HR personnel.

With a record number of conversations, a chatbot can have real-time interactions that would have been impossible to have otherwise manually.

Active listening is a skill, which is learned and applied over time. Practicing it in the workplace improves professional relationships and goals.

Author Profile

Janani Sampath
Janani Sampath
With close to 15 years of experience in journalism across beats in multiple mediums, Janani Sampath is senior content writer and assistant editor, Diversity Digest.
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