Empathy starts with listening. Although that may seem easy, it can be difficult to listen to your employees properly.

REPORT | 6m read
February 17, 2021

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For example, it may be difficult—if not impossible—for IT to survey employees directly owing to an HR policy. You may lack the know-how to design a digital survey tool, or to act on what you hear. Or you may hold back from asking the tougher questions. It won’t always be straightforward, but clearing these hurdles is essential to improving EX at your organization.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the mental health of employees. Many companies in knowledge-based industries switched abruptly to remote work, and employees accustomed to a vibrant, collaborative working model were forced into near or total solitude. To continue supporting employees through a future where flexible work models become the norm, your organization will need to focus not just on the holistic well-being of employees, but on their individual progress. Advanced organizations use listening strategies to determine what will make employees feel and perform at their best—during and after the workday, and during and after the pandemic.

Leaders of organizations with advanced EX strategies show a greater intention to make the accommodations necessary to foster an empathetic return to in-person work. At the bare minimum, this includes reconfiguring seating, installing higher quality air filtration, modifying social and gathering areas, and adopting rigorous cleaning procedures. But advanced organizations will also put listening strategies in place to measure their actions’ effectiveness, and adapt to changes as they come.

Indeed, compared to just 19 percent of Learners, 43 percent of EX Advanced organizations say they will implement workplace IoT when it’s time to transition back into the office as a way to promote safety and tracing.

Advanced testimonials

A focus on well-being doesn’t just mean “more surveys.” There’s precision and intent behind effectively caring for your employees.

“There’s a real science behind it,” says Marissa Gonzalez, a technology leader who has built an EX function in IT from the ground up for a major financial services organization. “And if you’re hiring someone to do this work, you need to make sure they know that science and how to apply it.”

As with science, there’s a method and process to effectively develop empathy for employees. IT leaders have traditionally relied on helpdesk ticket data. If you don’t engage in active listening, you’ll miss the “silent sufferers”—those employees that don’t go out of their way to call the helpdesk when they have a problem.


Marissa Gonzalez
Technology leader

It’s reasonable to expect organizations to share some universal values and norms. Empathy, however, is what sets the most advanced among them apart.


of EX Advanced organizations who say they will implement workplace IoT when it’s time to transition back into working in offices.


of Learners who say the same

Actions to follow

Implement the actions below to create a sound listening strategy.

Break down employee listening

Applies to:
Culture, Digital space, Physical space

EX leaders who are redesigning their listening approach can explore empathic solutions through four basic layers:

  1. Top-level signal. Annual or asynchronous benchmark EX surveys to shed light on where to take action.
  2. Refinement. Based on the survey results, these are the journeys or maps you deploy to dig deeper into the areas that need work.
  3. Validation and prioritization. Testing possible solutions with employees and gaining their input on priority.
  4. Feedback. Finally, gathering feedback to refine and shape solutions.

To uncover barriers to progress and growth, EX Advanced organizations ask their employees questions such as:


  • Do you feel that you are learning and growing?
  • Do you have a manager that cares about your growth?
  • Do you have the resources you need to upskill or re-skill?

Digital space.

  • Do you have access to the information, resources, and tools you need to succeed?

Physical space.

  • Do you feel that you are in the proper physical work environment to accomplish what’s needed?

Set a technology vision

Applies to:
Digital space

Is it…

  • Effective? Can employees accomplish what they’re looking to get done?
  • Easy? Do they have to take more time and effort than they could?
  • Flexible? Do employees have the flexibility and autonomy to use the devices they want, and work where they want?
  • Responsive? Does the solution perform at a high level and as well as the employee expects?
  • Reliable? Can the experience survive minor disruptions like device failure, or handle larger ones like Covid-19?
  • Secure? Are employees protected from threats that put themselves or your organization at risk, and is their privacy protected?

Implement wellness programs

Applies to:
Culture, Digital Space, Physical space

Our research also found that wellness programs are among the top tools that set organizations with advanced EX apart. These can range in scope from gym memberships to customizable technology platforms that help employees access resources based on their goals and needs.

Wellness programs can cover all sorts of needs, from healthcare considerations to notions of digital wellness. The support itself can range in utility from Culture to Physical Space to Digital Space.

A program might help an employee manage diabetes, whereas another employee might use it for prenatal care, and a third could be saving to pay for a child’s college education. The key is to take a broad view of wellness, and implement programs accordingly.

Prepare teams for flexible work

Applies to:
Culture, Digital Space, Physical space

Even before the Covid crisis, the most EX-advanced organizations allowed flexibility in workspaces and opportunities to work from home. Flexible working environments and arrangements are vital to cultivating a positive employee experience. Establishing clear HR policies related to flexible hours, home working, and job sharing will help employees feel comfortable through the remainder of the pandemic—and beyond.

Related resources


Thrive with employee experience: Apply three principles to fuel EX that unlocks your organization’s potential


Work 2035: How people and technology will pioneer new ways of working


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