Human Resources

On-The-Job Training Helps Strengthen Active Listening Skills

Your managers and HR representatives might listen to employees, but do they really hear what employees say?

Online travel agency CheapOair (www.cheapoair.com) recognizes the difference and offers training on active listening skills to its managers and HR representatives to help ensure that its employees are heard.

“HR and managers are the two main groups that employees count on,” says Corissa Leong, senior vice president of HR for Fareportal, CheapOair’s parent company. “They need to know who to go to,” she explains. “They just want to be heard.”

When employees feel that they are heard, their job satisfaction and engagement rise, because “if they have an issue, it’s going to get addressed,” Leong says.

After completing formal training on the company and its HR policies and processes, each new or junior HR rep at CheapOair shadows a more experienced HR rep, learning how to address issues (both good and bad), deal with managers, and document conversations, she says. For example, when a meeting is scheduled between a senior HR rep and an employee, the employee is asked if he is comfortable having another person present. If so, a junior HR rep sits in to observe and learn. “We have them look at the interaction, the relationship-building” that takes place between the senior HR rep and the employee, Leong explains.

In the process, junior reps have an opportunity to learn how to handle issues with diplomacy and what types of questions they should ask in meetings about performance issues or employee concerns, or in job interviews. The junior rep is required to document each meeting, providing a written and verbal recap that explains the purpose of the meeting and the resulting action plan. “That holds everyone accountable,” Leong says.

The junior rep is asked about how she thinks the meeting went and what her take on the meeting is. The two HR reps then discuss the written recap before it is shared with the employee, who, in turn, has an opportunity to provide feedback on the recap. Since meetings sometimes involve “a lot of emotions,” junior reps are trained on how to defuse situations, how to listen carefully to employees without interrupting, and how to handle difficult conversations, Leong says.

Once a junior rep has shadowed a senior rep a few times, they continue meeting with employees as a team, but the junior rep starts asking questions during the meetings or taking the lead during interviews. After
3 to 6 months of shadowing, junior reps generally start meeting with employees on their own. HR uses the same approach to train managers on actively listening to employees and job applicants. “We have managers shadow us,” Leong says.

Eventually, managers lead the meetings with employees, and HR provides feedback. Managers are coached on recognizing different communication styles, listening to employees, being patient, encouraging employees to share their concerns and ask questions, and handling situations better in the future, Leong explains.

Advice to Consider

Through training on active listening, Leong reports that CheapOair’s managers and HR reps “have gotten more confident in having difficult conversations with employees.”

What can you do to help ensure success with training
on active listening? Although formal training is valuable, Leong also recommends on-the-job training. “It’s
real-time. It’s actual stuff that’s happening rather than hypothetical.”

She also suggests requiring managers and HR reps to recap what they heard in meetings with employees.
“It really holds them accountable for their actions.”