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How Do You Help Employees Thrive? Just Ask.

03/26/2014 09:05 am ET | Updated May 26, 2014

Hemingway had it mostly right: "When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen."

I'd actually take it a step further: most people never ask.

To be an effective leader, it's crucial to develop a culture where employees feel consistently heard, and that their feedback is having an impact on the organization. A simple way to do this is to just start asking.

Think about it: how often do you ask your significant other, child, family members and friends, "How are you doing?" It's probably more than once a year. Curiously, we don't follow the same construct in the workplace. We usually only ask employees once a year.

Most companies typically do this through an annual employee survey, or worse, water cooler discussions at executive meetings where conjecture and subjective opinions are offered on how people are "feeling." Multiple studies have proven that this type of infrequent, ad hoc means by which most solicit feedback from their workforce has an extremely negative impact on employee engagement. It's probably why, in its 2013 State of the Global Workplace report, Gallup found only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work - a ridiculously low number.

Last year, we surveyed HR leaders in Silicon Valley to find out how they were keeping their employees happy, healthy and heard. Five key themes emerged:

  1. Money does matter
  2. Hands-on approach is key
  3. Employees want a voice
  4. Employees must feel valued
  5. Environment must be comfortable and positive

What's interesting about the results is that 4 out of the 5 themes are centered on nurturing and building culture. This tells us that to really help employees thrive, listen to them. And, not just once a year. Culture isn't an accident. It takes constant nurturing and work. One way to measure the health of your culture is through a series of employee engagement surveys.

At SurveyMonkey, we still do our annual employee survey. But we do it to identify a few key topics to explore deeper throughout the year. Then every three months, we solicit specific topic feedback and share the results with the team. For example, health benefits were an area that employees identified in the annual survey that they'd like improved. We followed up that annual survey with a specific benefits survey to all employees, and adjusted our offerings accordingly. The employees are part of the decision, feel heard, and we all feel a little bit wiser in the process. This ongoing survey dialogue allows your team leaders the ability to quickly identify issues and celebrate wins in real-time, not just once a year.

One parting word of wisdom. Don't ask about things you're not willing to change. Ignoring feedback is a sure way to disillusion a workforce. So, if you can't change something, don't ask. What you can change, involve employees. It will help build a healthy, thriving culture where everyone feels engaged and assured that their feedback has meaningful impact. So be wise. Stop talking. Ask and listen.

Read more posts about Thrive from featured HuffPost contributors here.