Designing a Human-Centered Workplace

Learning from Employees

Expanding Your View

How do we best understand how issues at the organization are affecting employees?
How can we learn what matters most to employees?


Why does this matter?

Traditional leadership teaches us that we should have the answers and inherently know what our employees need. Yet, employees bring their own perspectives and experiences to work. Gather more context about workers and what they go through by slowing down, asking questions, and listening with empathy. When you hear (and respond) to employee input, you build trust and engagement. This helps you and your team see new possibilities for solving issues and gives staff a sense of ownership in a successful outcome.

Listening with Empathy and Intention

Employer Spotlight

Listening for Change

An employer in the Midwest wanted to improve staff communication, which had deteriorated so much it was thought to be contributing to high rates of burnout and turnover. After listening to frontline employees, however, the employer learned the issue was less about communicating and more about listening. Frontline staff had what they needed to do their jobs, but didn’t feel heard or supported. This insight influenced the organization’s next steps, which included launching a series of listening sessions to give frontline employees a place to share concerns. The effort resulted in qualitative increases in areas such as perceived organizational support, perceived supervisor support, commitment to the organization, and employee engagement.



People felt that if they weren’t management, they didn’t have a voice in the organization. … We framed the [listening] sessions as a confidential opportunity, and people were eager to share openly. … Managers and frontline staff learned not to take things so personally, to really understand others — their views, and how they see things. … It feels like a family here again.”
–– Frontline Employee


How to Run a Focus Group

Set aside 60-90 minutes to plan and draft questions, plus time to engage participants and host the focus group.


Hosting a focus group is one way to foster open dialogue with your employees about how you can improve their jobs. A focus group is essentially a group interview. This interactive research experience helps employees feel more comfortable sharing their honest opinions about work culture. And unlike staff surveys, those hosting the focus group can prompt and ask for details and stories that deepen the understanding of the staff experience. Use this tool to reflect with your project team about how you want to work together and run a focus group. It includes the following steps:

  1. Determine who you want to talk to
  2. Identify hosts
  3. Prepare for the focus group
  4. Host the focus group
  5. Debrief and identify key takeaways


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