Listening, Health and Employee Engagement

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As Ed Roland and Collective Soul express so well, great results happen when you begin to listen.

In the late 1980’s, the economy in Japan was strong, and everyone was making money, trading stocks, investing in real estate, and busy buying assets throughout the world.  Behind all the luxury and pleasures, however, lay the realities of a grueling corporate life that had employees constantly working and constantly stressed.  Physicians in corporations started to worry about stress related disorders in the work force as their schedules became overrun with employees suffering from anxiety attacks, ulcers, headaches, insomnia, and depression.

The word “karoshi” (Karo= overwork, Shi= Death: Death from overwork) became a regular topic on the evening news, in the morning papers and in the conversations of union leaders, business executives, attorneys, statesmen, clergy and families.

With the mounting social pressure, Japan’s health and safety law was amended and made business owners responsible for the health and safety of their workforce, including mental health. A subcommittee of the Ministry of Labor decided that managers in corporations should have some knowledge of stress and stress related disorders as well as relaxation methods and listening skills.  The government also gave out grants and other promotional measures so that businesses would implement a Total Health Promotion plan (THP).

During one of the promotional workshops Akira Ikemi, then a teacher and researcher at University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan (UOEH), met the health and safety staff form Daihatsu.  As a result of this encounter, he went on to create a remarkable listening workshop that he taught for the next twenty years at Daihatsu and to other major Japanese corporations including Mitsubishi Chemicals, Sumitomo Steel, Nippon Steel, and NTT.

The real value the workshops came from the results of a study he conducted while teaching with his colleague Shinya Kubota.  Using pre-training and post-training surveys, they discovered a strong link between managerial listening and the mental health and satisfaction of employees.  Employees who perceived their supervisors as having strong person-centered attitudes—demonstrated significantly by active listening skills—exhibited less fatigue, depression and anxiety than those who did not.  They also found that this same group of employees had higher levels of motivation, better relationships with coworkers, and increased levels of productivity.

Ikemi also found that listening skills are teachable.  Managers who participated in listening training programs were able to develop the skills and techniques that create these positive effects.

So, listening isn’t just some touchy feely practice held up as an ideal by those trying to get managers to put away their iPhones.  It’s hard-core capability that is proven to produce profound physical, emotional and cognitive results.  It can take managers from “walking in the desert all alone” to having the capability to connect, engage and create higher levels of employee performance.

Hey you’re now thirsty
Walking in the desert all alone
Hey you’re now searching
Lost in isolation from your soul
The bullets you bite
From the pain you request
You’re finding harder to digest
And the answers you seek
Are the ones you destroy
Your anger’s well deployed

Hey why can’t you listen
Hey why can’t you hear
Hey why can’t you listen
As love screams everywhere

Hey you now hunger
Feeding your mind with selfishness
Hey you now wander
Aimlessly around your consciousness
Your prophecies fail
And your thoughts become weak
Silence creates necessity
You’re clothing yourself
In the shields of despair
Your courage now impaired

You crucify all honesty
No signs you see do you believe
And all your words just twist and turn
Reviving just to crash and burn
You’re fighting till the bitter end
If only your heart could open up
And listen

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