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Ethical listening to employees during a pandemic: new approaches, barriers and lessons

Marlene S. Neill (Journalism, Public Relations and New Media, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA)
Shannon A. Bowen (College of Information and Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 24 March 2021

Issue publication date: 20 July 2021




The purpose of this study was to identify new challenges to organizational listening posed by a global pandemic and how organizations are overcoming those barriers.


The researchers conducted 30 in-depth interviews with US communication management professionals.


Communication management professionals value listening, but do not always make it the priority that it merits. They listed lack of desire of senior management, time, and trust of employees as barriers to effective organizational listening. The global COVID pandemic has made it more challenging to connect to employees working remotely and to observe nonverbal cues that are essential in communication. Organizations are adapting by using more frequent pulse surveys, video conferencing technology and mobile applications. Most importantly, this pandemic has enhanced moral sensitivity and empathy leading organizations to make decisions based on ethical considerations.

Research limitations/implications

The researchers examined organizational listening applying employee-organization relationships (EOR) theory and found that trust is essential. Trust can be enhanced through building relationships with employees, ethical listening and closing the feedback loop by communicating how employers are using the feedback received by employees to make a positive change.

Practical implications

Communication managers need to place a higher priority on listening to employees. Their listening efforts need to be authentic, morally autonomous or open-minded, and empathetic to respect the genuine concerns of employees and how organizational decisions will affect them. Listening is essential to serving as an ethical and effective strategic counselor.


The study examines organizational listening in the context of a global pandemic.



This project was supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from The Arthur W. Page Center at The Pennsylvania State University's College of Communications. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pennsylvania State University.


Neill, M.S. and Bowen, S.A. (2021), "Ethical listening to employees during a pandemic: new approaches, barriers and lessons", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 276-297.



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Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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