How To Get Employees To Tell Their Stories: 6 Steps

 Black woman looking at camera to tell her story

Employee Engagement Employer Brand

How to get the best employee stories from your people for creating a compelling employer brand.

Once upon a time…

If you grew up reading fairy tales, you know that sentence. It’s the one that means we’re about to climb a beanstalk or tumble down a rabbit hole into another world.

As kids, we saw those stories as entertainment. But they also taught us life lessons, about things like love and power and injustice. By following along on a character’s adventure, we empathized with them and we also learned about ourselves.

Your employees hold stories

If someone tells you a fact, you might remember it. But if someone tells you a story, you’ll feel it. And for employers, that’s a huge difference when it comes to creating your company culture.

Sure, you can collect all the data you want on your employees, but without a narrative alongside it, that data is dry and forgettable. Not because it isn’t important, but because it’s lacking the human element.

Storytelling can help give meaning, purpose, and heart to everyday work. And your employee stories are what make up your employer brand: Why they work for you, what drives their day-to-day, how they feel coming into the workplace.

But how do you get your employees to tell their stories?

Related article: 5 Genius Ways to Share Employee Stories on Social Media

1. Make it about them

While it’s nice to think that employees will just volunteer to help you build a brand story, in reality, you need to give them a reason to do so.

This doesn’t necessarily mean offering perks or bonuses to incite them to share, but rather helping them to see the purpose in doing so. By sharing their unique experiences, they get to define what it means to have a great workplace.

Amplifying their voice also sends a clear message to other employees and jobs seekers: Their experience matters.

Give them a reason to want to share, and then rally your employees around that mission.

2. Use warm-up questions

People are often nervous about speaking up. To calm your employees’ nerves, don’t dive right into questions about company culture or what they’d like to change in the workplace. Instead, put them at ease with simple questions like:

  • “How long have you been working here?”
  • “What did you do before you worked here?”

Be sure to ask some non-work-related questions, too. This will make the employee feel seen, so they can open up more. Your dialogue with the employee should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation.

3. Ask about the team

“So, tell me about yourself.”

Cue deer in headlights.

Most people tend to be more comfortable talking about a group or their team, versus their individual experience. So, start out broadly. Ask employees about their team members and what it’s like to work within their team.

Not only will this help ease the pressure on them as an individual, but it will also give you much-needed insight into team dynamics.

4. Narrow your focus

Sweeping questions like “tell me about your story” will get you nowhere. Most people don’t think about or even know what “their story” is. Instead, use specific questions to guide the conversation.

For inspiration, look at your Trust Index™ survey results. Is your culture strength Community? Diversity? Use these focus areas as jumping off points for employee stories.

Another option is to incorporate your company values. What does your workplace stand for, and how does that shape the information you want to get from your employees?

5. Think like an author

Or rather, help your employees to think of themselves as authors — of their own book.

Every story happens in parts: a beginning, middle, and end. (If you remember your high school literature class, you may remember these as the incident, climax, and resolution.)

Ask your employees where they started and where they are now. Have them walk you through it as though they were telling you their own story. That could be what inspired them to join your company, or how they responded to a specific incident at work, or where they see themselves headed.

In each case, ask them: what incited it, how did it go, and how did it resolve or where are they now.

6. Invite employees’ whole selves

None of us exist in a vacuum. Stress from our home life can spill over into the workplace and vice versa. Encourage (but don’t press) employees to share what’s happening in their personal world.

For example, say you have an employee who has just become a new dad. He’s struggling to balance work life with home life. If you are an empathetic manager in a workplace with inclusive parental leave policies, you can use this conversation to help him thrive (rather than just survive) both at home and at work.

Similarly, your employee stories shouldn’t be limited to just one aspect of their career. Don’t focus just on how they’re climbing the ladder or changing job titles.

Instead, view their story holistically. That could mean helping them find more belonging in the workplace, or developing their confidence, so that they can go from not feeling seen to overcoming the dreaded imposter syndrome.

What’s your story?

Odds are, when you’re curled up on the couch watching a Netflix documentary or reading the latest New York Times best seller, you’re not thinking about the art of storytelling.

But it’s an art that every employer should embrace because it can elevate your employee surveys from mere data points to a robust company culture.

Each of your employees have their own stories, which together weave your workplace story. Their stories are your brand. So, jump down that rabbit hole.

We’re encouraging workplaces to share their employee stories on Certification Nation Day, happening May 17, 2022. Get Great Place To Work-Certified™ before then and share your company’s story with the world.

Claire Hastwell