Just another Buzz Word?
2022 means big change for many employees. One study by Robert Half (1) suggests that one in five (21%) workers are getting ready to apply for new roles in the first three months of this year.
Maybe this isn’t surprising following much talk in 2021 about the great resignation. The number of vacancies means a shift from employers choosing their workforce to employees being in the driving seat. And this means they are demanding more.
Those companies switching onto this are upping their game to make sure they stand out from their competitors, and employee experience is proving to be a key differentiator for candidates when selecting which company to work for.
So what do we really mean by the term ‘employee experience’?
Studies (2) show that amazing office spaces, cafes, gyms and so on are less important than employees being trusted and feeling empowered to do their job. People crave genuine workplace relationships that help them to feel secure and valued. Bottom line – it’s about meeting emotional needs.
The media means that a new generation of employees are far more aware about the risks of burnout, balancing work and non-work activities and physical and mental wellbeing. And so, rightly, they are seeking opportunities to be part of organisations that are also aware and taking positive action.
I think Denise Lee Yohn sums up employee experience well,
“The sum of everything an employee experiences throughout his or her connection with the organisation”
How do we know if companies are getting it right?
Employee experience is hard to quantify, which is why it can feel like a buzz word, with lots of talk and little tangible action. Diverse views on the topic mean that the concept of company culture stays just that… a concept. It gets diluted and pushed aside to focus on more tangible, quantifiable aspects of business.
Because people are unique, they can have opposing views about which are the best workplaces to be part of. What employees seek is individual and that means that expectations cannot be uniform across all companies. Our beliefs, experience and behaviours play such a crucial part that there is no one-size-fits-all.
So where do we start? A great place is to make sure companies are aligning with personal values. For example, are you conscious of environmentally friendly, sustainable processes? How are you tackling the gender pay gap? What are you doing about issues around diversity and inclusion? These are all issues that matter to people more today and so they do look at what your company really stands for – your policies and practices that communicate what is really important. These values need to align.
Essentially, knowing if you’re getting it right will show in your data. Are employees high-performing, getting on with their teams, sticking with the company long term and recommending the organisation to others? Are people participating in opportunities to feedback, and what do their views communicate? If you stop and look at the information you have and ask the right questions, you will know if you’re getting it right.
Making employee experience something that is tangible
We can never ask enough questions. That is something I do a lot of, and when positioned right, with thoughtful language and a genuine sense of care, we discover a lot about reality. Then we have something tangible to work with.
The importance of asking questions is that we are then able to focus on employee perception, as ‘reality’ is only ever our perception. This subtle shift from employee experience gives us a way in to find out about employees’ views about culture and their day-to-day. We know that experience is never black and white – it is about what people perceive, understand and remember – and it is unique. Find out what employees are seeking. What is important to them? What are their values?
Research by Topia (2) of 1000 full-time staff in large organisations across the UK and US, found that only 17% felt their company had exceptional employee experience. And employees were twice as likely to rate their company poorly on employee experience compared to those on the HR team, suggesting a major disconnect in perception vs reality. What is really going on? Remember, employee experience is not about what companies provide but how employees perceive it.
The difference getting employee experience right makes to companies
When employees feel their company is making an effort to get their experience right, that their culture and values align with their personal beliefs and values, they are unsurprisingly more likely to develop a positive attitude, behaviours and long-term loyalty to that organisation.
Research (3) by Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, found that organisations that invest in employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t. The cost of staff turnover, absence and poor engagement and performance, soon adds up. On top of that is the cost to mental health services picking up the pieces of individuals who have suffered in unhealthy work cultures.
Getting leaders on board when they don’t see the value (yet) or don’t know where to start
It might sound obvious but start by working with your allies. And then consider specific barriers to your company performing at it’s best. When you being to unpick what’s going on currently by considering how it helps or hinders outcomes, it can begin to raise awareness and get more people on side. It is really important to avoid any sense of blame – understandably some people adopt a defensive mode it their leadership is being questioned. The use of language is critical to show recognition for the good things currently happening, and to suggest some ideas to explore, based on specific insights.
Some common barriers that get in the way of a positive experience for employees, that can provide an opportunity for development include:
- Having data that is ignored! Information you already have to hand can play a significant role in building a case to prioritise employee experience.
- Not having the data! Do you really know what employees think and feel and does that match assumptions made by leaders? This mis-match can be a powerful way to highlight the need to do things differently.
- Too little self-awareness, particularly at a leadership level. Whether that is about leading using key principles such as trust, transparency and empowerment, or knowing how to communicate at a level that resonates with and connects people, many people at a senior level have skills for development.
- A lack of psychological safety, preventing people from being able to learn, contribute and challenge. With that comes emotional intelligence and we know that many people struggle with communication and empathy, that directly impact relationships.
Authenticity should not be undervalued. 25% of those surveyed by Topia (2) did not feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the workplace, fearing if colleagues knew more about them, it could harm their career growth. This number increased to 44% for HR who felt the need to keep their personal beliefs private. How can we expect to provide a great experience when we don’t know what people’s reality is now?
- A lack of understanding about how to empower employees to increase creativity. When we know about how the brain work, we can adapt our practice to utilise that knowledge.
- An absence of understanding about the impact of change and uncertainty on the workforce, and the knowledge and skills to lead employees through times of transition.
- The very real flaw in promotion, with data from Investors in People (4) suggesting that 68% of managers consider themselves ‘accidental’. If that is the case, are they in the best place to support their teams with the emotional demands of work and collaborating as a team? Their data suggests that the wellbeing of employees who have such a manager is impacted by stress 15% of the time, low mood 24% and poor engagement 14%. Here is a very tangible way to making a significant difference to employee experience, particularly at a time when supporting hybrid working, mental wellbeing and employee experience is truly in the spotlight!
No doubt some leaders will decide that employee experience is just a fad but action, or lack of it, speaks far more than any campaign to communicate what you’re really about as an organisation, and where employee experience fits.
Companies creating a great employee experience will carve out a competitive advantage in the war for talent. Are you ready?
- Additional data from a Robert Half-commissioned survey of 1,000 full-time and part-time employees across the UK, conducted by Opinium between 17-20 December 2021 – Peak time for CV updates ahead of January rush | theHRD (thehrdirector.com)
- Employee Experience: A Buzzword That Means Different Things (cxotoday.com)
- Creating an Engaging Employee Experience: How Two Platforms Attempt to Go Beyond the Buzzwords – Training Industry
- Accidental Managers – Investors in People