August 14, 2021

Employee Experience As Competitive Advantage

Employee Experience As Competitive Advantage

By Tunde Oyadiran

Most organizations have focused narrowly on employee engagement and culture, rather than aiming to improve the employee experience, EX. The perceptions about their entire journey through the organization’s touchpoints from the selection and interviewing process to the employee’s exit from the organization is what is referred to as Employee Experience.

This article will emphasize the need for organizations to do more than providing birthday cakes and organizing TGIF parties to achieve a productive and effective employee experience.

Human Resource policies and priorities are also expected to redirect efforts to building programs, strategies, and teams to understand and improve the entire employee experience. Some experts have identified physical workspace, culture, and technology as the three major components of employee experience. This article will discuss these components while highlighting employee engagement as an important aspect of any effective employee experience strategy.

Employee experience is faced with a growing challenge of increased working hours by employees without a commensurate increase in productivity. Another challenge is the disconnect between employees’ perception of an effective strategy for employee experience and their employers’ preference. This article will attempt to propose a set of tools and diagnostics to drive and measure change using an integrated and holistic solution.

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on employee experience, understanding and improving the employee experience has become critical for companies. A recent survey by the Harvard Business Review revealed that 70% of firms plan to move to some form of hybrid work.

However, there are two radically different views on the part of employees with 21% never wanting to spend another day working from home while 32% never want to return to work. The article will attempt to assess the future of employee experience as most of it now happens at home for millions of workers. This article will conclude by emphasizing the need for organizations to integrate the employee experience into their business strategies through the prism of the pandemic and ESG standards.

According to Barry Strauss’ account of Julius Caesar’s assassination in his book The Death of Caesar, Gaius Cassius – a Roman senator and military general – was the prime mover in the conspiracy to assassinate the Roman Dictator. He, however, acknowledged that he lacked the authority to spare-head it and consequently identified another high-level military man and politician from one of the oldest families in the Roman Republic who had just enough populist appeal to win over the Roman people. That man was Marcus Brutus.

Brutus was one of the most important active politicians at the end of the roman republic. He was a respected orator that always found a way of getting restless mobs to listen to him. In an attempt to persuade Brutus to act on the conspiracy plot, Cassius claimed that it mirrored the wishes of the Roman people and instigated a public relations campaign using Graffiti that appeared on the tribunal where Brutus sat as Urban Praetor, and on the statue of Capitoline hill. The graffiti had the desired effect; Brutus led the assassination plot and hoped for the popular support that the conspiracy needed to succeed.

In the ancient Roman Republic, graffiti was a formidable feedback mechanism that the roman people used to convey their views and experiences directly to the ruling class, not only on political matters but also on social and economic policies.

In today’s digital world characterized by increasing transparency and the growing influence of millennials and social media, employees are eager to contribute to success of their organization whilst expecting an enjoyable, productive and engaging work experience. Organizations must now look to design a seamless, flexible and less structured system that encourages employees to share their experiences throughout their employee journey with the organization. These experiences will form a critical input for business strategy formulation, a lot like how Graffiti worked in the ancient roman republic.

An employee’s lifecycle starts from their job candidacy days to their exit from the organization. The combination of everything the employee learns, feels and goes through in their cycle is what is known as Employee Experience. It refers to the employees’ perception of their journey through all the touchpoints of the organization.

The ability of an organization to design the right framework for employee experience can boost its ability to attract, engage and develop high-performing employees. Aligning employees’ experiences with the organizational goals, purpose and culture inspires employee commitment and improves the company’s overall performance. Organizations that seek to succeed in employee experience management must always listen to their employees, identify what matters most to them and create personalized experiences.

HR experts have argued that employee experience is the very foundation on which the organization’s business performance is built as the experiences of these employees will go a long way in impacting how hard they work and their level of commitment towards improving operational performance.

According to Jacob Morgan, a best-selling author, futurist and keynote speaker, organizations that invest in employee experience are 4x more profitable than their counterparts that do not. Good employees are indeed a company’s greatest asset and are most times hard to keep. Investing in positive employee experience is the least an organization can do to attract and retain the industry’s best hands, reduce employee churn and ultimately, improve the bottom line.

While the natural choice to own the employee experience improvement process will typically be Senior HR staff and recruitment directors, there are instances where the employee experience strategies are driven by CEOs. In 2017, Ford Motor Co. undertook a transformation – driven by the former CEO, Mark Fields – with a mission to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves through innovations. A major part of the transformation also involved changes in the way its executives thought about their people.

In the same way that the company moved from product to consumer-focus in its product development mindset, it also moved to an employee experience focus in its workforce solutions. As part of Ford’s transformation initiative, Ford undertook a global listening tour to hear from its employees on what was effective, and problematic to them. The process was so effective that the HR team deployed a polling process that allows all its employees globally to contribute and share their experience with the HR team in a bid to better understand what employees wanted and how best HR can empower them to effectively perform their day-to-day work.

Impressively, the company’s Sales/Revenue also recorded a 3.28% growth from US$151.8 billion in 2016 to US$156.8 billion in 2017. In effect, every leader in the organization has a role to play in building exceptional employee experience with HR leading the conversations and reporting its data and actions to the executive team.

Some have identified the main drivers of this dramatic shift from the good-old employee engagement to a more holistic employee experience to include; changing demographics of today’s workforce, social media explosion and potential for negative company reviews, need for personalized employee experience and unfavourable economic conditions. Identifying and understanding these catalysts is only half the information that this piece seeks to reveal.

This article will also look at how best companies can improve employee experience as focusing on employee engagement and company culture alone rather than employee experience could mean that the benefits of integrating all workplace and management practices could be overlooked. It is important to look at how best companies can improve the employee experience.

In an employee’s journey from the day they become new hires to the day they eventually exit the organization, they go through five (5) stages; Recruitment, Onboarding, Development, Retention and Exit. Irrespective of how big or small an organization is, every employee’s journey is shaped by three core components: Culture, Technology and Workspace. Culture is that vibe that connects everyone associated with the company. It defines what it is like to work for a company. Technology covers the suitable tools for employees to get their work done efficiently.

Forward-thinking companies invest in suitable work tools with futuristic developments in mind. Companies that already invested in remote work tools were better placed for fewer disruptions and potential earnings loss after the covid-19 pandemic outbreak. Finally, the workspace environment has a huge impact on an employee’s experience as it is imperative for productivity.

The disruption of normal work routine following the outbreak of covid-19 in 2020 showed that the work environment is no longer limited to the physical environment as many professionals had to, and still, work from home. It goes without saying that employee surveys must now include the employee’s home as it now plays a crucial role in informing each employee’s work experience.

The expectation by employees is not only for an improved design experience but also for a new model of delivery. They expect every element of their employee experience to be accessible and easy to use on their mobile devices. Fortunately, the increase in digital and mobile tools will help HR managers design and implement improved employee experience.

Many have struggled to understand the difference between Employee Engagement and Employee Experience. Employee engagement is mostly about the workplace and employee productivity. It has to do with what the line managers want from the employees and want the employee to be more involved and committed. Employee Experience on the other hand is a bottom-up concept that proactively addresses the needs of employees and focuses on making the workdays better through the provision of the tools, technology and a conducive work environment.

The proponents of employee experience understand that the people around an employee play a significant role in shaping the employee’s experience. It is an employee-oriented concept that keeps the employee journey at the centre of its strategy. Summarily, employee experience is the input a company puts to get better engagement. An engaging experience at work each day will most often reflect positively on the delivery and quality of work. Good employee experience has a positive correlation with employee productivity, and by extension, organizational goals. 

There’s a growing divergence in the views of employees and HR managers on what an effective strategy for employee experience should be. If long-term organizational success is to be achieved, the gap will need to be closed, and soon too. The main reason for the differing views stems from the debate regarding the value delivered by the employee experience programs.

Varying technological breakthroughs in today’s realities have improved employee interactions between colleagues and the organization in innovative new ways. The near shutdown status of the corporate world during the covid-19 pandemic further accelerated this breakthrough. There’s a need to redesign the entire work experience to reflect employees’ evolving expectations and explore them. Summarily, putting the employees at the centre of the organizational strategy could help drive exponential value and outperform competitors.

Another concern is that the relationship between working hours by employees and productivity is not positive. In other words, an increase in employee’s working hours does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity. Available data suggests that the average leave time taken by employees is down to 16 days in 2016 from 20 days in 2000. In the United States of America, productivity is growing by about 1% annually even as employees work more hours.

The most obvious inference here is that employees spend more time in the office but not necessarily working longer hours. They could spend more time on their phones, waiting out traffic, enjoying free internet or focusing on other things whilst in the office. Employers need to understand that more time at the office simply does not mean more work done, it’s a myth that cannot be supported with data.

A research survey of about 800,000 employees by Great Place to Work on employee productivity level after the outbreak of the pandemic revealed that most people reported stable or even increased productivity after work from home (WFH) was implemented. The survey compared productivity between March and August 2020 with the comparative period in 2019 and the result suggested that productivity has improved primarily because employees were able to accomplish more without the distractions of long commutes and lengthy meetings (in-person).

Interestingly, remote work wasn’t the only factor that favourably impacted productivity; company culture, positive atmosphere and good leadership were also identified as contributory factors. Strong leadership is instrumental in maintaining employee well-being and productivity in uncertain times.

According to a report by Harvard Business Review, while about 70% of firms plan to move to some form of hybrid work, 32% of employees revealed that they never want to return to work from the office and another 21% saying they do not want to spend another day working from home. A second look at the report suggests that these extreme views were held by two distinct demography of employees; working parents living in suburbs and young, single employees respectively.

Organizations need to allow employees design their preferred experience with their respective flexibilities while they design an appropriate reporting mechanism to ensure that work gets done timeously irrespective of where work is done. That said, the duty of care still lies with the employers to ensure the right balance is struck between these opposing views. The downsides, however, could be that these radically opposing preferences could i). bring about two categories of employees with unequal experiences and ii). Gender equality could suffer a major setback as more women are wanting to work from home than their male counterparts.

Putting it all together and in the wake of increasing clamour for the implementation of ESG policies, one does not need a crystal ball to forecast what lies ahead for employee experience. Despite all the hurdles organizations are likely to face in its drive to improve employee experience, there’s a need for a new approach that builds on the foundation of culture and engagement to focus holistically on employee experience using an integrated system as employees are increasingly demanding for an improved end-to-end, recruitment-to-retirement experience.

The expectation from most employees is not only a better-designed experience but also new models of delivery. Recent studies have suggested that a positive employee experience would have a knock-on effect on productivity, employee retention, lower turnover, reduced absenteeism, creativity and improved customer service.

Given the various waves and variants of the Covid-19 pandemic in most parts of the world with continued emphasis on vaccination, face mask usage and social distancing, remote working has come to stay. Consequently, there must be greater emphasis on developing programs to assist remote workers seeking a greater sense of belonging especially employees that live alone and rely on work for a sense of belonging. The focus should be on accommodating individual styles, personalities and team composition to enhance productivity.

First, following the health impact of the covid-19, well-being initiatives will become an essential part of the organization’s strategy to demonstrate a commitment to employee’s health and safety. There’s a belief that organizations will have an obligation to support their employees’ physical and mental health as well as their social and occupational well-being. One of the numerous lessons that the pandemic taught employers is that a strong ROI is largely dependent on the overall well-being of its employees.

Second, having experienced the benefits of agile listening approaches for the employee experience, more organizations will move to shorter, more frequent targeted surveys. More and more companies will opt for quicker proactive reactions in a changing work environment to take prompt and more decisive actions. The age of periodic annual or semi-annual employee surveys is now over as always-on feedback mechanism will be deployed and monitored.

Third, according to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 Study, more than one in four women contemplated downshifting their careers or completely leaving the workforce. 2020 saw many companies lose talents (especially women due to the pandemic and other competing priorities). Post covid-19, organizations will launch a renewed enthusiasm to eliminate hurdles that derail the progressive trajectory for the mobility of women in the workplace.

Fourth, organizations will replace active listening, where they ask employees for feedback, with a more passive listening strategy – which involves listening to employees’ voices on internal platforms and social media – for a more rounded view of what employees are really worried about. This sort of holistic listening approach will drive the employee experience policy.

Finally, the loss of talent in 2020 will drive organizations to create opportunities for employees that left to re-join through a more flexible work arrangement i.e. mostly on the terms of the returning employee (part-time, consultancy, etc.). The need to use the boomerang approach to grow talent will be more critical. It will also become customary to give employees additional time off to support their mental health and well-being.

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