Companies that prioritize EX excellence over the next few quarters will stand to accrue exponential gains. They will be well-positioned to gain from a bullish market through faster innovation, superior products, and more customer-centric service. They will also continue to save on bottom-line costs.
To achieve this, however, companies need to relook at the state of employee experience at present and from a pre-pandemic perspective, apply continuous listening strategies to understand the real needs, expectations, pains, and motivators of the workforce. This will deliver a data-driven plan that brings about meaningful and sustained improvements in EX, which uplifts organizational success at this crucial time in human history.
Learn how to assess the state of employee experience, find improvement opportunities and gain from a post-COVID-19 economy
Employee experience is defined as the cumulative impact of the multiple interactions that an employee encounters over their tenure with an organization, spread across all job-related sites, including the physical office, a WFH environment, commute, work-related travel, and the mind space inhabited during work.
To understand what constitutes employee experience, it is helpful to plot this concept against four contributing dimensions:
As companies look at improving employee experiences in 2021 and beyond, it is vital to recognize how these four dimensions have fundamentally changed in the aftermath of the pandemic.
1. Physical: Workplaces become untethered
With many employees working from home and choosing to go to the office only 2-3 days a week (i.e., a hybrid model), companies must rethink office space design. There is the rise of office hubs where employees can meet in person without commuting, saving real estate costs while enabling informal social interactions that are difficult to engineer virtually. Health and safety is the priority as people return to the office, with challenges around coordinating a hybrid workforce while ensuring safe distancing. Our research suggests that there has been an unequal impact of remote work on demographic groups, depending on how suited an individual’s home environment is for work.
2. Cultural: Values are to be proactively manifested
Company culture can be understood as “the way we do things around here,” which is underpinned by organizational values, attitudes, and behaviors. The pandemic has challenged employers’ ability to maintain a strong sense of culture, as so much of this is created organically when employees inhabit a shared space. Providing frequent and consistent communication has been critical to maintaining existing bonds so that employees feel part of “something bigger” and are driven by purpose. Also, accessible leadership plays a key role when working remotely, building trust and ensuring the value system remains stable. Leaders may allocate regular time slots across the week when people can interact with them informally. And, for new hires, leaders and line managers play an even bigger role in communicating the company’s values and cultural expectations.
3. Digital: A critical dimension across the entire organization
To survive the disruption brought on by the pandemic, investment in technology has rapidly increased for companies of every size. As companies become immediately reliant on tech tools to enable remote and hybrid work, digital transformation is now a top priority. This also entails reimagining the business model to create value through sophisticated digital enablers – bringing together technology, people, and processes for shared outcomes. Importantly, such a large-scale change program requires a robust digital strategy and the intelligent use of data for orchestration across departments, and adapt to any curveballs on the way forward.
4. Work: Industrial era notions undergo a shift
As we shift to hybrid work, companies have formulated new norms and rules for how work gets done. Many have adopted an outcomes-based approach to performance management, as the lines between work and personal lives get blurred, and traditional indicators like the hours worked are no longer applicable. However, work-life balance requires special attention as employees may work longer hours and struggle to “switch off.” In terms of work habits, platforms like Slack or Teams, and activities like virtual quizzes or happy hours have helped to collaborate and stay connected.
As we witness a post-pandemic economic boom and a shift in employee expectations from the typical workplace, lower unemployment and a war for top talent will be an inevitable reality. That’s why it is vital to zoom out and consider engagement not only as a standalone concept but in the context of the holistic employee experience and the end-to-end employment journey.
By deeply understanding the human aspects of working in an organization, employers can design tailored experiences that demonstrate empathy, build engagement, drive business outcomes, and eventually intersect the workforce with your corporate brand.
Simply put, tangible benefits and financial rewards alone aren’t enough to engage employees in the new normal. Instead, companies must look at more human and intrinsic drivers that make up EX throughout the employee lifecycle and eventually lead to higher engagement.
Apart from helping employees stay engaged, the nature of EX influences several other parameters of organizational success. Specifically, there are six reasons why companies must evaluate the cumulative experience across the average employee lifecycle and deliver EX tailored for business outcomes.
As the pandemic transforms the future of work and a (global) war for talent looms over the horizon, becoming EX-first is no longer an option. Your EX strategy and investments this year could determine financial outcomes for several upcoming quarters as the economy sees bullish and inclusive growth. From upskilling employees in the right areas to curbing attrition risk, from recognizing your most valued performers to mindfully designing a benefits package, 2021-2022 will be a period of holistic change. This requires a systematic three-pronged roadmap.
The first step is to align your employee experience strategy (milestones, interventions, goals, and KPIs) with the larger business strategy in place for the same upcoming period. This will help to measure and report clear outcomes throughout EX implementation so that the expected and predictable ROI is achieved. There are six best practices companies must keep in mind at this stage:
Head of Human Resources
Managing Director Employee Experience Design & Implementation
Employee experience is not a static entity, and neither are the needs or expectations of your organization. That’s why an ecosystem of multiple channels is necessary to listen to the sentiment of the workforce – also known as the Voice of the Employee (VoE). Continuous listening programs that pay attention to VoE can reveal insights into true intent and experience that debunks popular assumptions.
For example, EngageRocket’s benchmark found that a dip in the number of employees at risk of burnout didn’t necessarily mean that they were able to avoid burnout. Between 2020 and 2021, the section of the workforce able to avoid burnout decreased by 17%, and those unable to avoid burnout also decreased by 4 percentage points. It is the neutral or coping population that shot up. Continuous listening reveals the true picture of what employees are going through on-ground, avoiding misleading stereotypes, assumptions, and broad-stroke analytical fallacies.
There are five best practices companies must keep in mind at this stage:
Leverage multiple channels - Multiple channels and a diverse set of tools will get you insights into the many aspects of employee experience. It factors in all forms of VoE, and by combining a variety of data sources, you can root out false positives and false negatives. It is advisable to use organisation-wide surveys, lifecycle surveys, pulse surveys, multi-rater feedback and open-ended comments.
Involve the entire population, to gain breadth and depth of info across the organisation.
Specific individuals are invited to participate based on their stage in their employee lifecycle, eg onboarding or exit surveys. These are “always on”.
Extended to a sample or the whole population. Useful for tracking trends, diving into detail on specific topics or employee groups. Eg. employee net promoter score, 10-20 question “dipstick” surveys, or longer topical surveys on topics like total rewards, mental health, diversity & inclusion, etc.
Multi-rater Feedback / 360° Reviews
Either include peer reviews, 180° or 360° feedback focusing on manager behaviours, competencies or values. These are usually reserved for developmental purposes, but when used carefully, may be applied as input for performance appraisals.
Comments / Sentiment
These include the analysis of open-ended comments in surveys, as well as the ability to respond to these comments in a psychologically safe way, eg. via an anonymous 2-way chat. This provides qualitative input to supplement the quantitative data collected via other methods.
Develop two-way communication - The continuous listening mechanism must include an acknowledgement of the fact that the VoE has been heard. You can achieve this by designing communications based on the input from end-users. The feedback can help shape follow-up actions such as further questions, and a brief snapshot of the insights gathered, creating a closed feedback loop. A closed-loop will ensure that the conversation is genuine and authentic (instead of being top-down), and positively contributes to the bonds of trust.
Get employee buy-in for continuous listening - A continuous listening strategy, as opposed to one-off programmes, requires active buy-in and participation from the workforce. Ineffective surveys can exacerbate disengagement instead of detecting its root cause. That’s why it is important to first communicate the programme to employees, set up continuous listening Champions if needed, and demonstrate the benefits of active participation. For example, frequent check-ins pioneered at Netflix by Patty McCord helped to both improve performance as well as reduce stress and anxiety.
Make it cross-functional - Continuous listening cannot be just a one-off checklist exercise, siloed to a single department, team, or business unit. That’s why companies must configure a centralised programme supported by data unification between departments to gather meaningful insights for specific employee segments and specific employment lifecycle milestones across the organisation. Different functions have different needs, different OKRs, and it's important to examine differences across various functions to identify opportunities for improvement.
Weave continuous listening into your culture - In the long term, listening to the VoE has to be so embedded in the company culture that it takes place seamlessly, through both formal and informal efforts, and can capture the micro-experiences of an employee’s workday. This requires training managers on the tenets of EX and employee centricity and active participation from senior leadership.
The final step of your three-pronged roadmap to becoming an EX-first company involves the meaningful utilization of data to solve real employee problems. In addition, stakeholders across the organization, from HR and management to team leaders and learning professionals, must know their role in EX and the outcomes they are striving for.
They should be focused on garnering regular feedback and acting on the same in alignment with the KPIs and targets established in the first step.
There are four best practices companies must keep in mind at this stage:
The three prongs – beginning with Strategy and Analytics, Consolidating by Continuous Listening to the VoE and thriving through Action and Ownership – will assist organizations as they place employee experiences in the front and center of their people strategy, business strategy, and eventually, the super-long-term corporate vision.
To create a clearer understanding of where companies are at in their journey towards becoming EX-first, we have developed a maturity model based on the data and insights gathered through our programs. There are 5 levels of EX maturity: Prepare, Launch, Thrust, Coast, and Apogee. As a company progresses through the levels of EX maturity, it strengthens its strategy, measurement capability, and sophistication around employee listening and action.