With resignations at the highest they have been in over a decade; leaders are battling to build an employee experience to suit and retain their workers. Talented employees are calling the shots so organizations are potentially having to explore a completely different offering in the workplace as employees increasingly want a bespoke work life including better flexibility, training, opportunities, recognition, inclusion and an overall better experience.
What do employees want?
Employees still expect a competitive salary, however statistics* found that only 27% reported being happy at work most of the time, and (72%) admit that their workplace unhappiness has negatively impacted their physical and/or mental wellbeing.
Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership explains: “Long gone are the days of ‘You work for us, so you conform to our rules’. Fair renumeration and a gimmicky table football machine in the corner are no longer enough. Pre- and during the pandemic, organizations asked employees to be resilient, often asking them to take pay cuts or lose benefits to help prop up the finance and support the sustainability of the business. Trust has been eroded and employees are well aware that they now hold all the cards but a fair wage in exchange for high productivity isn’t enough anymore. Employees want to be at the center of the business and not just used for the benefit of the company.”
Prioritizing wellbeing is at the top of the list. Benefex found that 96% of HR leaders reported that employee experience became more important during the pandemic, and employee wellbeing is seen as a primary driver for this. Recognition is increasingly important. Blackhawk Network recently reported 77% of employees would work harder if they felt better recognized and 68% of employees said they would remain loyal to their employer if they were regularly thanked for their efforts.
Thom Dennis says: “An employee-centric workplace is where employees are valued, engaged, paid well for the work they do, have opportunities to develop, and their wellbeing matters. Workers want to be happy and to do meaningful work. The pandemic taught us that people can do their jobs in a way that suits them and without the supervision that weak management have a need for. They want flexibility, to be excited by what they do and to make a difference by being part of tackling society’s most pressing challenges. They want to be motivated and to be offered regular chances to upskill and to work for a forward-thinking organization. They want bespoke career plans and to thrive not just survive.”
2022 is going to be difficult for leaders and employees
“2022 will show greater divides and disparity between the haves and the have nots. Living in a VUCA world means life is so uncertain, we want to feel safer and protected. Leaders have to get hybrid working right as for many that flexibility is the cornerstone of good working conditions. Businesses are no longer able to hide behind customer branding campaigns because there are so many social media platforms and forums for employees to openly review their experience at a business.
“Business outcomes must include the personal goals of employees which may mean rethinking the design of roles. There is a big adjustment to be made in moving from financial wellbeing to employee wellbeing, but the benefits are limitless from increased productivity as a result of better engagement to decreased chance of burnout and sick leave. Businesses must focus on the human side of work and should be prioritizing seeking social, emotional, cultural enhanced cognitive skills in recruitment. It is a real opportunity for HR to shine but they need to be given the space to do that. Importantly your employees are likely the best ambassadors for the business in terms of putting across the right message and building the brand.”
What is best practice to optimize employee experience
Ask your employees what they want and need with clear purpose and intent. Leaders often get caught up communicating with partners and stakeholders, forgetting about clearly and regularly communicating and building meaningful relationships with their employees. Unless an organization has transparency, care and accountability at its heart, the existing systems may not address how to make employees feel appreciated, and dissatisfaction will brew.
Establish a clear purpose. Employees, particularly the young, want to work for an entity that has a clear purpose that touches issues greater than the existence of the organization. This means for many businesses they have to apply themselves now to examining why their organization exists and questioning whether this is a worthwhile reason; having that greater reason will encourage people to join, to stay and give of their best in all respects.
Recognize, reward and care. Maintain motivation with positive, meaningful reinforcement. Ideally look to first promote from within your company, whilst treasuring diversity and fresh ideas. Build a culture of recognition and offer with pleasure bespoke rewards that matter to that individual. A genuine simple ‘thank you’ can have benefits far beyond any effort involved.
Collaborate and design the business strategy together. This has to be real, not a mere rebranding exercise and leaders must avoid putting a plaster over a problem area. Collaborate to find out what employees really want and foster curiosity and a growth mindset and really listen to what is being said. Create a space where people feel safe to give their view and set up group dialogues to discuss issues. It is imperative that leaders at the top do not make unilateral decisions about inclusion, even with best intention, for the very people that any future policy affects.
Commit to managing staff health and wellbeing. Balance the imbalanced and stop a culture of burnout. Positive employee wellbeing is essential to increase employee experience.
Focus on emotional connections. Develop a positive organizational culture with trust at its very heart. Ultra-controlling behavior that we saw in lockdowns is destructive and must be a thing of the past. Equally, excessive meetings will bring about a loss of productivity and increased frustration. Managers need to remember we are not buying our employees’ time but the results of their experience, creativity and talent. Cultural intelligence is key (successful inclusion depends on it), as is an acknowledgement of the values of the individuals that make up an organization.
Create a culture of respect and inclusivity. Prioritize diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the business and regularly organize a deep dive look at bias. Ensure that your recruitment and promotion strategies as well as company policy do not exclude diversity and also prevent discrimination and harassment. Being accepted, respected, included and appreciated means understanding differences between generations, genders, cultures and the financial wellbeing of employees. Make sure employees do not have to hide any part of themselves so they can bring their whole self to work.
Provide multiple opportunities for employees to learn and upskill. This is best achieved through training, shadowing, mentoring, multi-disciplining and project opportunities. Choose with your employees what areas they would like to focus on. Value the employees already in your company because if they know there are opportunities to progress or grow, motivation will remain high. Ensure line management skills are at their best; do not merely promote in line management on the basis of technical skills.
Build an effective onboarding program. Acknowledge that the employee experience starts before they join the company from the first glance at the company website to a fair, accessible recruitment process. Every interaction the individual has with your business should promote a positive employee experience. Remember that inclusion frequently falls down at promotion, even in organizations with great recruitment practices. Equally understand why employees choose to leave the business as a learning opportunity.
Be an inspirational leader that puts their people first and leads by example. Do not raise expectations and then not follow through. Trust is destroyed when employees are left in the dark about changes to the business and they become unmotivated and disengaged. Whilst leaders may still be making difficult decisions every day, transparency is the best chance of gaining employee support. Give employees the confidence and positivity that needs are, and will, be met and they are part of something important.