Gone are the days when employees could be satisfied with once-a-year health checkups at the workplace. Today, providing holistic wellness has taken up space as a hygiene need, a necessary service that organisations should provide for employee welfare.
A year ago, if someone had told us that organisations would encourage, even mandate employees to work from home for months on end, it could have only been a lead up to a punchline. Fastforward to today and the workforce expects nothing less than disruptive talent practices – like permanent telecommuting and Flexi-working options or on-demand access to wellbeing solutions – to keep them engaged.
The neoteric changes of a rapidly transforming global economy have led to a corresponding focus shift in the HR psyche from Employee Engagement (EE) to Employee Experience (EX). Before we delve deeper, let us pause for a moment to recap how EE and EX differ from each other.
The Changing Playbook
Employee engagement is a simple cause and effect mechanism – it allows for the organisation to create, shape, and essentially MACD (move, add, change, delete) an employee’s perception of the various value propositions that the organisation has to offer. As a response to measures management takes employees tell us how committed they are, how charged they are to bring their best performance to the table, and how likely they are to continue being part of the organisation.
Primarily focused on stickiness and satisfaction, employee engagement has traditionally been measured through surveys – earlier annual, half-yearly, and more recently through weekly / monthly pulse surveys. These surveys provide a fair insight into the morale (in the case of less frequent) and the mood (in the case of frequent surveying) of employees.
However, gauging and altering the level to which employees are engaged is only one of the steps in the ongoing journey of their experience of the culture, values, purpose, and brand that their organisation stands for. EX goes beyond this, by seeing the world from the perspective of an employee, shifting the core of power from policies and processes to the people for whom they are created. Organisations that successfully manage EX have done so by changing their approach from influencing transactions and processes, to the overall adventure that the organisation and employee embark together on.
The Dotted Line between EX & CX
So why is EX the talk of the town? Both data and common sense tell us the irrefutable influence employee experience has on customer experience. Employees who have been touched by great experiences become evangelists, narrators of credible brand propositions about their organisation to the customers they come in touch with. Creating great employee experiences sets the tone and leads the way on desirable attitudes and behaviours towards all stakeholders, pulling focus back to emotions over bottom-line.
The core leadership of an organisation that I was associated with constantly encouraged all employees to communicate and ideate with customers directly, and to break hierarchies and step outside typical centres of power. The outcome has been a resounding increase in viable solution prototypes, which incidentally have a positive impact on top or bottom-line too.
Employees who have been touched by great experiences become evangelists, narrators of credible brand propositions about their organisation to the customers they come in touch with.
Creating Moments that Matter in a VUCA World
As cubicles give way to home offices and the lines between working and personal hours blur, the challenge of engaging a virtual workforce emerges – how do we influence employees who aren’t in the same room with us, do not experience our multi-million-dollar infrastructure, and when everyone can have their corner-office right at home?
This decade has thrust us into a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. As technology is changing the velocity, momentum, and trajectory of the stakeholder’s wants and needs, the essential DNA of the worker is also shifting. The time is ripe to set the tone of employee experience. Envisioning, creating, and sustaining a great EX in a VUCA world is a multi-faceted approach. Principal among these are:
Go Forth & be Agile
Agility is not a framework or an SOP document; it is a mindset, the core of which is a fire in the belly to stay ahead of the curve. In an organisation that truly embraces agility, hierarchies and authority disappear and ideas and initiative become the core of every action.
Agile behaviour thrives where ideation is encouraged without fear of ridicule or retribution, empowering HR practitioners to explore beyond frameworks towards creating moments that matter to stakeholders. Thus, agility in human capital functions should start at the top, and be part of the culture, not just the scorecard.
The offshore technology development wing of a leading insurance provider I was associated with, created a pathbreaking approach, moving away from prescriptive, top-down diversity targets, to empowering representative employees to choose the pace and modality through which diversity was created. Shifting the narrative from a corporate mandate to individual ownership shifted the loci of power, transforming employees into sponsors of D&I.
Shift from Enabler to Visionary
To have a seat at the table, people operations should transform from being business enablers to visionaries. HR practitioners must add rapid change management to their toolbox, moving with the speed of business to identify future goals and create an ecosystem for employees to reach that future in the present.
As trusted advisors, HR should focus on leading the drivers of EX, the key of which include:
♦ Fostering an inclusive culture that is accepting of diverse and daring viewpoints and creating a sense of belonging, while allowing employees to maintain their individuality;
♦ Creating meaningful goals that not just align with business imperatives but also factor individual capabilities and leverage on them, helping employees realise the impact of their work on the larger objectives of their teams and organisation to bring meaning to everyday work;
♦ Interdependent teams that derive value from shared wins, creating alliances for success;
♦ Leadership integrity, demonstrating a commitment to actionable strategy and dependability, underscoring the vitality of an engaged ecosystem.
Celebrate Learning & Autonomy
Remember those good old days when we could all band together in a classroom for training programs? Yes, that is not going to happen anytime soon now. A multitude of factors has culminated into an undeniable change in the learning landscape. Be it the era of OTT providers changing experience benchmarks, an appetite for on demand learning, or simply the ineffectiveness of traditional offerings, L&D functions just cannot be the same anymore.
Content consumption trends indicate a shift from role-based learning to self-directed learning that hybridize work, life and play skills. Leverage on this to create employee development journeys that allow the individual to have ownership over the what, when and how.
One of the organisations that I worked for developed an extensive digital learning academy that provides content from a variety of industry-leading vendors, enabling not just micro-and app-based learning, but allowing sandboxed environments, cloud labs, one-onone mentor- and peer-led content, and lifestyle masterclasses, creating immersive learning environments that resulted in higher rates of consumption, completion, and stickiness.
Focus on Holistic Wellness
It has taken a ‘blue ocean event’ like the current global pandemic to get organisations to focus on employee wellness. The undeniable truth is that an employee’s mental, physical & spiritual wellness influence what they bring to work. Gone are the days when employees could be satisfied with once-a-year health checkups at the workplace. Today, providing holistic wellness has taken up space as a hygiene need, a necessary service that organisations should provide for employee welfare. This becomes even more important in the virtual work environs, where employees are isolated, and watercooler conversations and (in-person) team lunches have turned sporadic.
As workers were thrown into a remote working model early last year, one of the organisations I worked at moved with agility, setting up a SWAT team for virtual engagement. The team, consisting of a cross-section of experts, created capsule-sized programs tailored for various employee groups, including awareness on ergonomics, hacks for leveraging technology for deeper team connect, and expert-led programs on developing resilience, among others.
EX: An Iterative Journey
Engagement and experience are ever-changing and ever-evolving. It is imperative to acknowledge that there is a multitude of factors that impact an experiential journey, and not all of them can be influenced by people practices. Human interactions are dynamic and fluid, and it’s well to accept that not all experiences are going to turn out good. The key is to constantly, consciously, curate touchpoints focused on and tailored to individual needs, creating microenvironments that nurture a lasting relationship between the employee and the organisation.
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