At a recent HR Grapevine and Medallia roundtable, senior HR directors discussed how to improve the world of work for employees and what steps might need to be taken in order to do so
There’s a lot of noise around the employee experience right now. This makes sense. Work, as most HR practitioners will know, is in an ongoing moment of change. Now long past the initial pivot to health and safety-centric working practices – or enforced remote working – employers are experimenting with increased flexibility and hybridity. Whilst many conceive of these concepts as a fix all to the employee experience, both come with considerable hurdles to overcome – not least further burnout for staff. But for those organisations considering these approaches, it does show they have an increased place for the employee voice on the business agenda.
Employees get a say
This is a good thing. In fact, as one participant at the recent Medallia roundtable* on employee experience – titled People Matter: Nailing the Employee Experience, and led by Melissa Arronte, Solution Principal of Employee Experience at Medallia, Sam Dennisson, Employee Experience Director UK&I & MEA and Dan Riley, Co-Founder, RADICL – said, many in HR noticed that the early pandemic moment changed everything and acted as a “great reset” around the employee experience in particular.
This actually made work increasingly about the individual, as another participant agreed. With businesses so keen to keep their people safe at the start of the pandemic – a blogpost by Josh Bersin, President and Founder of Bersin Associates, titled Coronavirus Response: People First, Economics Second, laid out his key takeaway from those early moments when businesses were attempting to work under new restrictions, wrote “the big message I think we’re learning is that whatever happens, the right response is People First, Business Second” – this has in part forced HR to consider what powers their survival and success.
Humanity and empathy
Many at the roundtable thought it was people who powered this which has resulted in how best to manage them: forcing the functions increasingly to consider how to weave “humanity and empathy” into day-to-day practices. This, attendees thought, would improve collaboration and care – which many in HR will know as points of action that probably sit on their own agenda. Of course, this was pandemic-sparked. Countless individuals, as witnessed by HR functions having to support them, saw fundamental shifts in the working day, with many employees carrying extra burdens and pressures during this time.
What it has resulted in is a focus, from HR, on the skills needed for businesses to support their employees into the future and foster a great employee experience. These, attendees thought, would include better listening skills, an organic approach to management, attention on managerial skillsets as well as a promotion of different, 2021-ready cultural standards, such as more creating more familial and collegiate workplaces.
HR has to consider big questions
Of course, this is easier said than done. To keep the community ethos that many workers felt their workplace offered during the pandemic for less disrupted times, will require keen HR attention. How can the function promote empathy without the very natural ‘all in this together’ feel that the peaks of the pandemic brought? How can work be kept fun? How can work stay value-driven? These are big questions that have no easy answers but the senior practitioners attending the session are at least asking them.
Don’t revert to type
Another focus will be on how HR responds appropriately to employee feedback – one of the key parts of beginning to create better work experiences. There is a danger, explained one attendee, of reverting back to pre-pandemic modes of structuring work. It is on HR therefore to ensure that the personalised connections that were grown during those crisis moments stay, and that work continues to be, or starts to be, more purposeful.
Aligning CX and EX
An additional point that attracted debate was around how to deliver for employees as a business might for its customers. Many thought CX and EX should be aligned, and should be driven by internal customer – employees! – feedback. Again, this would require surveys, feedback and actively listening to what the workforce wants going forward. These activities should focus on, according to the discussion, how employees want to structure work, what they want their work-life balance to look like, and should result in new policies and guidelines that make this sacrosanct. All of this, together, should then work to empower employees and take care of their wellbeing – all driving better work outcomes.
Being ready for change
Whilst this is easy to say, it does result in wholesale changes for the business and their operations – which can create change fatigue after a year in which many businesses, and individuals, were just trying to get through and survive. Even more difficult is doing this as many businesses go through rounds of redundancies or other pressing matters. What could help alleviate matters here is a change readiness survey to take the ‘temperature’ of the workforce. Whilst leaders might not want to hear some ‘home truths’ it is on HR to ensure that they know where the workforce is at, to weave that into any future plans. Again, this should be done in a way, attendees commented, that gets the most truthful feedback so the experience of work could be built back up, or reimagined, in a way that works for everyone.