Looking at the Employee Experience in a New Way

By: | January 10, 2019 • 3 min read
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He will be speaking at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition China in Shanghai, May 14 through 15, and HR Festival Asia in Singapore, May 8 through 9, as well as the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas, Oct. 1 through 4. He can be emailed at [email protected]

The employee experience—what employees encounter, observe and feel throughout their employment journey—is an important but very complex topic. One might think that with a decade of economic growth and an explosion of technology at work, most employees would be having positive experiences. However, employees are feeling overloaded by their digital tools, they want to spend more time with their families and friends, and they want to focus on health, career and meaning at work. So, there’s still much to work on.

Yet, before you and your team create yet another program to enhance your employees’ experiences, I think it’s important to take a step back and ask, “What do we really want to accomplish for our employees and why are we employing them in the first place?”

Until recently, most companies hired people to get specific types of work done. Companies had customers to serve, products to build and services to provide, so they hired people to fill very defined jobs. HR tailored work experiences around these jobs—which meant providing tools, job aids, training and incentives to make sure employees got their specific tasks done.

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In recent years, however, the role of employees has begun to change. Now, most executives are realizing that their workforces are intrinsically linked to business growth, agility and innovation. More and more companies are empowering employees to make decisions related to their jobs and letting them design their own way of working. In a highly empowered organization, employees may have multiple work locations; they may be very mobile and manage their own work hours; and in some cases, they can set their own pay, either by doing more work or asking for more jobs to do.

Today, if you look at the fastest growing jobs with highest salaries in most industries, you’ll find they are all positions that require empowerment—such as designers, engineers, scientists and healthcare workers. These are employees who create things, serve others and are very highly motivated by their end-to-end experience at work. To attract and retain such employees, HR teams have started to lavish more benefits, adopt flexible-work options and create new programs for health, wellbeing and career development. I’ve talked with HR leaders whose companies have added a long list of benefits and wellbeing programs with the aim of further improving the employee experience, and they’re still finding ways to add more.

Let me encourage you to think about the employee experience differently—in a way that’s not related to various benefit offerings. While we all want work to be productive, enjoyable, and positive for our careers and finances—we also want something more. People come to work to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to spend their time doing something meaningful, contribute to progress and help others.

Research shows that feelings of belonging, purpose and progress are what really matter most to employees. Certainly, they want to be paid fairly and well. But beyond that, employees want to know they are accomplishing something of value.

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential) at the top. Recent Deloitte research shows that “being appreciated” is more important than a raise, and research I just completed with LinkedIn shows that “loving your job” and “feeling like you’re moving ahead” is three to four times more important than earnings. The 2018 research report “The Motivational Potential of Meaningful Work,” published by the Public Library of Science, showed a strong correlation between meaningful work and engagement and performance. The report links meaningful work to increases in strengths use (employees are more inclined to use their best skills and maximum effort), in-role performance, and employee wellbeing both at work and home, as well as decreases in employee burnout.

If we really want to build a “perfect” employee experience at work, we can’t just rely on the benefits, perks and reward systems. We must focus on making jobs and work meaningful, giving people a sense of trust and fairness, and making sure the work we ask employees to do is valued and considered by everyone on the team. These softer, cultural aspects of work are often overlooked in times of growth or stress, but ultimately, they are still the most important things people care about.

There’s no question 2019 will be an uncertain year in many ways. Let’s focus on creating perfect employee experiences by emphasizing belonging, trust and purpose in the year ahead. These are things that play to our strengths in HR, and they help us make everything else we do better as a result.

The topic of the employee experience is one I’ll be addressing in much more detail at this year’s HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas. Additionally, I also discuss the relationship between technology and the day-to-day employee experience in a report titled HR Technology Market 2019: Disruption Ahead that was recently produced in partnership with LRP.