Employers, it’s time to reset employee experience expectations

Vinny Panchal
By Vinny Panchal | 7 August 2020

Vinny Panchal is SVP, general Manager at Jack Morton Worldwide.

Brands are heavily communicating with their employees for months, sparked by the pandemic, and the racial unrest in the U.S. which has echoed globally. This has undoubtedly impacted the way employers and employees interact and communicate with one another. One thing for certain, connection and transparency breaks down barriers and allows employees to inevitably feel closer to the business, and be more aware of their own value and impact.  

While this shift might be a silver-lining, companies could just as easily squander it. As the world begins to re-open, given the big focus in rebuilding businesses and reconnecting with consumers, partners and prospects, the focus on staff could naturally be overlooked. But, companies need engaged employees more than ever. Remember, a brand’s treatment of employees can influence consumer perception. After all, a brand’s biggest advocates – or detractors – are its employees. 

Overlooking employees is a common trap for businesses to fall into at the best of times. And this is NOT the best of times. Many companies are operating under the misconception that employees are more engaged than they actually are. In fact, the most recent Gallup poll on the subject reports that more than half of all employees (53%) are described as “not engaged” and an additional 13% are “actively disengaged.” In the months ahead, valued employee experiences will be critical.  

A glimpse into the future
Businesses have shifted the way they are run both culturally and operationally. Some have needed to reappraise their employees – to see them first as people, communicating based on their needs and concerns, while aligning purpose with their lives. They’ve also had to cover the basics. Are their employees ok? Are their families ok? Do they have the support they need to adapt to this new way of working? How is their work important to the mission? And employers have had to communicate in real time: an always on, always accessible two-way interaction. Others have a bit of a head start in excelling at the employee experience game. Telstra, Kmart and Officeworks, are great examples of brands that are actively connecting with employees – engaging them through meaningful discussions and virtualizing company messages and directions to keep people highlgy engaged and excited for the future, despite all the uncertainty that a pandemic brings.

In a recent study by Qualtrics, 52% of Aussies don’t want to return to the office even when restrictions have lifted. We’ve also seen companies like Twitter saying employees never need to return to an office. Given this, how can employers effectively engaging with their people? Companies must build on what they’ve started and create an ongoing program of experiences that hold up these expectations. More informal opportunities to connect with leadership, more interactive sessions, more use of video to foster that face-to-face connection. The human connection is being redefined and businesses will need to make it part of their cultural DNA if they’re going to rebuild from the inside out.  

What have we learned?
The first half of 2020 has changed the way people work and live, and how brands connect with their target audience. Moving forward, as business leaders, applying what we’ve learned through these months will be essential to our success. 

Consider these five lessons to navigate what lies ahead, and to hopefully deliver better employee experiences:

  1.      Nothing has changed. Everything has changed. As businesses move into the next phase – reopening and looking deep inside their cultures – they will need to remember what’s at their core. Remember that employees are a diverse group of people in search of purpose, and leaders and marketers need to define that purpose in the context of work, life and play. Even if that’s at home for the foreseeable future.   
  1.      Virtual is not new. Some of us are just new to it. We’re all living virtual lives. Tech companies know virtual, children know virtual, gamers own virtual, and social media influencers flood virtual channels. Businesses can learn a lot about engagement by watching how the next generation balance their days and relationships. Just ask them. For example, what is the best way to connect with their audience? And how best to keep audience engaged? They will probably tell you the importance of allowing the audience to be part of the experience itself and driving interaction. The same rule applies for employees. Without them, would there even be an employee experience? 
  1.      More together, now that we’re apart. Physical shouldn’t hinder. Two or three times a week, gather a small group of colleagues and log into a short video conference. Not to talk, but to be present with each other. Say a quick hello and then spend the next twenty-five minutes working individually but in each other’s presence, all on a common topic – like a live ‘hack session’. 
  1.      Chat is the new water cooler. Innovation happens all around us – in different ways.  Brands are taking over Animal Crossing to reach their audience and to start a conversation with the next generation. Apple designed its circular headquarters to maximize random conversation. The takeaway? When you bring people together on virtual platforms, make sure to pump the sidebar chatter. Surprising things will happen.
  1.      Conversations as decisions in a never-ending battle for attention. With more people working remotely, what used to be an hour conversation in a meeting room, followed by five minutes of incomplete next steps, might now be better by taking on the form of a collaborative document, accompanied by a clear decision maker. Give employees time to focus and collaborative platforms to work from and great ideas will form by fostering the sharing of thoughts. Then give someone the power to decide on what direction to take.

Today, we’ve been propelled forward in surprising ways – some good and some not. Hopefully all are making us aware of what’s important in life. As we move into the future, engagement in our workplaces won’t be tied to physical presence, but instead tied to meaningful work, and a higher purpose. If there’s one thing to learn from months of isolation, it’s reflection. Being apart has helped people realize that there are more important things in life outside of work. Committing to the ‘why’ and engaging with your people through the lens of better corporate citizenship will help your business come out stronger than ever. Relationships will be more solid, corporate reputation enhanced, and employee loyalty and productivity improved. Embrace your company mission and, most importantly, embrace your team.

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