For the 4th consecutive year, Parlons RH (a french media specialized in HR and employee experience) has just published its employee experience barometer. This edition is of course part of a particular context and we expect it to show us how much the COVID has accelerated awareness of the subject.
Here are the highlights I got from it and I encourage you to go and download the study for a more in-depth analysis and read the more detailed interview that I gave on this occasion [LINK]. Sorry it’s in French but Deepl or Google Translate do a good job in general.
The employee experience paradox: more important and less strategic
This is certainly the thing I can least explain to myself in this study, at least at first sight. With hindsight, I have some explanations to put forward, but they are not pleasant.
Unsurprisingly, in this year of COVID, the subject of employee experience has seen its importance grow. If the 2020 study only 35% of companies had initiated a policy in this area (in 2019), the 2021 study tells us that they were 43% to do so in 2020
A significant progress? Yes, if you look at the numbers, no, if you put them in perspective with what we experienced last year. If 53% of companies have missed the point, either it is negligible, or they are unaware of it, or…they put the point elsewhere.
Because you are not out of surprises: if in 2020 they were 70% to say that the employee experience was strategic, they are 62% to say the same thing in 2021!
I admit I have a little trouble putting myself in the shoes of those who make a clear distinction between it being strategic (long term performance) and important (better efficiency).
One reading, which only engages me, is to see in all this a good news: when everyone attaches the words performance or efficiency to employee experience, it is rather a good sign. On the other hand, when it loses strategic importance to gain in terms of efficiency, a vision that can be considered less long-term than the first, I read two things:
- It is useful in the short term in case of a hard blow
- At the level of strategic priorities, there are more important things. For example the “what”, what we do (and the questioning must be deep on the subject in view of the recent experience) is more important for the moment than the “how it goes” to which we would attach the employee experience.
I’m a bit puzzled by these numbers, though. It makes me wonder if the people who responded, although HR professionals, are all talking about the same thing.
Blinkers, glass ceiling or resignation?
First clue: if there are two figures that are stable, they are those of what is expected from the employee experience: reinforcing employee engagement (78=>79%) and improving the organization’s performance (57%=>57%). For information, the 3rd priority is no longer the attractiveness of the company but the quality of life at work.
And what do you get when you ask which HR activities are primarily impacted by the employee experience?
Very few things have a direct impact on performance except management. Training has an impact in the medium term and….the rest not at all.
From there, we can deduce that the employee experience is, from an HR point of view, a matter of engagement and quality of life at work…this is only logical and the opposite would have surprised or even disappointed me.
This leads me to ask another question: who is in charge of the “organizational performance” aspect of the employee experience?
Since the survey is targeted at HR, it makes sense not to find the answer here, as they have enough to do with what is in their area. But something tells me that if we were to ask the question the answer would not help us any further.
So of course I extrapolate in part the answer that the survey did not ask to a population that it did not target but :
- This is the perfect embodiment of the glass ceiling that exists between the flow of work and what happens at its periphery. Here, the content of the flow of work is not affected, and therefore not the content and organization of work.
- This could still be a concern for HR, as one of their areas of responsibility is unable to achieve a priority objective. Either they say “it’s not our business so let’s not think about it”, or “we don’t have the means to change anything so let’s not talk about it”. In both cases, it worries me.
Moreover, the barometer recognizes that “The superficial image of the employee experience remains in the crisis“. That’s all that bothers me.
Because the definition that the authors give themselves is good, far from the idealistic approaches that I have read here and there. For them, the employee experience refers to :
- all of the employee’s feelings throughout their journey within the company;
- the HR marketing approach, which consists of measuring and improving this employee experience in an iterative way.
Regarding the second point, I only regret the use of the term “HR marketing” which is confusing and does not pay tribute to this essential point. As for me, I use the term continuous improvement and I will talk more about it in a future article.
Regarding the first point, if we are talking about the feelings of employees throughout their time with the company, the essential component is their feelings in a work situation. Not only “at work” but especially “when they are working”. Which is not the same thing.
Who cares about the employee while he is working?
What does an employee do during 95% of his time at work? Well, he works. By work I mean: doing work to achieve a result, following rules, using tools and collaborating with others.
So yes, we can say that the employee is always being managed. That career management and mobility are always in the background.
But if we say that the goal of the employee experience is to improve the organization’s performance (which is the case for 57% of respondents), then I don’t see here any way to achieve this structurally. The focus is on all the moments of the employee’s journey, except for the 95% of their time when they are in a productive situation.
I would add from experience that if you really talk to employees about their feelings about what they experience at work they will tell you about :
- Organizational and decision-making complexities.
- Inadequate processes that make them want to change jobs. (And this is true in all countries)
- Tools that complicate their lives.
I won’t say, far from it, that the rest doesn’t matter. It’s even vital. But I am saying that we systematically forget the submerged part of the iceberg, the part that employees have in mind at all times. Of course, training is a major issue, career management is also a major issue, and I would add compensation (not pay, but compensation in its real and quantitative dimension), a subject that is often discreetly hidden. But I can promise you that when you ask a person “how is your job, your daily life” I know what he has in mind.
Then you may want to have a real impact on what the employee experiences while working and on the performance of the organization…or not.
The hidden side of the employee experience
I strongly recommend you read this really rich study on the employee experience seen through the prism of HR. And for the more daring among you, if you are passionate about the subject or if you are in charge of it, I suggest you ask yourself about everything it doesn’t say, about everything HR can’t say about it because it’s out of their sphere.
One can consider that the employee experience can be reduced to employee engagement and quality of life at work and I already think that without activating the levers I listed above, the organization will have difficulty addressing the subject in depth. But this is already a huge task from the HR point of view…especially since those who have these other levers in hand do not help them or even play against them.
One can also consider that the employee experience is much broader than that and we cannot let HR row and drown in it alone! We can’t let them manage with their traditional levers while others, who have other levers, have their own agenda or even row in the opposite direction.
And this is all the more true because, although the employee experience is measured at the level of the individual employee, it is the result of collective rules and systems, which are imposed on everyone and which organize the work and functioning of the organization. Individual performance cannot be dissociated from organizational performance.
There are people in the organization whose job is “operations management” or “methods and processes” and it would be relevant to ask them about it. And if I were HR, I would approach them as soon as possible.
Otherwise, and this barometer shows it, we are in front of a subject of the highest importance that has been self-assigned to people who are not only already overwhelmed by the “historical” issues that are theirs and do not have the levers to go beyond.
In 2022 I would like, if it is not too late, that such a barometer questions the “non-rh”. I’m sure it will be an opportunity to develop synergies of a rare power. And since there is a lot of talk about the hybridization of HR jobs, we might as well put our money where our mouth is. There comes a time when employee experience joins what is called operational excellence and even if it is a “dirty word” for many people in the HR function, it will have to be admitted.
This is of course just my opinion. That of a former Director of Employee Experience who at his request inherited the direction of operations to really follow through and make an impact on the organization. That’s only worth what it’s worth.