Not all employee experience initiatives are created equal. Not because their intrinsic value is different, but because they don’t all meet the same objectives and, as a result, what will satisfy some will leave others wanting more.
Not all companies are looking for the same benefits from an employee experience program. Some want to improve employee engagement, some want to improve the employer brand, some want to improve the quality of work life, and some want to improve the employee effectiveness.
Performance or well-being?
Knowing what you are looking for is important because it determines who will be in charge of the program. I’ve discussed in the past the incongruity of putting HR in charge of the employee experience if the goal is primarily to improve the organization’s performance.
There can be a ton of ways to present employee experience initiatives in terms of their impact, here I’ve arbitrarily chosen to evaluate them in terms of two things: their impact on performance and their impact on well-being, which still seem to me to be the two most commonly pursued goals.
Indeed, if thinking about well-being is obvious for many people when we talk about employee experience, we must not forget that at least 90% of this experience takes place in the context of work, of production, where performance is demanded while adding obstacles.
I then positioned the main types of initiatives on this double entry matrix, which gives us the following result. Of course, this does not claim to be exhaustive or absolutely precise, but it at least provides a basis for discussion.
In this post:
- The design of living spaces
- The design of work spaces
- Formalization of the company’s operations
- Monitoring the employee life cycle and improving HR processes
- Simplification of the organization
- Process improvement
- Employee service
- Flexible work
- Sport yoga etc
- A not so obvious border
- The real frontier: the flow of work
- The impact of employee experience initiatives according to their nature
The design of living spaces
By living spaces I mean the spaces in the company’s real estate that are not used for work: reception, social spaces, sports areas, company restaurant etc.
Let’s agree that they have absolutely no impact on the performance of employees. As for their impact on well-being, it is not as important as we would like to believe because in theory we only spend a fraction of our time there. In fact, they can even be counterproductive when they push employees to extend their breaks, either because the work spaces are not up to par or because the work is too painful.
We are talking about open spaces, offices, meeting rooms etc.
A new way of working means a new way of organizing work spaces. A more collaborative, agile company, where design is becoming more and more important, needs more small spaces to meet briefly, to exchange, to throw out ideas than large meeting rooms. The form and organization of work must decide the design of workspaces, whereas too often workspaces designed for the “old world” still slow down the adoption of new practices. As for the open space, we will see in the long term what impact covid and remote working will have on its fate.
Formalization of the company’s operations
We are talking here very simply about having a knowledge base that describes the way the company is organized, functions, and even explains the key elements of its culture.
The importance of such a tool is real on a daily basis if we assume that no employee should ever have to ask “how should I do this” and that if part of the company’s knowledge is embodied by people, the other part must be formalized. The value of these systems was validated during the pandemic when employees had to be onboarded completely remotely and needed a lifeline because they did not have colleagues (whom they did not know yet) around them.
The value of such a system on well-being is very low, except if you think that employees are permanently stressed by the lack of information on the company’s functioning. On the other hand, it makes an organization more easily scalable.
I would add that formalizing doesn’t mean complicating, just “writing down what we do and how we do it”. If the result is complicated, it means that the company is complicated, but that’s not what makes it complicated. At the very least, it’s a first step that allows us to realize that we really need to change things.
Monitoring the employee life cycle and improving HR processes
We are talking about formalizing and monitoring the life cycle, the employee’s journey from the moment he or she is a simple “prospect” to the moment he or she becomes an “alumnus” and improving everything related to the HR process and experience.
The impact on well-being is real but often overestimated. We don’t spend our lives thinking about our career path or worrying about HR issues, but if we feel that no one else cares, it’s a real problem. At key moments, the employee is happy to see that he is not forgotten, that he is supported, and that he is proactively followed over time. As for the impact on performance, it is slight: an employee who is well looked after is an employee who develops better and is more committed, but it is diffuse over time.
Simplification of the organization
Simplifying the organization, on the other hand, removes the mental burden on employees and makes the organization more efficient, so we gain both well-being and performance.
This is a topic that stems from organizational complication. A complicated organization has complicated or even badly designed processes. This can also happen to “simple” organizations but it is much rarer.
Improving processes (making them more flexible, simplifying them, redesigning them or even eliminating them) has an immediate effect on the performance of the individual and the group, and removes even more of the mental burden from the employee than simplifying the organization. Indeed, if the organization weighs on the employee, it remains a diffuse and abstract notion, whereas the process is a concrete reality that the employee is confronted with on a daily basis.
By employee service we mean that the organization is at the service of the employee, who is in turn at the service of the customer. This involves two areas: firstly, a one-stop shop approach for his requests and questions, and secondly, managerial support in the operational framework of his mission. This can go as far as taking into account extra-professional needs with, for example, the implementation of concierge services.
The impact on performance is more or less important depending on whether or not we target operational issues, but the impact on well-being is important because it removes the burden and concerns.
As long as we are talking about employee service, there is also the self-service approach to take into account, as long as it is not abused.
We are talking about automating tedious and repetitive tasks in order to let the employee focus on higher value-added and more engaging subjects.
It’s not necessarily a question of AI and huge complicated projects, even if it is an option. A “good old” rules engine usually does the job very well and too many people have made customers dream with AI when in the end the proposed device was much more rustic (but no less effective).
Automation has a strong impact in an employee experience approach. Its contribution to efficiency and performance is quite obvious but I would like to emphasize its contribution to well-being which is largely underestimated. As I said before, if 82% of employees think that robots will support their mental health better than human beings, it’s not because people trust robots more than their managers and prefer to talk to them, but because they take away a big part of the mental load related to the most painful tasks.
This is a topic that has been prominent since the pandemic, and it would be wrong to limit it to telework. But whether it is one or the other, the post-crisis scenarios seem unclear and companies are uncomfortable taking the subject in depth.
Flexible working has a definite impact on well-being and an equally interesting impact on performance, although this should be considered with caution. To date, there is a lot of feedback that tells us, for example, that employees are more productive at a distance, but this is still in the realm of feelings and even pleas to continue working remotely, but I haven’t found anything really objectively measured on the subject.
Sport, yoga etc
Companies tend to multiply initiatives to help employees take care of their physical and general well-being. Sport and yoga classes, in the office or outside, are now fashionable and very popular with many employees, at least with the typical “urban white collar”.
In terms of impact on well-being, we are at the top of the scale. As for the impact on performance, it exists even if it is not direct and its strength depends on the people and a certain number of other factors.
But these initiatives can end up disappointing and have a negative impact when employees think that they are just a cover-up to avoid addressing the real problems, which are the content and organization of work or management.
Management is a key issue in the employee experience as it is a source of frustration for the employee and even for the manager himself.
Inadequate managerial model, a manager who is asked to do too much assuming that he or she will have grasped everything spontaneously, an expert who was promoted to manager when he or she did not want to be a manager, the vision of the manager’s role in the company, the manager’s posture… the causes are numerous and the results are known to all: malaise, disengagement and reduced performance.
In any case, by working on management, its raison d’être, its objective, the way it’s done, we have a unique opportunity to impact both the well-being and the performance of employees and even of the managers themselves who are sometimes also victims of the system.
A not so obvious boundary
As you can see, there is a very fine line between the impact on well-being and the impact on performance. Of course, when you launch an initiative, you know what you are aiming for, but there are always positive collateral effects.
The impact of well-being on performance is quite simple to understand, even if it is diffuse and difficult to estimate mathematically.
On the other hand, the impact of performance-oriented initiatives on well-being is underestimated, yet it exists. Poor management, processes and organization create a mental burden and frustration that cannot be ignored.
The Real Frontier: The Flow of Work
On the other hand, this matrix reveals a much more interesting boundary that would appear regardless of the dimensions chosen: that of the flow of work and that is materialized by the oblique line that separates the matrix in two.
Above are the initiatives that transform the employee experience through what happens when the employee is not working and below through what happens when the employee is working, which perfectly illustrates the difference between being “at work” and “in work”.
For me, the two dimensions are equally important, they complement each other and even influence each other, but one should not expect to simplify and make the employee’s work more fluid by positioning oneself solely above the flow, nor should one expect to have a very strong impact on the employee’s well-being by being solely in the flow.
However, we must be careful on two points:
- Initiatives outside of the flow of work are simpler to implement because they are less structuring with regard to the business and operations. They can be used for quick wins while waiting for the rest to be implemented.
- The flow of work initiatives allows for less external communication and if the employee perceives the effects, he or she does not necessarily see the initiative itself, which can be frustrating.
Which allows me to close with a few words about the impact of employee experience initiatives depending on whether or not they relate to the flow of work.
The impact of employee experience initiatives according to their nature
Depending on the company, its culture, its needs, its context and even the scope of action given to the employee experience manager, not everyone will seek the same type of result and impact. But we must be aware that the impact on the employee will be radically different depending on whether we move away from work or, on the contrary, target work situations.
An impact different in its nature but also in the way it occurs over time.
When we aim at the well-being and in general at what is far from the work flow we can have a very high and fast impact. New work and living spaces, social events, sports courses…. As soon as the employee experiences them, he/she feels an immediate benefit, a notable improvement compared to what existed before.
However, this impact is often temporary and this for two reasons.
The first is that we quickly get used to qualitative things, to the point that we don’t see them anymore. What is seen as a great progress one day has become a given a few weeks or months later, so much so that it is no longer valued…until the day it disappears.
The second is that it can give the impression that the company is sweeping the dust under the carpet and addressing superficial issues to avoid addressing more structural ones.
On the other hand, when we deal with flow of work issues, the impact takes longer to appear because we are introducing a change in the daily work practices and tools, in the organization. This always leads to a certain amount of resistance, even if people resist much less when they understand that we are trying to simplify their work.
On the other hand, the impact is more lasting because it touches the heart of the work and, moreover, it is not because one day the employee ends up taking the progress for granted that the latter ends up bearing fruit on the work experience in the true sense.
On the one hand, we have things that are only as good as the employee’s feelings about them, and on the other hand, we have things that also have an impact on the company and production, regardless of feelings.