Like last year at the same time, Let’s Talk HR releases its Employee Experience Barometer, which is the 5th edition.
To put things in perspective, I invite you to read my comments on last year’s edition as well as the interview I gave on that occasion.
Let’s take a look at this 2022 edition.
The employee experience is a global trend
Today, half of the responding companies have implemented an employee experience approach, which tends to prove that this is not a fad but a long-term trend.
While, unsurprisingly, the trend is more pronounced in large companies, SMEs are catching up with a 10% increase in one year: 46% of them have set up such an approach.
Employee experience pays off
Another notable point is that companies that have embarked on such an approach persevere: only 5% say after a few years that they are in a phase of retreat on the employee experience.
One can logically deduce that they perceive concrete benefits, otherwise they would not continue, especially in an economic context that was anything but easy even if it justified such programs.
But we can, and should, also look at those 5% who are seeing their ambition decline. Is this a normal attrition rate? Does it mean that once you get to the end of the road there are no more subjects to feed the process? Should we expect this number to increase over time, which would mean no less than the end of employee experience approaches within a few years? I have my thoughts on this and will detail them a bit later.
As for the main indicators, let’s look at the engagement one, which is the main objective of an employee experience approach for the responding companies. Over the period observed (let’s not forget the pandemic context), 21% of the companies having such an approach have seen an increase in employee engagement (6% for the others).
In any case, the subject is doing well. At both ends of the distribution curve there are more and more precursors and less and less refractors.
Employee experience as a passport to flexibility
Hybrid work will be one of the big topics of 2022 and, in my opinion, the way it is implemented will distinguish between companies that assume the need to transform and those that choose it as an alternative to widespread remote working, thinking that it will avoid them transforming. Not to mention those who would prefer a 100% return to the office.
70% of companies with an employee experience approach have adopted hybrid work while the others are only 53%.
But, more interestingly, 65% of them have modified their work organization as a result (48% of the others), and this is, in my opinion, where the real divide lies between those who put the employee at the center of their thinking and those who put their problems, their constraints and their fears at the center. Who said that hybridization would be painful?
Still in the area of flexibility, 80% of companies with an employee experience practice practice flextime compared to 53% of those who do not. I would also like to point out that a Gartner study shows that companies that have adopted a radical approach to flexibility see the number of employees identified as high performers increase by 40%.
And in relation to a subject that is very important to me, 66% of the companies having an employee experience program have strictly controlled their meeting times to avoid meetings that are too early or too late, compared to 30% of those who do not.
What is the employee experience all about?
So everything is positive and idyllic in the land of the employee experience. Well, not really, and I give the authors of the study credit for putting their foot in their mouths rather than remaining in a commercially more comfortable denial, which is usually the case in this type of exercise.
For a number of years now, I have been expressing my concern that while employee experience is a reality in terms of trends, it is a hollow concept in that it has never really been defined, or rather, there has been no willingness to come up with an authoritative definition on the subject.
Besides, didn’t the 2021 study say that “The superficial image of the employee experience remains during the crisis“?
Without wanting to play the veteran, the time when we worked to give a real consistency to a subject like Enterprise 2.0 with people like Andrew McAfee, Dion Hinchliffe, Luis Suarez and many others seems far away. And a topic without a leader is a topic that often ends up getting lost. And a topic without a real community of leaders is a topic that often ends up getting lost.
78% of the practitioners say that they know the employee experience well or very well. Coming from “practitioners” this worries me a bit: it would tend to say that 22% don’t know what they do or where they go. So be it.
As the study states. “So the growing awareness and practice of the employee experience does not go hand in hand with a better understanding.”
But there is a difference between knowing a concept and some vague ideas associated with it and having a clear vision of its content, its objectives and the work streams it involves.
The employee experience is a bit like a party where everyone brings along the food they wish to eat. There are some excellent inns, but none of them has ever been awarded a Michelin star, and that’s the problem. We are talking about a subject that is destined to profoundly transform a number of so-called “support” activities, or even business processes, and therefore, in order to have the necessary support from management and the means that go with it, it is in your interest to come up with something solid.
Defining the employee experience means knowing what you want to get out of it and, in a second step, deducing the levers to use.
The employee experience: a traveler without a compass?
According to the study, the priorities for the employee experience are:
1) maintain the social ties;
2) to better reconcile personal and professional life;
3) better train managers in managing remote teams.
So be it. But that doesn’t answer my question: why? I mean, we’re talking about subjects that are anything but new (well, I hope) so I’d like the answers to these few basic questions:
1°) What changes compared to “before” if we include these subjects in the framework of the employee experience?
2°) What is the main line of the employee experience, what should the different tactics mentioned here converge on?
3°) And in the end (but above all) what is the goal?
I have a hard time finding answers to these questions and for good reason: in my opinion nobody has them and very few have tried to find them.
Old subject, new packaging
The employee experience has been in many cases the occasion to repackage or rebrand old subjects to make them digestible or to put them back on top of the pile and it has thus become, according to the expression that is dear to me, the Vaseline that one puts around an old suppository.
An employee experience program must provide a change in perspective from past practices, since the subjects obviously do not change. A perspective that is conspicuously absent.
And so it is with sincerity that I applaud the study’s admission that “Often, the employee experience approach actually covers up a traditional Quality of Life at Work policy, in which benefits are handed out because it is assumed that they will please, without prior study, as fads and opportunities arise. Several signs lead us to suspect this dichotomy between words and deeds.”
As a confirmation, this recent article from the Harvard Business Review which seems to me to blithely confuse Employee Experience and CSR also seems to go in this direction which confirms my concerns.
To ask the question is in my opinion to have the answer.
Last year I was concerned that employees were being taken care of when they were at work but not when they were working. This year my concern is only reinforced.
When you have a hammer you want all problems to look like nails.
If I’m going to continue to make a lot of friends, the real problem with employee experience is that it has become an HR issue. Not that HR is in charge of it, not that they are eventually the lead, but that it remains limited to their scope.
Knowing that they have only a limited number of levers, that they are not consulted, or are consulted very little, on matters of work organization, operations and delivery, we find ourselves at a dead end.
Moreover, it seems that HR has at least the honesty not to hide its face: “The HR function is struggling act as leaders: a third of HR professionals surveyed do not yet prioritize HR as the bearer of the employee experience.”
Somehow the subject has ended up with them, but some don’t feel legitimate or don’t understand why they should. Perhaps they are the ones who best perceive the scope of the subject?
What future for the employee experience?
So I go back to the 5% who said their employee experience program was in a slowdown phase.
It is unfortunate that the study does not focus more on the causes of this slowdown but I can suggest three.
1°) We started from afar, we launched many projects that have been completed and now we are at cruising speed.
2°) We reached the end of what we could do as HR.
3°) We don’t feel comfortable as HR with the subject.
Note that the three are ultimately very similar and differ only in a few subtleties.
If my interpretation is correct, this means that over the years we will see more and more companies reach the end of what they can do. The employee experience will have been a one-off initiative over time, a project rather than a program, a catch-up rather than a long-term vision. This is a shame for a subject that 67% consider strategic.
What happens next? We will continue to run the machine, without adjustment, without improvement over time, without enrichment, without coherence between subjects that will go back to live in their silos.
For a professionalization of the employee experience
I think the employee experience is in its final stretch before it ends in its current form. It will be talked about for another 3 to 5 years until those who left last reach their destination.
What happens next? I find it hard to believe that the problem addressed will cease to exist, nor that the ambition of those who have grasped the importance of the subject will disappear. On the other hand, it will be necessary to start again from the lessons learned, from what has been accomplished, from what could or should have been accomplished and was not, in order to reposition the employee experience as a perennial, organized, professionalized practice, supported by a set of defined practices and competences.
It may be necessary to give it another name because if “employee experience” was useful to get the subject off the ground when everyone was talking about customer experience, it may be time to move on to something else rather than keeping a connoted name that locks you into a box. And maybe even realize that it already exists and that it’s just a matter of moving the perimeter.
But, for that, the practitioners and observers that we are, should start by asking the real questions, starting with :
1°) What is the objective, the problem(s) that we want to solve?
2°) What is the philosophy that we adopt because when we want to change the way we do things, there is always a philosophy at the base.
3°) What are the necessary levers to achieve this?
4°) Who today holds these levers
The employee experience is progressing and giving satisfaction. That’s the main lesson learned from the fifth employee experience barometer of Parlons RH.
But there is a grey area, and not the least: there is no consensus as to what exactly we are talking about, which makes us feel more and more like we are making something new out of something old.
Certainly because of the vagueness of the content and scope of the employee experience, a significant part of HR professionals do not identify the HR as the bearer of the subject.More than a problem, I see this as a unique opportunity to finally define its scope, from which the necessary skills to address it will be derived, which will solve the problems of legitimacy and certainly help to see the bigger picture and professionalize the approach.
But in order to do this, we need to answer a question that employee experience practitioners themselves seem to be unable to answer: what is the objective of an employee experience approach and what is its scope?
Image : dead end by lassedesignen via Shutterstock