Future of work and employee experience: a daily local concern, not a generic program anymore

Employee experience is the big topic of the moment. Or was. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I think it’s being talked about less and less.

There are several reasons for this in my opinion.

The first is that over time businesses have come to understand its importance and that after the time of evangelism has come the time for action. I believe this only moderately.

The second is that, because of a lack of desire to anchor the employee experience in the reality of operations, it has been drowned in the Quality of Life at Work and that is where it will live and die. A case that is likely to be quite frequent.

The third is that the most advanced businesses have understood the link between employee experience and operational performance and that it is no longer a subject in itself but has been distributed among the people in charge of its various components. Far from being the most common case but why not.

The fourth one is that for lack of a shared definition of what employee experience is, all its supporters have gone off to do it their own way in their own corner under various names. Very probable.

The truth is that it must be a bit of all four.

In any case, this does not surprise me. When I commented earlier this year on the 5th employee experience barometer and in line with my comments on the 4th, I said that either we agree on what we are talking about and professionalize the matter or we will stop talking about it quickly.

But this does not mean that the subject is unimportant and it will be even more so in the future as it has only been partially addressed so far.

The Pandemic

The pandemic has done much good and much harm to the employee experience.

Good because it has put the subject under the spotlight.

It was difficult because it was done exclusively with a Quality of Life approach.

A lot of things have fallen by the wayside and that’s a shame. We lost the opportunity to address a lot of irritants related to the organization of the business, the organization of the work, the use of tools and collaborative practices, processes and workflows, decision circuits…all these largely imperfect things that work so well or so badly in the office thanks to off-site exchanges but that don’t work anymore at a distance.

The opportunity to simplify, streamline and make the work of individuals and teams more efficient has been missed.

I recall this statement by Jean-Denis Culié, professor and researcher at EM Normandie:

“More generally, we need to put work back at the center of the relationship between employee and employer. Human resources management has taken hold of quality of life at work, and management is interested in objectives and results. But what is important to employees is to be able to do their job well. ” 

If being in condition to do your job well is not employee experience, I don’t understand anything anymore.

By being pre-empted by HR, employee experience lost any chance of becoming operational with a “continuous improvement and operational performance” angle. Those who wanted to go down this path went their own way, outside the scope of the official employee experience program, which contributed to the dismemberment of the notion.

And to finish with the pandemic, it has rightly led to an over-mobilization on the subjects of employee experience and quality of life at work. To the point of being fed up? I have the impression that for many people there is a real desire to turn the page and that in order to do so, they need to abandon certain subjects that are too closely linked to the pandemic and move on to something else.

In short, the pandemic could have been a huge opportunity to address the employee experience in depth, but it mostly helped to steer the topic in a single direction and even to provoke a kind of fed upness about it.

As a result, on the one hand there is still a lot to do and on the other hand the employee experience has been dismembered, with many people dealing with parts of it in their own way, according to their own convictions and without global coherence. Employee experience needs to be addressed at the level of the flow of work and everything remains to be done.

Consumerization

Its role is essential and anyone can understand it without any effort. Just look at the effort put into customer experience, both online and offline, by almost every business, regardless of industry.

Customers and users have, even unconsciously, a “job to be done”: buy, get information, consume content, solve a problem, create content… whatever. And doing this “job” must be simple, fluid, engaging. It’s that simple.

If we compare this with the experience at work, where the least we can say is that the notion of “job to be done” is as essential as it is little taken into account, the contrast is obvious.

When an employee sees the efforts that businesses, and often his, make to simplify the lives of customers and feels that everything is done to complicate his life to such an extent that he feels like he has to fight against the organization to accomplish what is asked of him.

Consequences: wasted performance potential and risk of disengagement.

Technology

No impact here because not a priority. You don’t build a program or an employee experience strategy based on the tools available in order to use them. You start by asking yourself what the objectives are, what the target vision is and only then do you tool it.

The vision decides the tools, not the other way around.

The evolution of society and economy

For a long time now, we have been told that we have entered the so-called experience economy. So be it.

But based on the principle that there is no customer experience without employee experience, this experience economy must be matched internally.

The customer is no longer buying a product but an experience. An employee who only has a job will be less effective and engaged than one who has a real experience at work. The employee experience is not only an operational performance lever, but also the new employer brand.

Businesses are therefore condemned to transform themselves internally to be coherent and able to keep the promise made externally. It would have been preferable to do things in the opposite order, but…

The transformation of service and knowledge work activities

I have said it many times in these professions, the future lies in the implementation of processes that are really adapted to them, in other words, in a context of adhoc work and intangible flows, it means admitting that people influence the processes as much as the processes influence the people.

Easy to say, but in terms of work design and management it is a Copernican revolution.

This is the heart of work design and employee experience because it is by giving employees an organizational framework adapted to the reality of their work that we make them more efficient, that we support them instead of hindering them. Incidentally, this creates, if not happiness, at least satisfaction.

This is the project of the century for professions that have always been the poor cousins of operational excellence and have had models imposed on them that were not made for them.

Bottom line: still the employee experience but differently

The employee experience is important and there is still a lot to do in this area. But I don’t think we should continue to do what we did before and we can see that the subject is running out of steam.

Today, the employee experience is often a global program that runs from top to bottom of the business. This poses two problems.

The first is that it is necessarily connoted according to who is driving it. And as it has most often fallen to HR, the “operational experience” part in the flow of work has been written off. But it could have been the other way around, with the Quality of Life at Work part forgotten, even if it is more unlikely.

The second, which is somewhat related to the first, is that it is impossible to design at the top something that works in all contexts, for everyone, in all work situations. You can’t regulate from above how everyone works in very specific contexts. So employee experience has been reduced to the lowest common denominator. Often quality of live…

While it seems useful that employee experience remains a global topic in the business, with a general strategy and guiding principles, its implementation needs to be more local, hyper local.

To use my own example, I had set general principles for the business’ employee experience strategy, implemented everything that could be applied to everyone from the top down, but it wasn’t enough. To really improve the experience in operations, I had to implement a continuous improvement process within my own team. But this is only possible at the team level with the leadership of the team manager. I did it for my team, others did it, others did not.

Employee experience is embedded in all the details of everyday life. In everything that makes a job, a team specific. It can’t be a global “one shot”, it’s a lot of small daily adjustments. So it has to become a daily activity, a background task, a daily concern, at the level of each manager.

Until now, there has been too much reliance on the corporate level, with local management being more of a client than a player in the process, which explains many of the failures and the limits of the approach.

In the future, employee experience will no longer be (only) a global approach, but a daily task for each manager in the way they manage people and organize work. And eventually we won’t even talk about it anymore because it will have become an obvious part of everyone’s role.

PostSubject
1Forces shaping the future of work in 2022
2The future of work is about…work and its future
3The future of work is not a promise or a dream
4The future of work is not a place or a time of day
5Future of pay and compensation: speaking the same language, paying in real time, making sense.
6The future of work: simple by nature, simple by obligation(coming soon)
7The future of work only the result is watched
8The future of work will rely on data and continuous improvement
9The future of work will be “agile by design”
10Management in the future of work: digital leadership and systemic approach to management
11In the future of work, engagement is measured in relation to the work, not the companny or the people
12Career management in the future of work: the art of adapting to the unpredictable
13In the future of work the employee experience is a background task, not a program
14The future of “care” at work: useful and productive
15The work of the future will be designed for humans
16The work of the future will be designed according to the “job to be done”
17The future of work will be automated with relevance
18In the future of work the mental load is the new workload
19The social link in the future of work: weaker, stronger
20The future of work will be digitally responsible
21But who is in charge of the future of work?

Image : employee experience by Panumas Yanuthai via Shutterstock.

Bertrand DUPERRIN
Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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