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Providing a Positive Employee Experience Is Key to Engagement

We’re excited today to have a guest blog from Rebecca Hall, who is the content marketing manager at Interact.

Employee engagement is an HR topic that has been doing the rounds for years.

“Engagement (or lack thereof) is the resulting emotional investment of employees.”

We now know that motivated and engaged employees are one of our greatest assets in business. Engaged staff are more productive, more loyal; they deliver greater levels of service and innovation; they drive organizations forward. Companies with highly engaged workforces, research experts Gallup report, outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share

However, a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. We may know the value, but somehow we’re still failing to unlock the formula to deliver on the vision.

The danger of not engaging our employees isn’t just the threat of “failing to thrive.” Disengaged employees have measurable negative impact for their organizations: higher levels of staff absence and turnover, lost productivity, more safety incidents, greater shrinkage (theft) and many more.

The question is: How can we drive engagement in our teams?

What is Employee Engagement?

First, let’s take a step back and consider what the word “engaged” means for the modern-day business.

There are many definitions for employee engagement circling the internet, but there are some key, recurring themes that crop up time and again.

Let’s take this example from Engage for Success:

Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.

The focus is placed on the emotional commitment of employees, triggered by the “right conditions” in their place of work.

Next, we take a definition from Forbes:

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.

Again, the focus is aligned with how employees connect emotionally with their organization. In an increasingly cognitive era of work—where value is typically the knowledge of workers, rather than the output of their hands that marked the industrial era—it’s important to recognize the value of how our employees feel about work.

Creating this elusive connection and sense of commitment in employees requires employers to shape a positive and rewarding experience of work for their staff. This means recognizing what employees look for from a job, and satisfying those needs.

Employee Experience: The Foundation for Engagement

In October of this year, Globoforce Workhuman Research Institute and IBM Smarter Workforce Institute published The Employee Experience Index, highlighting the impact of workplaces on employee experience and business outcomes. They provided this definition for employee experience: “A set of perceptions that employees have about their experiences at work in response to their interactions with the organization.”

The Employee Experience Index then made a connection between human workplace practices, and the subsequent emotional engagement employees felt with towards their companies.

Employee Experience at Work

(Source: The Employee Experience Index)

Although the two terms of engagement and experience are often used interchangeably within the HR arena and indeed overlap even within this report, it’s important to draw a key distinction here: the experience is shaped by practices created by you, the employer. Engagement (or lack thereof) is the resulting emotional investment of employees.

What Makes for a Positive Employee Experience?

So, we understand engagement is not only desirable in itself, but can also create significant competitive advantage for organizations. Engagement is directly linked to the experience employees have of their organizations. What is it that matters to employees that will change and shape that experience?

Employees have increasingly different expectations of the workplace compared to previous generations. In its research report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, Gallup point to the “Big Six” fundamental priorities changing for today’s workforce:

Big 6 Fundamental Priorities

(Source: How Millennials Want to Work and Live)

Our employees no longer want to simply do their job and go home. Priorities have shifted. They are seeking purpose and meaning in their work, with a workplace conscience about who they choose to work for and how they contribute. They assign greater value to professional development and growth, desiring leaders who will coach and inspire, rather than dictate.

The development of technology is blurring the lines between work and life. This means that on one hand there is increased demand for work-life balance, agile workplaces and flexibility. But, on the other, there is a greater need for value and recognition from employers. “For millennials,” Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton states, “A job is no longer just a job – it’s their life as well.”

What does this mean for employers?

We operate in a competitive recruitment marketplace, where the threat of high staff turnover is not simply inconvenience, but may result in costs of 2x an employee’s salary.  Thus, attracting and retaining top talent places employee experience at the top of the board agenda.

Investment is key. Areas where employers can significantly impact workplace experience include:

1. Corporate Learning and Development

Research in the report ‘HR Technology Disruptions for 2017: Nine Trends Reinventing the HR Software Market’ shows that millennials view training and development as one of their top job benefits, backing the views expressed by Gallup.

Moreover, they have different expectations of the learning experience: demanding personalized, accessible and interactive corporate learning environments that cater to the mobile user and utilize a number of mediums to immerse the learner. When employees feel their personal and professional development has been invested in, they are more likely to feel emotionally engaged, motivated and invested in their place of work.

2. Two-way, Ongoing Conversations

One of Gallups Q12 measurements for employee engagement in its State of the Global Workplace report points to a seemingly simply concept: “At work, my opinions seem to count.”

Engaged employees are those who feel their opinions, ideas and feedback are heard and counted. What’s more, employees aren’t satisfied with sporadic feedback via the annual performance review. Instead, they want continual conversations and recognition, taking the form of coaching rather than one-way, static feedback. This top-down, bottom-up approach to the workplace is proven to contribute towards a better employee experience.

Feedback Recognition Growth

(Source: The Employee Experience Index)

For employers, this means empowering employees with a voice, typically through internal communication platforms, surveys and agile performance management that favors instantaneous or regular feedback. These provide real-time insights for both employer and employee, driving a culture of continual feedback and development.

3. Technological Employee Experiences

Often described as “digital natives,” the newer generations entering the workplace have increasingly high expectations of their interactions with technology within the workplace. According to the Pew Research Center, 92% of millennials own a smartphone. Now, these individuals expect the same experiences from their workplaces.

The digital workplace is now a recognized business priority. The use of social technologies can not only promote a greater employee experience, but is shown to improve productivity by as much as 25%. Collaboration tools, cloud-based applications and the integration of multiple business platforms will be key to improving technological experiences that are flexible, mobile-first and efficient.

Streamlining and automating many everyday business processes to improve productivity through technology will also free up time for employees to innovate and develop—enhancing employee experience further.

4. Culture, Vision, and Employer brand

Employees seek meaningful work with organizations who share their core values and who have strong reputations as both employers and corporate citizens. This calls for the continuous communication of the internal brand and company mission and values to staff, as well as showing integrity in actually delivering on those values.

With workplaces becoming increasingly mobile and dispersed, creating a strong culture without walls is a challenge. A strong internal communications plan is vital. Giving employees visibility of the achievements, mission and direction of their organization promotes inclusivity, a sense of belonging and helps embed the company culture.

Making communications readily available to all workers through cloud-based, accessible collaboration platforms such as intranets will break down internal silos and improve the employee experience.

5. Agile Workplaces

Tying into each of the points above is the need to facilitate agile, forward-thinking workspaces that not only adapt to the growing trends of globalization and flexible working, but allow employees to manage their own work-life balance.

This includes accessible systems, regardless of device or location. It includes self-managed corporate learning and development with the use of learning management systems or distance learning, as opposed to exclusively classroom-based training. It means facilitating true communication and collaboration across the boundaries of department, role or office.

Employee experience goes beyond engagement alone, and is fast growing as a recognized priority for organizations worldwide. The good news is, it is something that employers have the power to influence and change.

By adjusting the culture of organizations to prioritize the experiences of its own staff, we can not only gain competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top-level talent, but in the form of business outcomes such as productivity, customer ratings, profitability and more.