As automation and artificial intelligence changes the business landscape, smart leaders and organisations are investing in the employee experience.
A joint study by IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute and Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute found employees who ranked in the top quartile of their Employee Experience Index reported 23 per cent higher job performance, invested almost twice the discretionary effort, and were half as likely to leave.
It’s indicative of a fundamental change to the way we work, one we’ve seen repeated throughout history. We went from centuries of utility into an age of productivity, where leaders obsessed over systems and processes — maximising efficiency by treating people as cogs in a well-oiled machine.
But humans aren’t naturally inclined towards towards executing repetitive routine tasks for hours on end, no matter how we motivate them. So it’s hardly surprising we tend to see compromises in job performance, satisfaction, retention and safety.
Fortunately, after only a century of approaching performance from a technical perspective, businesses made a shocking discovery: people tend to perform better when they’re happy and fulfilled at work.
This timely realisation saw the rise of culture and engagement as priorities. Human Resources rebranded as People and Culture, heralding a shift from treating employees as commodities, to seeing them as people working together towards a common objective.
Still, challenges remained. Engagement of the global workforce wallowed at a grim 13 per cent (Gallup, 2013). There was an increasingly vocal call for employers to provide more than just a wage. Topics like ‘purpose’ and ‘happiness’ underscored a dissatisfaction with lingering business practices of the past. And leaders were left with no obvious solution.
Over the past few years work has undergone another, albeit more subtle, shift. Rather than approaching productivity, performance, culture and engagement as a set of unique challenges, smart leaders see them simply as measures and outcomes indicative of the state of their employee experience.
Today, future-focused organisations are working towards providing a compelling and coherent experience through all stages of the employee lifecycle: from the employee value proposition and onboarding experience, to delivering on those promises through the performance, learning and development, safety and wellness experiences, among others.
It’s an approach driven by an emerging function, combining aspects of People & Culture, communication, marketing and service design. However, unlike the Human Resources and People and Culture eras, no single function has dominion — everyone contributes to shaping the employee experience.
For governance professionals, it means considering how to humanise operations and systems, integrating them into the overall experience. It considers the shift from centralised directives based on command and obedience, towards a model built on autonomy, individual accountability and ownership.
And where culture and engagement were nebulous concepts, designing the employee experience is a comfortably tangible and logical process.
It begins with understanding that work, like any other aspect of our lives, is simply a series of moments experienced positively, negatively or neutrally. It’s the narrative people recall and retell about their day, week, month, year and career.
Every experience, no matter how massive or monumental, can be mapped and broken down into a series of smaller touchpoints — the everyday interactions between employees and the organisation. These are opportunities to build and strengthen connections with their leaders, organisation and peers.
And as routine, systemised and repetitive work increasingly falls to machines — infinitely more suited to executing technical tasks and process-oriented work with greater speed, accuracy, quality and safety, with minimum supervision, twenty-four hours a day — humans are free to do what we do best.
Moving forwards, the value people will bring to work won’t be opposable thumbs, niche technical skills or the ability to mindlessly follow a process. It will be human skills — communication; problem solving, critical and non-linear thinking; interpersonal skills; creative application of knowledge; judgement; intuition; flexibility; empathy; and collaboration. While even the most advanced machines struggle with semantics, humans have the inherent capacity to communicate and connect.
The best people will be drawn to, and remain with, organisations known for delivering an exceptional experience and an environment that enables them to do their best work. These workplaces will provide challenging, rewarding and purposeful work; equip them with the mindset and skills needed to navigate change, and continue to develop them through better
As more leaders prioritise the employee experience, the organisations which are slow to evolve will be left behind.
Jen Jackson is founder and CEO of employee experience company Everyday Massive; a speaker, and author of How to Speak Human.