Why Covid-19 has brought employee experience to the fore

In her piece on the changes Covid-19 has wrought on the marketing sector in the July 2020 Journal of Strategic Marketing, IMM Graduate School head of academics, Angela Bruwer, referenced the importance of employer branding/employee experience.

“Marketers should and will be looking at this more and more during this time,” she wrote. “It is essential to have a positive workforce who are positively impacting on the country at this time. As organisations across various industries try and regain their commercial foothold, they will want to count on the contribution of every employee. The immediate past and the present moment calls for unparalleled feelings and acts of community by organisations towards their employees: a new bond has been forged and it could be to the advantage of both parties.”

Writing in Human Resources Today, Jade Taryn Graham, says a strong employer brand is only as good as the talent within a company. This, she adds, is why a strong employer brand is “critical in the pursuit of attracting and retaining the talent you need to take your organisation forward, while competing in ever competitive and increasingly challenging markets”.

As Graham points out, this is especially important now in light of the challenges Covid-19 presents, as “despite the downturn of some business operations, there continues to be, in many essential business sectors a continuation of the highly competitive need to acquire top talent”.

The employee brand, she says, “brings to life your employee value proposition”. And employees inevitably have questions to ask, typically such as “How did the employer treat its employees through this really difficult time”? or “Would the behaviour of this organisation in response to the pandemic, align with the values that I have myself and be ones that I would want to become a part of?”

Global research and advisory company, Gartner, has just released its latest research on employee experience (EX), surveying 150 HR executives and over 3 000 employees in 26 countries.

“Managing talent today presents fundamentally different challenges for organisations than in the past. Employees aren’t contributing the same level of discretionary effort, have higher expectations for their work experience and are more vocal about workplace dissatisfaction,” the researchers said in the introduction to the Modern Employee Experience: Increasing the Returns on Employee Experience Investments report.

Gartner defines employee experience as “how employees internalise and interpret the interactions they have with and within their organisation and the contexts that influence those interactions”.

It reported that its customer experience research found that “two-thirds of the drivers of customer satisfaction are due to ‘feel factors’, or how customers feel during and about their experience”.

This means HR leaders should take this same approach to employee experience, “focusing on influencing and improving employees’ feelings about their overall experience through the use of psychological, motivational and social principles. Improving the way the experience feels can lead to a boost in employee engagement and support a positive company culture”. 

And this, it says, positively affects a company’s bottom line. “Our analysis also shows when organisations have a high level of employee experience satisfaction overall, they’re also more likely to realise better business outcomes. Organisations whose employees are largely satisfied with their experience are 48% more likely to meet organisational customer satisfaction goals, 89% more likely to meet organisational innovation goals and 56% more likely to meet organisational reputation goals”. The white paper can be downloaded here.

In the piece below, employee experience strategist, DENNIS SMITH, writes that EX is the new battleground for increased productivity and competitive advantage.

Want better customer experience? Start with your employees

This devastating COVID-19 global pandemic has forced companies across industries to make tough decisions. Some have had to shut down their operations, while others have pivoted to a new business strategy and reconfigured their workforce.

As companies move towards the ‘new normal’ caused by the pandemic, many leaders are taking alternate routes and changing their business models. Leading companies have recognised that the employee experience (EX) is the new battleground for increased productivity and competitive advantage. Remaining competitive with a highly productive workforce now means creating an EX that excites and engages.

The parallels between a superior customer experience (CX) and employee experience are striking. An optimised CX generates loyalty and additional sales, while a stellar EX attracts talent, boosts workforce engagement, productivity and retention. This, in turn directly improves a business’s financial performance.

EX is not just about feeling good at work. Numerous published studies (Deloitte, PWC, Accenture, IBM) have shown links between employee experience and retention, discretionary effort, and work performance.

According to an IBM and Globoforce WorkTrends Survey, increasing the Employee Experience Index (EXI) score by a margin of 0.25 (on a five-point Likert agreement rating scale) corresponds to 0.86 percentage-point improvement in ROA and a 1.81 percentage point improvement in ROS.

For example, imagine if a company with sales revenue of R600 million with ROS at 15% in 2018 and an average EXI score of 3.50, could increase its EXI score by 0.25 (from 3.50 to 3.75), its ROS could increase from 15% to 16.81%. Assuming the same sales in 2019, the associated increase in operating income would be R11 million.

Linking employee experience to organisational business outcomes

Employees increasingly expect their workplace experiences to match those they have as customers and are often disconcerted when they don’t. What creates a positive, motivating experience at work? Mainly, it’s the meaning and growth people find in the work itself, and to improve that, the entire organisation has to be involved.

Employee experience should be approached with data in hand, just as big business decisions are. Ask yourself, are your actions making an impact? If not, change your actions, and see what happens to the metrics.

Employee and customer experiences are certainly linked and organisations need a blended focus on both; to do so, organisations need to rethink how effective their existing silos are.

There is a need to measure the ‘new normal’ as Covid-19 has changed all the perceptions of what employees see as important and the results of this measurement will form the basis for future strategic planning, strategic intent and organisational alignment.

It is common knowledge that to have an industry-leading CX, there needs to be an established infrastructure supporting it. Similarly, to attract and retain the best company culture, organisations must make intentional efforts to encourage EX. Those brands that do prioritise EX on par with CX are setting up a culture bred for success.

As EX ascends to its rightful place next to CX as a driver of business impact, the question of how to measure and analyse it becomes even more critical. 

The answer is not as simple as just cross-applying the metrics one would use for CX. Employees spend nearly half their waking hours at work and especially, in the current environment, they’re looking for purpose and meaning at the office, not just ping pong tables or free food. 

Internal feedback loops

Just as external feedback loops are used for CX, internal feedback loops are employed to gather the feedback from the internal team. This data is used to maintain a consistent level of performance across the organisation, providing insights while fostering a sense of collaboration and cohesion. It is essential to start afresh and identify how employees see the strategies under the new normal.

EX metrics your company should be measuring

Workplaces have different generations of employees in different life-stages. The needs of young, single employees differ from those of new parents, for example, who in turn have different needs to people whose children have left home. Employees’ needs may also differ from department to department and from geography to geography. This has been well understood for ages. What is new is that demographics aren’t enough.

Established behaviour science research offers guidance on how to measure organisational EX, which is defined through behaviour, and is evidenced by the alignment of the elements inherent in all organisations [Pryor et al., (2007)] i.e. purpose, principles/values, process, people and performance.

Based on the sound theory and established best practice the Stratview EX System measures the degree to which people in the organisation (the actual implementers of strategy) make sense of the organisational environment, providing an integrated approach to EX measurement. This allows leaders to take quick and substantial results to manage organisational effectiveness.

Identifying and taking advantage of major strengths can dramatically reduce costs and generate new income streams, in the shortest possible time.

 

Dennis Smith, a senior consultant at Stratview Management Systems, is an accomplished, award winning management development professional with an extensive background in marketing, strategy development and implementation, as well as managing cross-functional business operations, locally and internationally. His current research focuses on how organisations manage disruption in order to remain relevant in the eyes of their consumers. Smith is a Chartered Marketer, holds an MSc degree from the Da Vinci Institute and has served as adjunct faculty at various business schools for a number of years. He serves on the CPD panel for the Marketing Association of South Africa (MASA).