Whether employees are working from home or the office, one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of the employee experience. The term “employee experience” refers to the employee’s perspective of all his or her interactions with the organization. Just as a positive customer experience is critical to an organization’s success, so is a positive employee experience to helping your company stand above the competition. It can drive engagement, productivity, sales and myriad other benefits.
State of Employee Experience
Many business leaders plan to focus more on employee experience first among potential changes, ahead of technology, performance management and applying people analytics. Indeed, some companies have even appointed high-level positions in charge of the employee experience, the survey notes.
One reason for this emphasis is that employees increasingly expect their work experiences to mirror their experiences as consumers, the survey found. That can mean automated job applications and onboarding materials, and the ability to easily find information on, for instance, policies around time off. More importantly, the links between employee experience and motivation and the impact both can have on an organization’s performance are becoming clearer.
While the growth in remote work has changed the employee experience, it still can be a valuable one. The Future Workplace survey offers some suggestions: err on the side of over-communicating; ensure workers have the technology they need to be productive while working remotely; and be transparent when it comes to workload and project status.
Why Keep Track of Trends in Employee Experience?
Only 53% of employees across the globe are engaged in their work, according to a 2020 Qualtrics survey. Improving this rate of engagement should be a top priority for companies, because greater employee engagement — which can be driven by a positive employee experience — can improve organizational performance, as well as worker satisfaction and productivity.
The qualities that contribute to a positive experience evolve over time. For example, now that more employees work from home, benefits such as fitness centers at offices have become less relevant (for now, at least). Organizations that track the progress of engagement initiatives and tailor any changes to employees’ needs are more likely to anticipate those needs and promote engagement.
13 Top Employee Experience Trends in 2021
Below are 13 employee experience trends that will likely play a prominent role in 2021.
Invest in Organizational Culture
An effective organizational culture can contribute to the success of both an organization and its employees.
Culture is a broad term and can mean different things to different people, but generally it refers to a common set of guiding principles held by employees across the organization, including individual contributors, managers and executives. A shared culture helps build trust, gives the organization a clear identity, and in doing so, can encourage employee actions that further the company’s success. For instance, cultures that value innovation will prioritize research and development, and allow experimentation and failure within established parameters. This approach can lead to groundbreaking discoveries that will give the business a unique value proposition.
Increasingly, organizational culture also needs to look outward, at the organization’s impact on society and the environment. More employees are looking for careers that allow them to not only earn a paycheck, but contribute to something meaningful. In the U.S., three-quarters of employees want their organizations to support individuals and groups in need, through either volunteerism or donations.
Additionally, many organizations are evaluating steps they can take to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture. Note that companies in the top 25% for diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians, according to research from consulting firm McKinsey.
Focus on Employee Well-Being
Many employees struggle with today’s “always-on” work-life world, with many feeling more stressed today than before the pandemic.
While few organizations can alter the course of the pandemic, many can improve their employees’ experience by offering greater flexibility and helping workers set boundaries between their work and personal lives.
Additionally, frequent communication about the performance of the company can help reassure employees, as can mental health and financial wellness programs. Employees who feel secure and respected in their positions can more effectively focus on their work responsibilities.
Building People-Centered Connections
Given the growth of remote working, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of fostering connections between people. But employees still want to feel some connection to their coworkers and managers, even if establishing them is more difficult.
Building connections remotely may be more difficult, but it’s still possible. Video conferences are one way to do this, and they can encompass non-work activities, such as trivia games or virtual birthday celebrations. Simply checking in with employees can help them feel connected, as well.
Employees cited several actions that can help them feel more connected in a recent study, including more frequent communication between colleagues, better collaboration tools, virtual happy hours, peer chats and group video games.
Investing in Employees at All Levels
Most organizations recognize the value of investing in their professional and managerial employees; after all, these are the individuals expected to drive the organization’s success. While such efforts are important, so is investing in front-line workers, who often are the first (and sometimes only) contact customers may have with a company. However, many front-line workers feel overlooked and less connected to the company. This can translate to lower productivity and higher turnover.
For example, Walmart offered its 1.5 million hourly employees the opportunity to work toward associate and bachelor’s degrees, for $1 per day. The 7,500 students who have signed up so far have a retention rate 20 points higher than their colleagues. Moreover, these employees are gaining skills they and their employers will need in the future.
Adapting to New Technologies
For most organizations, leveraging new technology has become essential to maintaining a competitive edge. And that requires employees who are comfortable using the latest technology and embracing the changes that come with it.
Change management is key in addressing these challenges, especially given the pace at which technology is changing. Organizations need to directly address employees’ concerns about how their jobs might change, or even be eliminated. For instance, an employee whose role has largely consisted of data entry may fear an automated solution will eliminate the position. Assuming that’s not the case, management should discuss how this role will shift to, for instance, more of a customer service position.
Management also needs to communicate the benefits of new systems to the organization, and identify how that also helps employees. For instance, technology that will provide a competitive edge and accelerate the organization’s growth also will boost job security and offer greater opportunities.
Finally, employees who receive training showing them how to use the technology are more likely to embrace it and leverage it to help the company.
Investing in Onboarding
A positive employee experience begins when potential employees are still candidates, with smart, engaging communication and an efficient onboarding experience. Here, human management resources systems (HRMS) and complementary solutions can streamline what otherwise often is a manual, time-consuming process.
To be sure, onboarding extends beyond completing forms. The overarching goal is to help employees feel welcomed and prepared. While this may be more difficult to do when more new employees are working remotely, it’s still possible. For instance, an organization can send a package with a company t-shirt and card welcoming each new employee. A brief Zoom meeting can be scheduled to introduce them to their co-workers.
While email and other communication channels are necessary, they can become unwieldy and overwhelming. Attending endless meetings, answering questions and handling administrative tasks via email can impact employee’s enjoyment of their work.
Consider instant messaging, video conferencing and other collaboration tools to reduce email volume and give team members a more efficient way to communicate. An HRMS can also help since it allow employees to review useful information such as time-off balances and benefits on their own without the help of HR.
Research firm Gartner found almost half of employees will continue to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic, up from 30% pre-pandemic. To continue to foster a positive employee experience, organizations may need to change how they communicate with employees, how they help them balance their work and personal lives, and how they conduct training, among other adjustments.
For the foreseeable future, this likely will mean a greater reliance on virtual communications and meetings. While most of these will, of course, focus on business, taking a few minutes at the beginning of some meetings to ask employees how things are going can help them feel valued, and provide a forum in which they can alert others to potential challenges. Similarly, scheduling occasional electronic get-togethers just for fun — say, to play virtual trivia — can remind employees they’re part of a team.
The pandemic also has forced many employees to balance multiple responsibilities, such as work, caring for others and overseeing virtual education, all at the same time. A survey by Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on building workplaces that work for women, found that 61% of senior level mothers and 48% of senior level fathers have been unable to perform optimally during the pandemic. While no organizational policy can completely compensate for the changes wrought by the pandemic, employers can help by offering employees flexibility in their hours, where possible. In addition, communicating in writing, even on issues brought up during virtual meetings, enables employees to absorb and respond to the information on their schedule.
Invest in the Entire Employee Journey — From Engagement to Retirement
The employee experience lasts from the moment an employee first engages with the organization as a candidate until he or she leaves. Organizations benefit from looking for opportunities to improve the employee experience all along this journey and making the necessary changes. Running surveys and outlining clear goals for enhancing the employee experience are two steps to get started.
For instance, an employee who isn’t on track for a promotion might be interested in and qualified for a lateral move. The employee gains an opportunity to learn something new and is more likely to stay, and the company gains a more experienced worker with another skillset.
Train Employees and Offer Continuing Education
Opportunities for learning and development are critical because they are the second-highest driver of employee engagement, per Qualtrics. With the growth in online and remote learning, training often can be tailored to fit a range of budgets.
Training also should be tailored to employees’ roles. For those in more functional positions, training likely will include a greater focus on technical skills, such as how to use a new software program or how to safely operate a piece of equipment. For managers, training likely will emphasize softer skills, like communication and conflict resolution. Before beginning any training, however, it makes sense to survey employees and gain their thoughts on the information most relevant to their positions.
Listen to Feedback
Listening attentively helps those speaking feel less anxious, more reflective and self-aware and more inclined to share their feelings, according to experts. It also helps speakers see all sides of an argument and reach conclusions that are less extreme. These can all have positive implications for the workplace.
Active listening requires more than simply remaining quiet while another person talks, although that’s key. It also requires seeking to respectfully and empathetically understand the other person. When leaders listen to employees, workers can trust that their opinions are respected and valued. The result? They’ll be more likely to offer ideas that can help the organization. Listening to feedback also is key to resolving conflicts without inflaming existing anger or resentment.
Several steps are key to active listening. They include paying attention and ignoring potential distractions, like computer screens or email alerts; refraining from interrupting and rephrasing the speaker’s concerns to ensure understanding. For example, you might say, “It sounds like you weren’t able to meet the deadline on this report because you had difficulty in getting the required information. Is that right?”
AI in HR
Artificial intelligence (AI) can improve HR service delivery. AI can improve numerous HR functions, including recruitment, training, onboarding, performance analysis and retention, among others. For instance, AI can make the candidate application process easier and more efficient, and help businesses identify the best candidate for a position.
In identifying five trends that will change business and technology over the next decade, firms will bring together humans and technology, such as AI and automation, to increase engagement among staff.
Invest in Manager Development
Organizations that help their managers develop also have higher employee engagement and retention, Qualtrics notes. In fact, half of respondents say one reason they stayed with an organization was managers who helped them develop their careers.
Often, managers are employees’ closest (or only) link to company leadership. When managers stress the importance and value of the company’s goals, provide effective feedback and treat employees with respect, employees feel more confident that top leadership behaves similarly.
How to Invest in the Most Important Trends for Your Business
Before investing in solutions that will help your organization respond to these trends and provide a better employee experience, it makes sense to assess your starting point. Which areas are most in need of investment? Just as important, which investments fit within your budget and show promise for the greatest return?
Finding and then implementing solutions often can be done in phases. Capturing a small win can build momentum, garnering buy-in across the organization. That can help justify future investments and should deter any resistance to the changes that come with these initiatives.
As these trends influence the employee experience this year and beyond, technology can help organizations adjust quickly and reap the benefits of continuous improvement. For instance, an HRMS can allow employees to check vacation balances and update their profiles on their own, also freeing up managers and allowing them to spend more time managing and leading.