How to improve the employee experience
Employee experience is a buzzword these days. It’s a much talked about term, with large companies setting up Employee Experience Officers. Smaller enterprises don’t want to be left behind, so those in charge are figuring out how to improve the employee experience. For the most part, their activities then lead to introducing a new entertainment feature in the workplace, such as a breakout area with a foosball. Or a trapeze and exercise area. Why is this not necessarily the right thing to do?
Let’s try to explain it with an example. Some time ago, we visited a successful, fast-growing software company. Everything was sparkling new; the offices looked like something from the future. There was a free soda machine in the kitchen in addition to the usual coffee machine, and bowls of fresh fruit were set out on the tables. Adjacent to the kitchen was a chill-out room where several employees hung out together around a gaming console. Free-roaming dogs sniffed us on our way through the common areas.
And yet, the talent development manager complained about how the company struggles to retain experienced employees even though they invest so much in employee experience. We didn’t have to ask long to find out what was going on. The company was essentially blurring the lines between work and personal life. Employees were spending far more time at work than usual. The workplace met all their needs. They could stop work at any time and go to the next room to work out. But it often happened that a crucial meeting didn’t start until five o’clock in the evening. And sometimes, it would stretch into the evening meal.
Such a setup usually suits younger employees with plenty of free time. It only starts to squeak when you have other responsibilities in your personal life in addition to work. For example, parents might prefer to go to work at seven o’clock in the morning and finish at three-thirty because they need to take the children to a playgroup or finish some chores in the afternoon. And therein lay the problem. The young employees, who often started work right after school, were enthusiastic. But after a few years, as they became senior professionals, their needs changed. And the company could no longer respond.
Creating a quality employee experience requires more than just improving the work environment. Each of us brings previous experiences, expectations, values, and current needs to a new job. And from this perspective, we perceive the company culture and environment. What satisfies one may be an insurmountable obstacle for another. The same stimulus can create five different employee experiences for five people. Therefore, it is necessary to target elements of the work environment to satisfy the most significant group of employees.
A small company with a few employees is often more manageable because the owners or directors know each employee personally, understand their needs, and address them more easily. The difficulty arises when the number of employees exceeds approximately 20-30 people and the small firm becomes a medium-sized enterprise. At that point, it becomes challenging to make time for every employee and adapt the working environment to their needs. The executive management suddenly has to deal with completely different tasks and is no longer in such close contact with the people in the company.
Fortunately, there is a solution here too. Personas. As the number of employees increases, groups of people with similar attitudes, expectations, or needs emerge. Each such group can be identified and clearly described. We create an ideal representative of each group, an imaginary character, called a persona, that best represents the characteristics of that group. There are usually several such employee groups in a company. And, instead of considering each individual, we try to determine the needs of each particular persona.
Now let’s go back to the company that failed to retain more experienced employees. There were only three employee groups on-site, one of which far outnumbered the other two. It comprised approximately 70% of all employees. The persona created by this group looked something like this in a nutshell: age 30, university educated, single, living in a shared tenancy with multiple tenants, interested in sport, travel, fashion, healthy lifestyle, sustainable environment, and socially responsible. The needs of this group were almost completely met in work. So much so that members of the older generations felt out of place in their jobs and left.
Therefore, for medium-sized and larger companies, we always first discern the employee groups and create personas for each group to quickly demonstrate to the company representatives how uniquely each employee group experiences interactions with the company. We then work together to identify those employee groups critical to the company’s development and focus on their employee experience.
A thorough analysis of the employee experience is necessary to set up the proper work environment. A company is a large system in which any change can cause imbalance and trigger unwanted changes. But more on that in a future article.