What will the post-COVID employee experience look like?
Can HR and other company leaders shape it? Or will the new employee experience emerge organically?
What we do know is this: Leaders care more than ever about the employee experience. Almost 90% of executives in a Willis Towers Watson study said enhancing the employee experience is a top priority in the next three years. To put that in perspective: Just about 50% of leaders said the same prior to the pandemic.
“Bringing personal lives to work is a key part of the employee experience,” says Brad Goldoor, Chief Employee Experience Officer at Phenom. “Now culture has to be looking at the individual employee holistically and show you care about the employees and their experience.”
So perhaps the answer to whether you shape the experience or let it emerge is – both. Employees and leaders will have hands in enhancing the experience. And why not – aren’t leaders employees, too?
Here are six strategies, trends and early implementations that can help you get a leg up on the post-COVID employee experience:
Change the space, change the mind
Some companies face resistance from employees to come back to the physical workplace. Beyond COVID fears or the new affinity for remote work, many employee don’t want to come back to work because it didn’t offer the best experience before the pandemic.
Now might be the time to reconsider and reconfigure your workplace to improve the experience.
“Let’s get in the office,” Goldoor says. “This is a contact sport again! So we want to make it a physically positive environment.”
For instance, leaders at Phenom had the space redone while offices were closed and employees worked mostly remotely. They got rid of a lot of the individual office and cubicle space and added more collaborative space. That way, employees can continue to do self-paced, quiet work from where they choose. And when they’re on site, they have the means to collaborate more.
They also added some elements to make the experience more soothing – soft music playing throughout, plants, artwork and even waterfalls calmly doing their thing on screens throughout the office.
People lost some trust in the workplace throughout the pandemic.
And trust is critical to the employee experience. If it’s not there, people won’t stay. More than 55% of employees have left a job because they didn’t feel trusted, according to a ResumeLab survey. More than 60% said the lack of trust at work affected their well-being.
On the bright side about 90% of employees trust their bosses and upper management.
And trust is what you want to create a positive employee experience. To rebuild or maintain trust in your workplace, pass on to all employees the Wheels of Trust Model from Roffey Park. Encourage them through practice and with reminders of why each is important.
- Be transparent with information
- Become consistent in your delivery
- Be more personal with colleagues
- Demonstrate vulnerability
- Stick to commitments
- Show others appreciation
- Listen well, and
- Demonstrate your trust in others.
Draw the line again
One of employees’ biggest complaints when they worked from home all the time was the line between work and life blurred. Or completely disappeared.
Employees will likely enjoy an updated experience that helps separate it from life.
Consider all the things you did in the past two years to help employees feel like work at home was like old times in the office. That might include hosted Zoom happy hours, online team building events, virtual games and increasing technology to make it all happen.
Now take a step back, and eliminate those things that creep in on employees’ personal time and interests. Ask them about the rituals – old and new – they want to take forward or reinvent.
Employees don’t feel as connected to their organization and its culture. Half say their company culture deteriorated during the pandemic, according to the Achiever’s Workforce Institute’s 2022 Engagement and Retention Report. They blame lack of communication, employee input and meaningful connections.
That can be fixed with a top-down commitment to better communication this year. Leaders who deliver transparent messages, get employee feedback, and most importantly, act on it, naturally provide a better experience.
The key to communicating with employees is to fill the gaps before they get filled with gossip or negative talk – the makings of a negative culture. Get top leaders to give regular rundowns on company goals and realities. Ask front-line managers to meet to have smaller discussions on those matters. Then they can share feedback up to the top level.
Employees consider benefits one of the top five critical factors contributing to their experience and job satisfaction, according to the Willis Towers Watson study.
Employees took stock of what was most important in their lives during the pandemic lockdowns. And, in many cases, that changed their perspective on the benefits that fit their updated lifestyles.
To make their experience better with your organization, you might want to reexamine what you offer. Benefits that play to employees’ well-being are increasingly popular. Survey employees before you even think about changing up benefits. Offer what’s at the top of their heart and mind.
Become a development destination
The new take on the employee experience might include work and play.
“Make it a destination where people want to be part of what’s going on,” Goldoor says.
Two critical keys going forward: Employee mental health and career development.
Most companies have increased mental health benefits because the pandemic has taken its toll on well-being. That’s a start, but you’ll want to make it more accessible. For instance, Phenom offers an on-site gym to help with stress and a financial benefit for anyone who wants to pursue therapy.
On the career development front, they give every employee a learning budget, which allows them to collaborate with their bosses to find training and events to up-skill.
“Preferably, it’s development for their role,” Goldoor says. “But anything that benefits their career is a positive move forward.”
That only builds employees’ engagement with and loyalty to their organization.