Employee experience: Nine key trends in the post-pandemic world
In 2021, we spoke about how the view of employee engagement was changing and how employee experience (EX) has increasingly become the new term used to describe the relationship between employees and their organisation.
At the time, the global pandemic was (and still is) changing the way organisations and employees think about the workplace, and we said that there was a need to create a ‘new experience’. As employee experience encompasses the employee as a human being, so the ‘new employee experience’, which will drive engagement, has to be built around the needs of employees – humans first, buildings and solutions follow.
Now we are well into 2022, and heading towards a post-pandemic world, it’s a good time to take another look at the workplace, and particularly at the key trends that are emerging that will shape how organisations design and build the employee experience.
1. Trust will continue to be a fundamental currency within organisations
Trust is the basis for almost everything we do – it is the reason we’re willing to exchange our hard-earned money for goods and services, enter into relationships, and work for organisations. In terms of employers, trust has never been more to the forefront of organisational thinking. During the pandemic, people trusted organisations to do the right thing and look after us; we trusted the technology to work as we switched to working from home; and managers trusted employees to be doing all the right things when they were working away from the office. In the new hybrid world this will continue, as we look to leaders to navigate their way through more stable, but still unpredictable markets and pressures e.g., inflationary pressures, cost of materials increases, energy cost increases, etc.
2. Fairness and equity will be a defining issue for organisations
Fairness and equity have always been hotly debated topics within organisations, whether that be around race or gender diversity in the workplace, or equity with promotional opportunities or remuneration. However, different issues around fairness are emerging:
- Who has access to hybrid/flexible working? Where workforces are split between those who need to be onsite (e.g., manufacturing or customer-facing environments) and those that can work remotely, we have certainly seen and heard of resentment that those in an office environment are able to work more flexibly.
- There is evidence of organisations reducing the pay of colleagues who want to work from home compared to those who work in the office environment.
- Where employees choose to work remotely at locations with a lower cost of living, should employers lower their compensation even though the impact of their work hasn’t changed?
- There is also evidence that some employers are offering higher salaries than their current workforce in an effort to recruit problem positions.
It will be key for organisations to address how they manage equity and fairness across the employee experience, which could differ significantly from employee to employee.
3. Change will increase as hybrid and remote work become the norm for some occupations
For many in office-based roles, flexibility around how, where and when employees work is no longer a differentiator; it is an expected provision. There are plenty of examples of employees ‘voting with their feet’ when their employer demanded they returned to the workplace following the lifting of the various Covid lockdowns.
However, having flexible working has some downsides. The first is that the potential pool of employees increases, as location is less of a governing factor. So in theory, in a hybrid model, the risk of people leaving the organisation increases; employees are only willing to take on longer commutes a couple of times per week, if at all. Secondly, the human ties that bound many people to their roles could be potentially weaker. One of the positives that came out of many employee surveys pre-pandemic was the sentiment that “I stay here because my colleagues are great”. Those social and emotional connections may not be as strong now post-pandemic, and it makes it easier for employees to break away from the organisation.
These factors alone will lead to higher turnover rates compared to the past, and rather than a ‘great resignation’, labour markets will continue to right themselves for a period of time.
4. Organisations will gain from flexible, hybrid working
Adopting a more flexible way of working is opening up the talent market for many organisations who might previously have felt limited by the geographic location of their sites. There is a real opportunity for organisations to recruit amazing talent that was previously out of reach, and these individuals will bring in new and different skill sets that will drive change, innovation, and transformation faster than relying on internal talent to develop.
However, the downside is that existing employees may feel overlooked as the new ones come onboard, some of whom they may never meet. They may even feel that their worth is diminished. The challenge for organisations is to manage the expectations and consider the needs of both new and existing employees, to give them an employee experience that is not only fulfilling, but also recognises the unique skills and importance of every employee.
5. Employee wellbeing will become business-critical
Wellbeing has always a critical factor for most organisations, but its importance has increased dramatically over the last two years. It will be vital that organisations build on the strides they’ve made in this area over the course of the pandemic, through continuing to prioritise organisational awareness of wellbeing, and creating space for people to care for their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues. Senior leaders will need to embrace employee wellbeing as a business priority, not just a ‘nice to have’. Critically, many organisations are realising that addressing wellbeing is not simply the introduction of an app, extra days off, or workplace yoga sessions, it requires organisations to think deeply about the employee experience they offer, and what changes they need to make to the business to retain employees for the future.
Through employee survey engagement scores and other metrics , organisations may now also need to think about new measures that cover employee mental and physical health and financial wellbeing.
6. Employee experience and customer experience are merging
We are starting to see the impacts of the pandemic on the employee experience, which is, in turn, impacting the customer experience. We have seen in recent news the woes of travellers at airports across the world, where extraordinary queues at security were blamed on the lack of employees – caused in large part by not rehiring staff let go during the quiet pandemic period. A lack of baggage handlers was also an issue, as planes could not be loaded and unloaded on schedule. Whilst it was stressful for customers who potentially missed their flights, it was also stressful for the airport employees who were under pressure and faced abuse and harassment.
In addition, employees in some frontline roles across a number of sectors have chosen different career paths when the pandemic stopped them from working. Many became delivery drivers, which also allowed them to work flexibly. For some sectors, the employee experience and customer experience may suffer in the short term until organisations are fully staffed and up to speed once again.
7. Employees will continue to redefine and reprioritise their relationships with work
Over the last two years, many people have had ‘pandemic epiphanies’ that have changed their views on work; whether that be early retirement, a change in role and employer, a change in the way they work or simply redefining how they spend their time. The jury is out as to whether these will be long-lasting effects as the pandemic hopefully fades into the past, but in the short term, this is causing employees to think about what they want from their organisation and their own employee experience.
Organisations need to look after and recognise colleagues who stayed
throughout the pandemic and did not leave or change their roles
Certainly, many have looked, or are looking, to restructure how they spend their time and to decrease their relationship with work, with the goal of creating a work life balance that resonates with their new personal priorities. In addition, the signs are that more and more organisations will adopt the 4-day working week to enhance their employee experience.
Organisations also need to continue to look after and recognise colleagues who stayed throughout the pandemic and did not leave or change their roles. Organisations need to re-energise these employees as anecdotally many who work on the front-line report being ‘burnt out’ due to their pandemic experiences, particularly those in the health sector and others who were deemed essential services. It maybe that organisations need to re-onboard colleagues or re-skill, but whatever happens, it will be important to listen, engage with, understand and react to what colleagues are saying about their employee experience.
8. A return to learning and development investment
Organisations are refocusing on learning and development, and this will be a critical tool to attract and retain key talent. Indeed, career growth and professional learning have been identified as the current key issues for job seekers looking for managerial roles. Opportunities to learn and grow have become key drivers of culture, out-stripping values like “belonging” and “collaboration”.
As well as investing in people, organisations need to continue investing in technology that allows colleagues to do their jobs as efficiently as possible from wherever they are working. Based on the last two years, organisations continually need to continually ask themselves:
- Do all of our employees have the tools they need to do their job well—from anywhere?
- How can we apply what we have learned over the past two years to what we need for the future, e.g., do we have the right remote communications tools in place?
- How can we use existing tools to increase a sense of belonging and purpose?
9. Values are more important than ever
Organisational values are critical for retention and attraction.
By connecting them to a shared purpose or values, employees are more engaged,
have a better work experience, and are more productive
Values really do matter, with as much as 70% of the workforce feeling that their own sense of purpose is defined by work. By connecting employees to a shared purpose or values, employees are naturally more engaged, have a better work experience, and are more productive.
It will become increasingly important to define values and their associated behaviours, embed them in all aspects for working life, and share success stories to show that they are important and working.
The world of work, and the employee experience, have changed as a result of the pandemic. Some changes will stick, and likely be with us forever, other changes might last for a short time before going back to ‘business as usual’, as the pandemic fades in our memories.
However, these are the nine key trends we’re seeing at present. The contest for the best talent is very real, and creating a strong employee experience is critical to retaining your best people and attracting those who will take your organisation forward.
For a chat about employee experience and engagement, or employee value proposition, just drop me a line at KathrynWilloughby@corporateculture.co.uk