The biggest business trend for 2020 is “The Employee Experience.” Get ready – you’re going to hear those words a lot.
Because in our low unemployment, high turnover economy, the war for talent has never been more ferocious. According to Gallup, employees are the new consumers of the workplace. That means that companies are competing for employees as much as they are competing for customers. So, just as the practice of curating an excellent customer experience has become a mainstay of marketing, now creating an attractive employee experience is becoming a pillar of human resources.
How to Guarantee a Great Employee Experience
The one sure way to guarantee a great experience is to communicate with employees. By strategically using the tools you already have, you can capture candidates’ attention, draw in recruits, onboard new hires, develop great people and retain employee ambassadors. Communication – listening with intention and sharing information transparently – is the low cost, high return way to enrich your company’s employee experience.
Let me break it down.
Consulting gurus such as Gallup, Josh Bersin and The Future Organization have conducted extensive research and formulated interesting models for how corporations can define and create a compelling employee experience. We’ve studied these models, and they are pretty convincing. It certainly makes sense to think broadly about the way human beings interact with their employers over the course of their time with them. Understanding the employee life cycle – from joining to leaving – and the “moments that matter” on that journey helps leaders assess what the company can do to attract and retain top talent.
So, what’s the difference between employee experience and employee engagement?
According to Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, “Employee engagement has been all about short-term cosmetic changes that organizations have been trying to make to improve how they work. Employee experience is the long-term redesign of the organization.”
Morgan argues that the employee experience is built on the company’s reason for being, its technology, workspace and culture, and moments that matter – those pivotal points in an individual’s career that shape his or her perception of the employer over time. Therefore, engaging employees is a component of the overarching employee experience, and not a means to an end.
That is an important evolution in organizational thinking and design. In previous decades, companies measured employee satisfaction. They soon found, however, that it was possible to have a highly satisfied, happy workforce that was also low on accountability and productivity. The focus on employee satisfaction gave way to the pursuit of employee engagement, moving the measure away from emotion to effort. Employee engagement is defined as the level of discretionary effort individuals give to their employers. The greater the effort, the higher the engagement, the more productive and profitable the company.
In fact, research shows that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent on earnings per share. With the promise of those statistics, companies have been chasing employee engagement. Experts predict that American businesses will spend $1 billion every year on activities intended to boost employee engagement. But for all that expenditure and effort, engagement remains elusive. Less than one-third of U.S. employees report being engaged in their work.
In our practice, we’ve found that focusing on the entire employee experience – and the communication that supports it – produces higher levels of employee engagement and provides more benefits to organizations than a narrow focus on employee engagement alone.
We know that engaged employees feel well-informed; they feel heard; they can work autonomously; and they are empowered to make decisions that move the business forward. We also know that engagement is not result of perks like ping pong tables in the break room and Take Your Dog to Work Day.
The Secret to Engaging Employees
The secret to engaging employees is connecting with them through regular, reliable communication throughout their entire experience as an employee.
As communication experts supporting Global and Fortune 500 companies, public entities, non-profits and privately held firms, Vitiello Communications Group’s model of the Employee Experience covers five main stages: Attract, Recruit, Onboard, Develop and Retain.
These five stages describe the key points of the lifecycle of a person who is drawn to, hired by and works in your company. It is a natural progression in the relationship between employee and employer.
When an individual’s own beliefs align with the company’s mission, vision, purpose and values, that creates a strong bond that results in greater engagement and better performance. Additionally, when leaders are considered trustworthy, employees invest more discretionary effort – and are more engaged in the company and its culture.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer uncovered a startling statistic. People around the world ranked “My Employer” as the most trusted source of information – ahead of the media and government. Trust creates an atmosphere of psychological safety – where employees can produce their best work. One of the primary ways leaders can build trust is through consistent and transparent communication with employees.
Communication impacts people’s sense of being connected to the company. If communication is consistent and transparent, employees feel that they belong. They have the experience of feeling informed and valued. If communication is inconsistent and unclear, the employee experience changes dramatically. If communication is non-existent, it’s even worse.
I’m sure you’ve seen what happens in a communications vacuum. In the absence of information, employees make up stuff. Rumors start and spread.
Poor communication damages companies unnecessarily. With all the tools and technology available today – most at a modest cost – it is easier than ever to communicate with employees. And, there is no better, more reliable way to build a strong culture of engaged employees than through consistent, transparent communication.
Most business leaders agree with this conventional wisdom. According to a recent survey of chief executive officers, the majority (63 percent) of CEOs agree that culture is critical to their company’s performance and success. Yet less than half (40 percent) make it an organizational priority.
Sadly, that is often the case with employee communication.
Instead of leveraging the power of communication and making it a business-as-usual function like Human Resources or Marketing, many mid-sized companies consider it an afterthought. And large corporations that do have an established Communications function often focus the bulk of its resources on external-facing endeavors like advertising and public relations. Important – obviously. But not at the expense of connecting with employees, the stakeholders most loyal to you, most aligned with your mission, and most invested in the business outcomes.
Employee Ambassadors Are the Best Recruiters
In this new year of incredible competition for the most talented people, investing in employee communication offers tangible and immediate rewards. In a survey of executives, 57 percent of respondents said that their most effective recruiting tool is employee referrals. Think about how much your company could save in fees paid to third-party recruiters if you trained employees to be effective ambassadors. With some strategic planning and communications expertise, you can actually create an employee experience that your team wants to tell their friends about – and invite them to join.
Yes, leaders are accountable to drive communication and make it part of a strong culture and a great employee experience. When organizational communication was in its infancy, companies were hierarchical, and leaders kept a tight grasp on information. They controlled its flow downward through the organization.
Today, that has changed. Work teams are agile; collaboration has replaced information hoarding; and the flow of communication is dynamic and fluid. That is true inside the enterprise – and outside it as well. Thanks to social media, your workforce has the power to promote your employer brand or to detract from the company’s reputation.
The Employee Experience Spans the Communication Landscape
The employee experience depends on many touchpoints – not only communication. But, communication is the glue that makes those shining “moments that matter” stick to employees’ memories and become the fabric of your company’s culture.
Communication includes the formal and the informal. It covers a landscape of media and channels – digital, print, face-to-face. The great thing is – you are already communicating! It’s happening everywhere in your organization – in those stories employees tell each other about overcoming obstacles to secure success; in the videos you produce of your employee volunteer program that helps the community and touches hearts; and the kudos that people post to SharePoint sites to recognize their colleagues’ good work. The way you communicate with employees shapes your open enrollment guide, the CEO’s holiday message, your daily safety meeting at the start of the shift, and the way you greet people in the hallway.
Imagine how you’ll enrich your employees’ experience when you communicate consistently and transparently. Think about the difference you’ll make this year when your communications spark and ignite an engaged workforce.