Employee experience has become a popular buzzword in recent years—but what steps can organizations take to actually cultivate a positive employee experience?
Deloitte found that nearly 80 percent of executives rate overall employee experience as important or very important. But just 22 percent said their organization was excellent at offering a differentiated employee experience. And that’s not just bad for employees—it’s bad for business, too. Employee experience can play a central role in recruitment strategies. It’s also been shown to boost engagement, profitability, and productivity. Enhancing employee experience is critical for the success of individual team members and your organization as a whole.
Giving Work Meaning and Purpose
Harvard researchers have identified three key workforce motivators: career, community, and cause. Career refers to a vocation that allows us to best use our talents. Community refers to respect and belonging. Cause refers to the need to have a positive impact on the world through our work. Three-quarters of employees across all generations and backgrounds rank all three motivators as important to them, so helping team members connect to your organization’s purpose is a key ingredient of a positive employee experience.
According to experts on cultivating purposeful workplaces and leading strategic organizational change John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, it’s essential that team members connect with an organization’s higher purpose. Team members must also see how they advance that purpose in the day-to-day functions of their jobs. Izzo and Vanderwielen expand on this idea in their book, The Purpose Revolution:
To truly accelerate performance and win over the emerging workforce in the purpose revolution, leaders must consistently work hard to help all employees see their work as more than just a career but as a calling. The task is not so much to change the work people do as it is to help them reframe their mind-set around their job. Employees must be able to find and understand the intrinsic purpose in their work. Whether you’re a CEO, small-business owner, midlevel manager, or HR representative, you can be integral in ushering along this process, helping employees find meaning while also increasing their performance. In the process, you are facilitating the development of a culture of purpose … Job function is the set of tasks a person performs in their role, whereas job purpose is the intended outcome of the job in terms of its impact on customers or society.
Simply put, team members who find meaning in their work enjoy a better overall employee experience. This makes a culture of purpose a powerful retention and recruiting tool. The key, according to Mark Miller, the Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at Chick-fil-A, is to tell the story that resonates with top talent. In Talent Magnet, Miller identifies three key pillars of that story: better bosses, brighter future, and bigger vision. ”Many looking for work will be indifferent to our message, but top talent will resonate deeply with our story,” Miller writes. Using marketing, public relations, community affairs, training, leadership development, and human resources to effectively communicate that story promotes awareness—for current and potential employees. A core piece is celebrating victories. In addition to recognizing individual contributors, celebrating victories demonstrates that this is more than a story. It’s a real business committed to making a positive impact.
Help Top Talent Find Self-Validation in Their Work
How does your organization let team members know that they’re valued? Assuming that perks like salary, benefits, and bonuses speak louder than words could be a big mistake. The American Psychological Association found that 93 percent of employees who felt valued by their employer were motivated to go the extra mile, and 88 percent of them felt engaged. Meanwhile, half of employees who didn’t feel valued by their employers planned to search for a new job. Top talent seek validation and self-worth in their work. Make sure that’s reflected in employee experience.
Our experiences at work help shape who we are as people, notes leading authority on high-performance workplaces, Michael C. Bush. In A Great Place to Work For All, Bush explains that work shapes “our sense of self-worth, our overall enjoyment of life, our ability to reach our full potential. Our sense that we are making a difference with our time, that we can give the best of ourselves to something that matters.” Bush reminds us of Studs Terkel’s assertion that “work is a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash.” It’s not good enough for your organization to have a higher purpose that team members can relate to. In order to find the personal validation that they all desire, team members need to also see the positive contributions they’re making. To incorporate this principle into your organization's employee experience, Bush offers these suggestions:
- Treat all employees with a deeply rooted sense of respect.
- Empower everyone to achieve more.
- Build caring communities in which all employees feel comfortable “bringing their full selves to work.”
And while that will provide a great foundation to demonstrate the value of team members, it’s also critical to reinforce that sentiment by providing consistent, specific feedback that clearly articulates the positive impact individual team members have. Doing so will improve employee experience and productivity. In The Purpose Revolution, Izzo and Vanderwielen cite the real-life example of customer service representatives in the financial services industry: “The leaders who helped service representatives see the way these products and services could help clients’ lives consistently outperformed the leaders who focused on what was simply in it for the bank.”
Ensuring that Team Members Are Heard Enhances Employee Experience
In one survey of workers in the United States and Canada, the Society for Human Resource Management reported that 64 percent of employees agreed that leaders not listening to their input was their biggest problem. Additionally, 38 percent of employees said they felt unmotivated and uncommitted to their organization when their opinions weren’t heard. When leaders don’t listen, they send the message that team members’ opinions aren’t valued. By using consensus-building leadership to enhance the employee experience of your organization, you can do more than tell employees their views matter. You can show them. That can be accomplished through principles of the New Leadership Paradigm, which emphasize distributed power, leadership through mutual respect, and leaders who serve instead of being served.
Servant leadership is one example of consensus-building leadership that thrives on providing a voice to all team members. For servant leadership thought leader and advisor,
Larry C. Spears, listening tops the list of top characteristics of the servant leader. In the essay collection edited by Ken Blanchard, Servant Leadership in Action, Spears writes, “Leaders traditionally have been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. Although these are also important skills for the servant leader, they need to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently to others. The servant leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps to clarify that will.”
Servant leadership also allows your organization to show employees that their opinions matter by empowering team members to act on their opinions. That approach is used by Southwest Airlines, which encourages employees to exercise their best judgment when making decisions. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, stresses that the company not only serves its people—it empowers them to use their common sense and judgment. In Servant Leadership in Action, Barrett explains, “Yes, we have written rules and procedures, and you can go look at them, but we say to our folks every day, ‘The rules are guidelines. We can’t sit in Dallas, Texas, and write a rule for every single scenario you’re going to run into. You’re out there. You’re dealing with the public. You can tell in any given situation when a rule should be bent or broken. You can tell because it’s simply the right thing to do in the situation you are facing.’”
Barrett continues that when team members realize that “they can be trusted and they’re not going to get called on the carpet because they bend or break a rule while taking care of a customer, that’s when they want to do their best.” In other words, leaders can earn trust by giving trust.
The Final Word on Enhancing Employee Experience
Given that enhancing employee experience can boost productivity, profitability, and retention—your organization can’t afford to miss the mark. In order to find the purpose that they all yearn for in their work, team members need to see the positive impact that their organization is having on the community and in solving the day’s most pressing challenges. Team members also need to see that they are making vital contributions to the organization’s larger purpose in their individual roles to transform their careers into callings. Finally, team members need to feel that their opinions and judgments are trusted. In the end, most team members want to have a positive impact on their organizations and communities. Your organization's employee experience should reflect all these things in order to attract and retain top talent.