With an increasing number of employees returning to the workplace in the coming months, now is a great time for HR leaders to consider the employee experience: both how employees feel now and what the future looks like.
What is employee experience?
Before we delve into the details, let’s start with a definition of the employee experience. It’s an all-encompassing phrase that considers a worker’s experience in their workplace at all touchpoints of the employee lifecycle. From the interview process through to their day-to-day work environment and even the leaving process, employee experience looks at the whole picture. It covers the physical, technological and cultural factors of any given employee’s experience in their role.
By looking at employee experience, managers and HR staff are focusing on the employee, putting their needs first to create a better working environment and improve employees’ experiences.
State of play: what is the employee experience like now?
The working world today looks very different than it did two years ago. The Office for National Statistics found that the number of people who did some work at home rose in 2020 by 9.4% from the previous year to 35.9%. That equates to more than 11 million employees in the UK.
But how are these employees finding home working? And what about those who haven’t been able to work from home?
The ONS study found that employees who were working from home were more likely to do unpaid overtime than if they were working in the office. In fact, it was found that two-thirds of employees working from home did more overtime in 2020, and they were also more likely to work after 6pm.
However, these employees working from home tended to start later in the day, took breaks more often and were usually more qualified and better paid than staff who didn’t work from home. Homeworkers are more likely to have managerial responsibilities than those who have never worked from home. The ONS study found that, in 2020, 21.9% of those who never worked from home had a managerial role compared to 34.9% of workers who mainly worked from home. The difference is even starker when we consider those who reported occasionally working from home (42.2%) or doing so only recently (40.4%).
Use of technology
Working from home brings more technology, whether that’s Zoom and Teams calls, the use of personal mobiles to make work calls, or a work laptop.
A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report from July 2020 looked into the impact of technology on the employee experience with several interesting findings.
It found that 32% of employees reported a change in the technologies they used over the last 12 months. Of those people, 50% felt that they now need more skills to do their job, and 40% stated that their role had become more complex since the introduction of new technologies.
Employees reported difficulties with working from home, with 29% saying that the use of portable devices like smartphones blurs the boundaries between work and home life, and 30% reporting that the use of portable devices made it difficult for them to switch off from work. Nearly a quarter of employees said that their work harmed their physical or mental health, with scores of 24% and 26% respectively.
The increased use of technology for those working from home has also led to employee concerns about surveillance and monitoring by managers and higher-level staff. Shockingly, nearly half (45%) of all employees said that they thought monitoring was taking place at their workplace – and even more (86%) thought that this was likely to increase in the future.
A study by Insight also looked into the impact of technology over the last year. More than a third of the survey respondents (34%) found that remote working was difficult and stressful due to a lack of support from the IT team.
Burnout and stress
Whether working from home or not, many employees are suffering from stress and burn out. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) looked at a random sample of 1,099 US workers. It found that 41% felt burnt out at work, and another 23% reported feelings of depression. They also found that 45% of employees felt emotionally drained by their work – and the younger the employee, the more likely they were to experience this.
Giving and receiving feedback
Employees feel more motivated and engaged when they’re given useful, actionable feedback by their seniors – something that’s been amplified by the Coronavirus pandemic. A study by Qualtrics, an American experience management company, found that 59% of employees who were given feedback felt engaged at work compared to 49% of those who weren’t.
It’s not just about giving feedback though, it’s also about acting on the feedback given by employees. The study found that companies who acted on feedback had engagement scores that were twice as high as those who didn’t – 80% versus 40%.
The future of employee experience
So, what’s it set to look like going forward, and how can businesses ensure that there’s a positive employee experience?
Flexible working isn’t going anywhere
Although more employees will be returning to the office, flexible working are both here to stay. But it’s crucial for long-term employee happiness that businesses properly manage this.
Companies need to understand the needs of their employees to ensure they offer the best solutions. This might mean introducing more software to make the return to the office easier.
It also means listening to employees and ensuring their flexible working needs are met. If employees have found they’re more productive and happier at home over the last year, is it really necessary for them to return to the office? Could your company offer a mixture of at-home and in-office working, allowing employees to book a desk space when they need it?
More training for managers
Of course, there’s a level of trust that’s involved with home working – but as we can see from the statistics from the last year, employees feel like their time at home is being monitored. An investigation by the Harvard Business Review determined that this is, in large part, down to a lack of confidence from managers – in their own abilities, rather than those of their staff. Of managers under the age of 30, 25% said they didn’t feel like they could coordinate a team of remote workers effectively, whilst 12% of managers over the age of 30 said the same.
Therefore, a large part of improving the employee experience, especially for remote workers, will be around training and education for managers.
Keep an eye on employee happiness levels
Flexible workings can offer great benefits in terms of job satisfaction and work-life balance. However, as the data shows, many employees haven’t felt this way over the last year.
It will be important for HR professionals to put together an employee experience strategy in 2021. This should include the use of pulse surveys and engagement surveys to measure how staff are feeling regularly.
Pulse surveys are a quick and easy way to capture frequent feedback from employees, and chart engagement levels over time. These can be sent out to all employees or to particular teams or levels. They are also useful for charting the experience at all stages of the employee lifecycle, helping you to understand where improvements can be made at each stage.
Regular meetings and acting on feedback
There’s no use in sending out pulse surveys if you don’t act on them. The HR team should use the information gained from these surveys to implement changes focused on employee well-being, whilst managers can use them to steer weekly one-to-ones and provide talking points.
Surveys give employees a chance to provide feedback – and importantly, they can do so anonymously. This is crucial for getting honest feedback, and it should be listened to and acted upon. You could do a monthly round-up of feedback received and actions taken to keep all employees in the loop and showcase how you’re actively trying to improve the company culture.
Ready to start making changes?
If you’re ready to improve your employee experience for 2021, a great place to start is through innovative solutions that give them full flexibility in their working arrangements, such as workplace booking software.