Employee Experience Is More Important Than Ever During The Covid-19 Pandemic

The news headlines on how companies create great employee experiences have been dominated by their investment in office perks — think standing desks, nap pods, “bring your dog to work day” and free lunch. According to a survey conducted by the National Business Group, Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments employers across the country spent an average of $3.6 Million on employee wellness programs.

Many of these “perks” have focused on the physical office space which may no longer be as relevant today. The time is now to reset employee experience during the Covid-19 pandemic to create a more meaningful and lasting emotional connection between the employee and their employer.

Gartner estimates than 88% of organizations have encouraged or mandated employees to work from home due to Covid-19. As work from home becomes the new normal for many, if not most, of us employee experience is a strategic business approach that touches every aspect of how the employee engages with the organization. As noted by Dr. Steve Hunt, Chief Expert, Technology & Work at SAP, “Employee experience management tells us the ‘why’ behind the perceptions employees have about the moments that matter to them and allows employers to get inside the heads of employees, turn on the sound, and understand what is working and not working for them.”

Future Workplace defines employee experience as the sum of all experiences an employee has with their employer over the duration of their relationship – from recruitment, to on-boarding and career development, to exiting the organization.

As Covid-19 ripples across the globe, Future Workplace has uncovered that the focus on employee experience is increasing among HR and Business Leaders. In a survey we conducted titled, The 2020 HR Sentiment Survey, we asked these HR and Business leaders what their top initiatives are for 2020. In Figure 1, Employee Experience ranked first with 50% of respondents, and this was followed by a greater focus on using technology and artificial intelligence to automate routine tasks, performance management, and people analytics at 41%, 35% and 32% respectively.

How do you expect your HR function to change in 2020?
The 2020 HR Sentiment Survey, Future Workplace LLC Future Workplace LLC

Figure 1: Source: The 2020 HR Sentiment Survey, Future Workplace LLC

I see a number of reasons for why employee experience matters now more than ever. First, we are working up to three hours more each day as we work from home and juggle increasing demands from our employer, our spouse/partner, and our children. So, if you’re feeling Zoom fatigue, you are not alone! While employers and workers are reporting increased productivity working from home, the productivity gains are coming with a cost to our mental health.

A random sample of 1,099 US workers conducted by SHRM shows that 41 percent of U.S. employees feel burnt out from work, while another 23 percent report feeling depressed. This survey of the mental health of workers was conducted under the pandemic lockdown and found employees struggling with negative emotions, concentration, and feeling unmotivated to do their job. Notably, these rates were higher among women, younger workers, and those living with a vulnerable person. The toll Covid-19 is taking on employees is yet another reason for employers to focus on the employee experience, especially as some employers- notably Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Shopify– have announced they will allow employees (who meet key criteria) to continue to work from home permanently.

Third, and perhaps most important of all, workers are increasingly looking for ways to develop emotional connections during times of social distancing and feelings of isolation. With unemployment surpassing 40 million in the U.S., developing emotional connections with employees is especially important as now companies are reducing full time workers and increasing digitalization and automation in the workplace. In fact, economists studying economic downturns note that automation is more quickly adopted during recessions, as described in the American Economic Review.

In this new normal of work, two organizations, L’Oréal and ING, serve as exemplary cases of continuing to focus on creating compelling employee experiences.

Out of L’Oréal’s 88,000 employees, 55,000 have been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. In this unprecedented context, L’Oréal has implemented a number of initiatives to support its employees and create a more compelling employee experience for its remote workers. First, L’Oréal has created a branded learning initiative called “LEARNING NEVER STOPS”, encouraging and promoting all types of learning: from MOOCs to webinars and online classes. The topics created address the distinct needs of L’Oréal employees and include content on successful strategies for remote working, remote team management, stress management, and employee wellbeing. At the same time, L’Oréal is continuing to leverage artificial intelligence for recruiting in-demand workers. “Prior to Covid-19, L’Oréal was receiving more than 1 million applications for new positions and the goal was to speed up the recruiting process while improving the candidate experience and the diversity of the talent pool”, says Natalia Noguera, Chief Marketing Officer for HR at L’Oréal. The company leverages Mya Systems, a leading AI recruiting platform, to save recruiters time during the first stage of screening candidates by handling routine questions from candidates such as: job location, working culture, salary ranges and visa requirements. When candidates make it to the next round of interviews, they’ll encounter Seedlink, AI software that asks applicants open-ended interview questions such as: can you describe a situation where you have to encourage a diverse group of people to collaborate together? This is especially important as L’Oréal has employees from roughly 70 countries around the world and Natalia Noguera, manages a team encompassing 12 nationalities. 

While this application of AI to recruiting does not replace human judgment, it does allow L’Oréal the opportunity to find candidates who might not be an obvious first choice new hire, such as a tech person for a digital marketing role. The results to date are impressive: the Net Promoter Score (NPS) for candidate experience has gone from 5% to 79% (in Brazil,) with a 95% satisfaction rate among candidates using the bot for early stage recruiting. I can see how companies will accelerate their use of automation tools like Mya Systems and Seedlink not just to increase the speed of finding higher quality hires, but to expand the global footprint of their talent pools especially as work from home becomes the new normal for some employers.

ING is an organization with a global footprint in over 40 countries and 55,000 employees, aligning employee experience with their investment in customer experience. Sander de Bruijn, Head of Global Employee Experience at ING, concludes that “By taking excellent care of our employees, we create higher performing teams that are better able to care for our customers.” Eighteen months ago, with that goal in mind, and as the newly appointed Head of Employee Experience, Sander set out to understand the key experiences that affect employee engagement, collect data to measure this and re-design the touch points and moments that are broken for employees.

The first step in developing a strategy for employee experience was an unusual one: Sander (with a strong background in HR) moved out of the Global HR People Services function and into ING Labs. Sound surprising? It made perfect sense since the Global HR People Services focus was on standardization, optimization, and global roll out of HR service delivery. At ING Labs, Sander learned how to use design thinking and agile work methods that were being implemented to shape the future of banking. There, his Employee Experience team, supported by a designer and an innovation coach, was able to collaborate with the ING Real Estate & Facility, Corporate Communications, and Group IT departments. The mandate: create an improved onboarding experience for new hires and their managers and identify the role of technology. The result so far has been to create an Employee Experience Minimal Viable Product to on-board employees and support their managers in a much more personalized, intuitive, and seamless way. Employee satisfaction has improved by 20% and manager satisfaction by 30%. “The MVP is planned to be launched in August 2020, and we are now working on globally scaling this for 2021”, says Sander. The focus is on creating processes to listen to employees at key touchpoints in their professional and personal lives and measure success. In addition to applying Customer Satisfaction scores and NPS for each part of the employee journey, Sander and his team are implementing a continuous listening program to identify moments of truth and typical pain points that can be fixed to improve the overall employee experience. The goal is to make employees lives at work better, and, as Sander says, “Every time we do this, we enable ING teams to perform better and better serve ING customers.”

As you think about re-imagining employee experience, here are five lessons from L’Oréal, ING, and other companies Future Workplace has been researching on this topic:

#1: See the employee experience through the lens of your employees. Today, business leaders are aware of the power of creating an employee experience that mirrors their company’s best customer experience. Tools such as design thinking and employee journey mapping are now often used to understand this. As some employees elect to permanently work from home, employers need to design and monitor how the employee experience is woven into the culture of the organization. Culture is fast becoming the new infrastructure for work.

#2: Listen to your employees to understand what type of virtual and physical workplace environment they want. Companies routinely conduct employee surveys to gather feedback on a number of factors such as their culture, performance management, and investment in learning and development. Now, they also need to include survey questions on the expectations employees have for new ways of working, but also approach employee listening as part of a campaign to include “virtual focus groups” and other ways to emotionally connect with employees.

#3: The future of work is the future of worker wellbeing. When deciding what changes to make to your organization, remember that workplace wellness is not just about the physical health of your employees. Employee wellbeing, now more important than ever, is holistic and must include mental, physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual wellbeing. And some organizations like PwC are moving beyond wellbeing as an abstract concept to proving tangible habits to guide employees in taking better care of themselves.

#4 Employee Experience is a business initiative and requires cross functional involvement of key stakeholders. Companies that adapt to a more holistic view of workplace wellness will soon realize no one department alone can solve the puzzle. Some of these key stakeholders include HR, IT, Real Estate, Communications, and Employee Branding.

#5: Finally, use agile methods to design for the “optimal experience” rather than just solving a pressing problem. There may be a number of key challenges related to new hire onboarding, new manager orientation, or internal mobility. It’s important to design for the experience, not just to solve an immediate problem. And borrow methods outside of HR such as agile, design thinking, and employee journey mapping, which will lead to creating a Minimal Viable Product as you keepiterating with  employees and key stakeholders. Finally, anchor the employee experience in the purpose and meaning of the organization as employees are increasingly looking to their employers in transition moments where they go from working in the office to working remotely while transitioning to becoming new managers, new parents, and new leaders.

Some HR leaders might ask: How can we focus now on employee experience when survival is job #1? Tal Gilbert, CEO of Vitality USA, sums up the reason why employee experience continues to be a top priority for HR leaders. “The way employers treat their employees during the Covid-19 pandemic will define what type of employer they are, and this will impact employee loyalty, motivation, and overall employee and customer satisfaction.”

This is our moment to support our employees, understand the mental and emotional stresses they are under, and encourage them to stay positive in a world of uncertainty. What is your organization doing to create an optimal employee experience during these uncertain times?

Jeanne Meister is Managing Partner of Future Workplace, an HR Advisory and Membership firm, faculty for Future Workplace Academy online courses and one of the 2020 Top HR TECH 100 Influencers.

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