EX: Changing the Workplace

by Chuck Rice
BRIO Employee Development LLC

Consider the attention you put into the customer experience and replicate that effort with your employees.

Workplace stress, retention issues and decreased productivity are on everyone’s radar. Let’s start with the average workplace. All the data and research confirm these approximate numbers:

- 70 percent of workers are stressed at work;
- 70 percent are unengaged; and
- 50 percent dislike their jobs.

The concept of Employee Experience, or EX, is not new. For years, organizations have operated with the idea of "happy employee, happy customer." But let’s be honest—all of us have worked at places that did not shine in how they treated their employees. Try writing down the qualities of your best manager and how he or she made you feel. Now do the same for your worst manager. One you would walk through a wall for; the other, you build a wall around you just to cope.

EX solutions go beyond quick fixes of perks and pay. EX is the employee’s holistic perception of the relationship with his or her organization, formed through all encounters along the way. EX compels us to truly understand and empathize with employees, both as individuals and as part of representative groups (e.g., generations); to think holistically about the work experience, rather than as discrete events; and to recognize that the perception of this relationship begins before the employee joins the company… and persists long after he or she leaves.

EX engages employees at all levels to collaboratively design a work environment that balances the needs of organizational survival and growth with the personal needs of employees.

EX vs. Employee Engagement
Many people believe EX will be the next big area of investment for organizations around the world. EX strives to create a place where employees want (not need) to show up to work. But EX is not employee engagement.

For decades, organizations have been investing in employee engagement, with little results. Unfortunately, many of these efforts attempt to force employees to work with outdated workplace practices, while giving them perks to distract them from this unfortunate situation. EX, on the other hand, is about actually changing these workplace practices. When employees are engaged and positive about their experience at work, they are passionate about what they are doing.

Employee engagement is now under scrutiny by researchers and those who believe its original assumptions are just plain wrong. If your company is worried about engaging its employees, you are not alone. In a 2014 Deloitte study, 78 percent of business leaders rated retention and engagement as urgent or important. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000, during which it has essentially been stagnant, with less than one third of U.S. employees engaged in their jobs and workplaces. Most employees are simply not involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their work and workplace.

Gallup estimates the costs of this employee disengagement, including lost productivity, to be around $500 billion per year in the United States. For $500 billion, you could buy the Chicago Cubs 200 times—or provide five laptops to every K-12 student in the country.

Numerous business leaders and academics have some evidence as to why employee engagement efforts fail. Companies often don't know what employees really want, falling short in the following metrics:

  • Setting and communicating expectations that inspire engagement;
  • Values that motivate employees to perform at their best;
  • Recognition; and Trust.

Research from Barkley found that 80 percent of employees wanted to set their own work hours; 61 percent expected promotions every two to three years; and 49 percent were uninterested in assignments that did not align with their personal values or ethics. Such findings have inspired an entirely new workforce mindset. Employees don’t work for you—they work with you. People engage in behaviors that they expect will lead to rewards they value.

Causes of Absenteeism
An excess of employee absences can lead to decreased productivity and have a major effect on company profitability, morale and other factors. Some of the common causes of absenteeism include burnout, stress and heavy workloads. Stressful meetings or presentations and feelings of being unappreciated can cause employees to avoid going into work. Disengaged employees are also more likely to miss work, simply because they are not motivated to go. Job-hunting employees may call in sick to attend a job interview, visit with a headhunter or work on their resumes.

As the economy improves, the hiring market is heating up and employees want more from their jobs. It's not hard to see why designing a great EX for your workers yields a competitive edge. When it comes to the war for employees, to the victor goes the great talent. The significant ROI of investing in EX translates into higher productivity, profit and revenue, stock performance, and more.

We all deserve to work for an organization that invests in its employees, but we need new ways of relating to our employees, based on new assumptions. Employers and leaders must reframe their understanding of the relationship between the company and its employees to compete in this new marketplace. That is the only way to ensure that organizations can attract and retain the best people.

The Future of EX
Several factors make EX a challenge today. For many companies, it is not yet a priority for HR. When they do want to take it on, it’s often difficult to obtain the resources needed. Nearly 80 percent of executives rated EX very important, but only 22 percent said their companies were excellent at building a differentiated employee experience.

The goal is to more fully understand what their talent expects and values. Many companies remain focused on “point-in-time engagement,” as this is what they know, but they are not catering to perceived wants. Bean bag chairs, jeans on Fridays and cake on your birthday, while nice, do not address the real issues.

Some companies have already taken great strides in making the employee experience part of their business strategy. Leading the list is Ralph Lauren—with 22 staffers working on EX—followed by Adobe, Airbnb, Qualtrics, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Verizon Wireless. LinkedIn, with nine people in the EX department, was listed among the top 50 “Best Places to Work” in the 2016 Employees’ Choice Awards by Glassdoor. For company leaders trying to get their arms around EX, Deloitte offers several takeaways:

  • Elevate the employee experience and make it a priority.
  • Designate a senior leader or team to own it.
  • Embrace design thinking.
  • Consider experiences for the entire workforce.
  • Enlist C-suite and team leader support.
  • Measure it.

For too long, we have looked at business through a single lens—one that was set down over 100 years ago. Our changing world demands that we recognize another perspective, one that is equally important as our scientific, mechanistic view of the world.

Fighting Change
What’s puzzling, however, is just how many organizations do not acknowledge these evolving workforce dynamics—or the needs and desires of their employees who share this new mindset. We often see organizations too slow to initiate change, or too structured to adapt without breaking established legacy models.

Managers don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I am going to make my staff miserable today.” But organizational unawareness can lead to false assumptions: that everyone loves the company the same way you might, or that your company is exceptional and stands out from all others.

Employees don’t often speak up, but they will talk among themselves, and as you know, that can take a life of its own. The good news is that a more positive EX will help. A recently developed EX Index can be used alongside a set of leadership and organizational practices to create a more positive EX, with employee and employer expectations in alignment. These new tools will enable HR and business leaders to inspire and energize their workforces toward greater well-being and performance.

As specified in Daniel H. Pink’s 2011 book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, we should instill in employees a new way of thinking that can be applied to any other aspect of the business. That means fundamentally transforming the workplace and society from one of economic rationality alone to one that realizes human potential in all its aspects. As Jacob Morgan has stated, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.”

EX will not happen overnight, but it starts by optimizing every touchpoint encountered by an employee. Improving the landscape for employees comes from treating them as you would your customers, so consider the attention you put into the customer experience and replicate that effort with EX. You just may see your customer experience improve as well. iBi

Chuck Rice is founder and CEO of BRIO Employee Development LLC.

Subscribe to Peoria Magazines

Add new comment