Humanizing the employee experience: Think people, not profits
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
Employees are the lifeblood of your organization. They keep the lights on and the wheels turning. So it’s no surprise that creating a good employee experience—one that keeps them satisfied, productive, and engaged—is a top priority for most businesses. After all, replacing an employee can cost anywhere from 50-200% of their salary, so there’s a major business case to be made for improving their day-to-day experience at work.
Unfortunately, focusing purely on ROI in the traditional sense is part of the problem. Fueled by fears about attrition and low engagement, many companies are throwing money at initiatives designed to improve the employee experience—without taking a moment to stop and think about what that really means.
Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report found that 84% of companies surveyed viewed improving the employee experience as an important issue facing their organization, with 28% ranking it as one of their top three most urgent issues. Despite this, only 9% felt ready to tackle it.
The rest, perhaps, are overthinking it. Creating a great employee experience shouldn’t be difficult! Employees are just people—and if we stop thinking about them in the context of work, P&L, and ROI, maybe we can uncover what they want and need a little easier.
Rather than tearing your hair out looking at your company’s metrics and trying to get to the bottom of an elusive employee experience, take a step back and look at things from the human perspective instead. Here are a few simple steps you can take to get started.
Put the employee at the center
When you ask companies which steps they’ve taken to improve the employee experience, one word is on many lips: perks. From team outings and events designed to reward hard work, to flex-time and remote work options aimed at improving work-life balance, companies are investing heavily in perks, in the hopes they’ll magically fix a myriad of bigger issues.
The truth is, while perks are certainly nice, the best work experiences can’t be bought. There’s a reason why even companies with generous perks often struggle with high turnover and low engagement. Perks are like candy—fun to have, but far from the nourishment a person needs to feel healthy and fulfilled.
The problem is that perks are designed around work, rather than being integral to it. At their core, they’re the supplemental aspects of a job that make it more pleasant, rolled out with the expectation that they’ll incentivize employees to do their best work.
But that mentality fails to account for a critical aspect of the employee experience: the work itself.
The Deloitte report found that the best employee experiences succeed when they’re bottom-up, taking the employee’s existing tendencies into account to ensure the work is designed around them, not the other way around. This sense of ownership and focus on the employee’s needs—rather than those of the company—is what will ultimately enable people to do their best work. Perks fail in this regard because they’re typically handed down from the top, inherently assuming that the company knows what’s best for its people.
But the bottom-up approach can only result in a truly human experience if it's personal. That means the work can’t just be built around the employee—it must be built for them, fulfilling certain psychological needs that make the job worthwhile.
That’s where meaning comes in.
Make it meaningful
Meaning is one of the most crucial aspects of the employee experience. It’s also one of the most overlooked. Nine out of every 10 employees would trade money for meaning in their work. In fact, they’d be willing to sacrifice an average of 23% of their future earnings to find work that’s always meaningful.
So what does meaning look like for employees? For starters, it involves a deep-seated understanding of why the work they’re doing matters and what difference it’s making in the world.
This isn’t limited to charities or revolutionary companies. All work can be meaningful if employees have a real sense of how their actions impact the end user and make their life better.
Take call centers, an industry with a notoriously high churn rate. One study found that when employees have the opportunity to learn about the impact their service has on customers, productivity goes up by 171%.
Meaning can also have a more intrinsic impact on motivation and satisfaction. If an employee feels like they’re growing as a person by working at your company, or they really respect and admire the people they interact with every day, even seemingly mundane tasks can become more meaningful and enjoyable.
At the end of the day, meaning is what will make employees’ eyes light up when they talk about their job. It’s what will make them feel seen and appreciated as individuals. Without it, they’re just another cog in the machine—and sooner or later, they’ll hunt for meaning elsewhere.
A more human experience for all employees
This might all sound obvious. But when companies are focusing too much on the business outcomes they want to achieve by improving the employee experience, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. In other words, when companies overthink it, they forget that employees are just humans with human needs, and when those basic human needs are met, the desired business outcomes will follow.
Thinking about the employee experience in human terms makes it easier to design experiences for the non-traditional worker, too. Gig workers, remote staff, and other people who aren’t physically present in the workplace every day are often left out of the conversation when it comes to employee experience, which will only become more of a problem as the workforce continues to evolve. But meaningful, human experiences are ones which don’t rely on a person being physically present to benefit, allowing them to easily be rolled out company-wide.
The best way to find out what people want and how they feel is simply to ask them. That’s where employee surveys and sentiment analysis tools can help. By allowing employees to answer simple questions in their own words, these tools make it easy for companies of all sizes to quickly gauge how employees feel about their jobs—like how meaningful they find the work, how well they collaborate with their team, and whether they feel like they’re growing at the company.
Sometimes, the most human experiences require a little help from the machines. Find out for yourself today.