Why employee experience must remain a priority

September 9, 2022, 5:00 PM UTC
Despite evolving economic conditions, employee experience must remain top of mind for leaders.
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The past few years have undeniably brought about significant change and uncovered important learnings, one of which is the value of employee experience. We’ve seen how critical connectedness and empathy are in managing a dispersed or hybrid workforce. And, amid the need for greater agility, we’ve also seen organizations increase focus on creating an intuitive digital experience for employees.

Simultaneously, there’s been a perspective shift among employees, with more workers wanting to feel a greater sense of purpose and part of something bigger. Just one outcome of this was the Great Resignation, which saw record numbers quitting jobs in favor of working for organizations that would meet their evolving needs.

However, as further economic uncertainty appears on the horizon, there’s fear now of a backslide: organizations refocusing on cost reduction and management at the expense of employee experience. We’re already seeing reports of employers slowing hiring or reducing certain benefits amid fears of a changing economy.

But businesses can’t afford to erase the recent progress they’ve made in this area. I believe that, especially during periods of rapid change or uncertainty, it’s absolutely critical to remain focused on employee experience. And here’s why.

Change is inevitable. Help employees be better prepared

As we’ve all seen, change is accelerating at a rapid pace and one of the best ways to prepare for this, along with taking a closer look at our processes and technologies, is to continue investing in people.

But I want to be clear. What I’m not talking about is the superficial, costly, or one-off perks that are sometimes branded as employee experience. I’m talking about the elements of employee experience that matter most to people: being heard, having greater autonomy in how they do their work, and working for organizations that have shared values. It is these elements that will help move the dial when it comes to preparing employees for change.

For example, over the past few years, leaders and employees have had to adapt fast, responding quickly to changing regulations and safety guidelines, while also ensuring business continuity. It’s essential that managers retain this flexible mindset when thinking about employee needs and expectations going forward, and resist the temptation to ignore what they’ve learned and return to ‘normal’.

Additionally, as we all adopted—and still are—different working models, we quickly learned that our teams needed to feel heard. Leading with empathy and responding to the needs of our employees has been crucial for ensuring they felt supported and remained engaged during an otherwise turbulent time. Leaders need to double down on these efforts now to ensure they stay in tune with their employees, whose needs and expectations are always evolving.

As our upcoming report, Addressing Burnout Risk in 2022, shows, many industries are seeing higher levels of burnout risk year-over-year. When spotted too late, employee burnout can lead to increased absence and even attrition, placing a greater strain on resources. If managers want their people to keep delivering at the same rate, or even higher, they need to first understand what they can do for them and what they need to work at their best. (I’ll dig into how to accomplish this below.)

These actions and more are just part of what we mean when we talk about employee experience, and all help to foster a culture of loyalty, innovation, and readiness.

If you want to know the answers, start listening

A central—and all too often overlooked—way to bolster the resilience of an organization in readiness for change is to listen to the workforce. But how can we not only listen but understand and take action? And how does this translate into improved employee experiences?

Technology is key. With the right tools, organizations can listen intelligently to their people, get real time insights into how employees are feeling, and gain a better understanding of their cultural climate. Real-time insights empower leaders to be proactive—not reactive—and to mitigate issues before they fully manifest.

I’ve been in my current role for a year and, as a manager of around 1,500 people, I’ve been grateful for these insights to help understand what my team is looking for, what they’re expecting from me as a leader, and if there are problems that need to be addressed as part of us coming together under a new organization. It’s been incredibly useful, for example, for insights on how we communicate our company vision and strategy. By listening, I’ve discovered how, where, and when people want to learn about strategy, and that they want to understand how their jobs connect to our vision and purpose.

Reading and reviewing the constructive feedback can feel like a lot, but these regular insights have helped me figure out solutions, take informed action, and most importantly, create a space for a continuous dialogue where we can continually work on improving the employee experience together.

Learning to adapt means learning new skills

One of the biggest changes we’re currently seeing is in jobs and how they’re done. According to the World Economic Forum, half of all employees will need re-skilling by 2025, with skills like analytical thinking, complex problem solving, and creativity predicted to be among the top 10 skills needed by 2025. So, to be best prepared for what’s ahead, companies must turn their focus to employees once again and encourage them to build new skills.

Skills and continuous learning are the future, not only in finding and nurturing talent but in helping motivate the talent you have. It’s what businesses need and also what employees want. But achieving that requires making learning and growth an integral part of your culture, accessible and accepted by all.

At Workday, we’ve been experimenting with new ways to enable skills development by matching and highlighting short-term assignments, or gigs, to existing employees. Just one example of this is when we put together a cross-functional accelerator team to focus on belonging and diversity. The team members devoted part of their work time to this initiative and gained new skills in the process, while helping to support our progress as a company. This sort of variety and opportunity is vital for creating meaningful employee experiences and for helping businesses be prepared for what’s next.

What’s more, in one of the most interesting changes we’re seeing, there’s a move away from employees being predominantly evaluated on their resumes to being assessed on the skills and interests they have, with greater value increasingly placed on people skills, originality, and critical thinking, to name just a few. Our gig approach means we identify the most important skills required for each individual role, which helps with hiring based on potential, and opening up new talent pools.

For me, culture is the differentiator for any organization—in good times and in bad. And employee experience is central to this, helping to ensure your people remain engaged, loyal, and motivated to manage change. So as the macro environment continues to evolve, don’t lose sight of employee experience. Instead, be better prepared by continuing to prioritize it and your people.

Pete Schlampp is chief strategy officer at Workday. Workday is a partner of Fortune Live Media.

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