Some organizations today are using the same principles they use to attract customers to help win the hearts and minds of employees through personalization, simplification, transparency and technology.
And improving the worker experience is good for business, too. Companies with employee engagement programs achieve a 26 percent greater year-over-year increase in annual company revenue compared with those that don’t have formal programs, according to a recent Aberdeen Group report.
The long-term goal? Find ways of designing employee experiences that not only attract and retain the skills they need to be successful, but also maximize the individual and collective potential in the work environment. The result will be a happier, healthier and more productive workplace.
However, work is rarely a one-size-fits-all proposition. A number of factors shape employee experience, including the formation and development of work-based connections and relationships, the design of employees’ physical work environments, and the tools and social platforms employees use to accomplish work-related activities.
In addition, the millennial mindset is permeating the workforce today. As this latest generation has established itself, the expectations for work flexibility, use of mobile tools and enhanced performance feedback have spread to other generations. People want the same experiences in the workplace that they have as consumers — simple, intuitive technology, the ability to rate and share opinions about products and services, and direct access to decision-makers.
The IBM Institute for Business Value found that the overall employee experience consists of three intertwined spheres: the social sphere, the physical sphere and the work sphere. (Editor’s note: The authors work for the institute.)
From a Social Perspective
Virtually all of us depend to some degree on interaction with others. It’s not surprising that the relationships we create can influence our individual effectiveness and our perception of our organizations as a whole. The goodwill that we generate through these relationships, often referred to as social capital, influences a number of important factors — from facilitating cross-organizational knowledge-sharing to boosting individual employee satisfaction.
Social platforms enable individuals to develop personal profiles that identify their role in the organization, the topics they find of interest, the knowledge and skills they have acquired, and links to others within the organization. The ability to create personal profiles helps individuals make connections to others and more easily locate individuals with common interests and needed expertise. Such profiles are usually a combination of three sources of information: data provided by the organization, data provided by the individual, and data obtained by observing the actions and interactions with others within the network.
From a Physical Perspective
The physical work setting also has two different dimensions: environmental setup and environmental conditions. The way the work environment is set up — such as office layout, public versus private spaces, etc. — can influence productivity and interaction with colleagues at work. Some employees are fine working in open, collaborative spaces; others are distracted. Giving employees options where they work, depending on the task, can affect short-term productivity and longer-term engagement. Also, environmental conditions can affect individuals as well. The level of light, heat, fresh air and noise can affect a variety of job-related tasks.
For example, researchers at Steelcase Inc., which designs office settings, are applying principles from neuroscience to determine how different physical layouts can affect mental states. They’ve identified three brain modes that require distinct behaviors and settings. In focus mode, distractions can be avoided through cocooning — separating oneself physically from others; in regenerate-plus-inspire mode, access to other people and nourishment allows employees to bond and the mind to rest; and in activation mode, workers can stretch and be physically active.
Also, environmental conditions can affect individuals as well. The level of light, heat, fresh air and noise can affect a variety of job-related tasks. IBM Research recently kicked off an IT initiative with Delft University of Technology called The Inclusive Enterprise. The team is looking at how cognitive computing can help predict optimal, environmental conditions based on personal preferences. They’re experimenting with cognitive and sensor-based systems that can recommend and even modify conditions, such as temperature and noise levels, to best suit individual employees. This research seeks to help retain employees by making them more comfortable at work.
For example, temperature often fluctuates within a room and certain areas of the building. Researchers are training systems to proactively predict how individuals will perceive the temperature, since some might feel hot and others cold in the same area. The next steps will explore user perception of various combinations of environmental measurements, and will look at different ways to derive measurements from existing devices such as smartphone sensors. Researchers are also looking at how they can make the system work in a real-world context.
From a Work Perspective
Personalization can benefit employees through the ability to customize tools so that they can do their jobs more effectively. Given the number of individuals who have challenges with vision, hearing and motion — coupled with the aging workforce in many developing countries — employees have the ability to modify software tools to make them easier to use, which can greatly influence the overall work experience.
The employee experience is an important and complex issue, requiring companies to evaluate the close connection between employees’ physical, social and cultural environments, as well as the tools and relationships they need to accomplish work on a daily basis. The following questions can help shape the need to develop an employee experience strategy within your organization:
How does your current employee experience affect the attraction and retention of critical job roles?
How could improving your employee experience increase productivity within your organization?
To what extent does your employee experience influence your customer experience? Who has primary responsibility for designing the employee experience?
How does a person or team bring others together to address employee experience issues?
What types of analytics are you using to evaluate the effectiveness of your employee experience?
The most successful companies going forward will be those that recognize the importance of balancing the needs of the organization with the unique characteristics of individuals and work groups.
Eric Lesser is research and North America leader at the IBM Institute for Business Value. Maria-Paz Barrientos is vice president and partner, Global Business Services Talent and Engagement at IBM Corp. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.