Employers, Don’t Fall Short: Reset Employee Experience Expectations

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INFLUENCERS: Jack Morton's Steve Mooney and Tim Leighton on how the first half of 2020 has changed how people work and live, and how brands connect
Employers, Don’t Fall Short: Reset Employee Experience Expectations

Right now, most brands are heavily communicating with their staff through these uncertain times primarily sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic, and then swiftly followed by the racial unrest in the U.S. which has echoed globally. This behaviour has resulted in a paradigm shift in employer-employee relations too. Greater frequency of connection and candour removes barriers and allows employees to inevitably feel more connected to the heart of the business, and more aware of their own value and impact. 

While this shift might be a silver-lining, companies could easily squander it. As the world begins to settle and open back up, the renewed focus on staff could lapse, given the significant commercial imperative to reconnect with consumers, partners and prospects in order to rebuild demand and sales. But, companies will need an engaged staff more than ever. A staff that truly feels respected and valued, regardless of race, gender, or creed. A brand’s treatment of employees can influence consumer perception, not least because a brand’s biggest potential advocates – or detractors – are its employees. 

Overlooking employees is a common trap for businesses to fall into at the best of times. And this is NOT the best of times. Many companies labour under the misapprehension that employees are more engaged than they actually are. In fact, the most recent Gallup poll on the subject reports that more than half of all employees (53%) are described as 'not engaged' and an additional 13% are 'actively disengaged'. In the months ahead as businesses revive and begin to rehire, valued employee experiences will be more important than ever. 


A glimpse into the future 

Businesses have shifted the way they are run – culturally and operationally. Some have needed to reappraise their employees – to see them first as people, communicating based on their needs and concerns, while aligning purpose with their lives. They’ve had to examine themselves – taking a hard look at their workforce policies and procedures to ensure fairness and equality. And they’ve needed to cover the basics. Are their employees ok? Are their families ok? Do they have the support they need to adapt to this new way of working, and access to resources for coping with stress, fear and anxiety? How is their work important to the mission? Employers have had to communicate in real time: an always on, always accessible two-way interaction.  

Moving forward in a world where companies such as Twitter are saying employees never need to return to an office, companies must build on what they’ve started and create an ongoing program of experiences that hold up these expectations. More informal opportunities to connect with leadership, more regular interactive sessions, more use of video to foster that face-to-face connection, more ways for employees to feel a direct value to the business, new ways of measuring efficiency and productivity. Especially as some are confronted with harsher working conditions – fewer colleagues, fewer benefits, less pay. The human connection is being redefined, and more important than ever. Businesses will need to make it part of their cultural DNA if they’re going to rebuild from the inside out.  


What have we learned?

What the first half of 2020 has changed is how people work and live, and how brands connect. Moving forward, as business leaders, applying what we’ve learned through these months will be essential to our success.  

Consider these five lessons to navigate what lies ahead, and to hopefully deliver better employee experiences: 

1. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed. As businesses move into the next phase – reopening and looking deep inside their cultures – they will need to remember what’s at their core. Remember that employees are a diverse group of people in search of purpose, and leaders and marketers need to define that purpose in the context of work, life and play. Even if that’s at home for the foreseeable future.  

2. Virtual is not new. Some of us are just new to it. Thousands are living virtual lives. Everyone else is just crashing the party. Tech companies know virtual, children know virtual, gamers own virtual, and social media influencers flood virtual channels daily. Businesses can learn a lot about engagement by watching how the next generation balance their days and relationships. Just ask. (Though it might have to be in a text or chat.). For example, what works best in terms of connecting with their audience? And how do they ensure their audience is engaged? It’s likely that the answer revolves around including them in the experience itself. Driving interaction. The same rule applies for employees. 

3. More together, now that we’re apart. Physical shouldn’t hinder. A couple of times a week, gather a small group of colleagues and log into a short video conference. Not to talk, but to be present with each other. Say a quick hello and then spend the next twenty-five minutes working individually, but in each other’s presence, all on a common topic – like a live ‘hack session’. 

4. Chat is the new water cooler. Innovation happens all around us – in different ways.  GE purposely mixed scientific disciplines in one shared lab. And Apple designed its circular headquarters to maximise random conversation. The takeaway? When you bring people together on virtual platforms, make sure to pump the sidebar chatter. Surprising things will happen. 

5. Conversations as decisions in a never-ending battle for attention. With more people working remotely, what used to be an hour conversation capped off by incomplete next steps, might now be better in the form of a collaborative document, accompanied by the assignment of a clear decision maker. Give employees time to focus, and collaborative platforms to work from, to foster the sharing of thoughts. Then give someone the power to decide on what direction to take. 

Today, we’ve been propelled forward in surprising ways – some good and some not. Hopefully all are making us aware of what’s important in life. As we move into the future, engagement in our workplaces likely won’t be tied to physical presence -- it will be tied to meaningful work, and ultimately, higher purpose. If there’s one thing to learn from months of isolation, it’s reflection — that some things are not as important as you may have thought, and that others may be far more important. Committing to the ‘why’ and looking at engaging with your workforce through the lens of better corporate citizenship will enable your business to come out stronger than ever. Relationships will be more solid, corporate reputation enhanced, and employee loyalty and productivity improved. Embrace the day. Embrace your company mission. And, most importantly, embrace your team.


Steve Mooney is an executive vice president and managing director at Jack Morton.

Tim Leighton is a senior vice president and creative strategy director in Jack’s London office. 

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