Wellbeing in the workplace
Richard Branson famously said, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.”
His words, and Virgin Group policies such as unlimited annual leave, certainly raised eyebrows, but CEOs and HR executives continued to focus on what has been the embedded business model, that being the customer experience.
How times have changed.
Why is employee experience important?
Employee turnover is a hot topic in management meetings these days, because the old-school retention by incentivisation isn’t working so well anymore. A Gallup poll of US workers found 70% of employees were disengaged, costing $550 billion in lost productivity. And while this seems terrible, there’s probably been no better time to be an employee, as companies are starting to recognise the importance of the employee experience and how it promotes a culture of wellbeing.
Customer experience, or the journey a consumer takes with a company’s products and services, is a decades old concept, and the strategic focus of companies has been to prioritise the customer over all else. “Look after the customer, and they’ll look after you,” is a well-worn business cliche.
So quotes such as Branson’s were put down as quirky statements from a quirky guy. But as the workforce ages, the differences in employee personality between generations is becoming more pronounced. Newer employees are more independent, technologically capable, idealistic, value flexibility, work-life balance and life experience, and they need to be managed accordingly. But as technology offers more employment options, and companies adjust to the employee wellbeing paradigm, they also need to be mindful of managing this organisational change with the needs of an age-diverse workforce in mind.
This age diversity in the workplace needs to be managed carefully, and companies who prioritise employee engagement right down to the individual will reap the rewards. In fact, it can be seen in practice already. The Great Place to Work Institute, in the USA, released a study demonstrating that companies who developed trust between management and employees outperformed their S&P500 competitors’ returns by a factor of three. Business leaders are coming-to-terms with just how important employee engagement is to the bottom line.
Younger employees often want their work to mean something. They want to make a difference. So if a company’s culture and messages talk only to sales figures and stock prices, it’s no wonder turnover is so high amongst younger staff. It’s when an organisation develops a clear culture of purpose, that their younger employees, in particular, will be motivated to perform at a high level. But the process of re-imagining a company’s culture, must also include input from ageing employees, otherwise they will disengage at a time when they are still vital to business performance.
But it’s not just culture that builds employee engagement. Wellbeing promoted through employee experience includes all the touchpoints between an employee and the company they work for. That can stretch from how an employee perceives their job while away from the office, the relative ease of their commute, the trust between themselves and their company, right through to their physical and mental health and how those affect their performance.
Here are some of the employee experience concepts companies need to be thinking about in order to develop a culture of wellbeing.
Treating employees like a number will result in them acting towards customers the same way. But when managers really care about their staff, and seek to learn about their lives, not-to-mention recognise and appreciate their efforts and achievements, then employees are more likely to exhibit care toward customers.
When leaders treat employees as objects of suspicion, then the employees’ lose focus on the customer and instead are motivated to protect themselves by only doing what is required to avoid notice. However, when a company trusts its employees to do the work they were hired to do, the employees’ motivation is generated internally and their focus can be directed towards the customer. Not over their shoulder.
Collaboration that contributes to a culture of wellbeing isn’t just promoting teamwork within an organisation. It’s about leaders getting hands-on and inviting their employees to join them to be a real part of a company’s direction. It’s also about seeking regular feedback from everyone, and importantly, acting upon it. Employees who have their voices heard and respected are happier employees.
Making employees happy isn’t just about providing meditation spaces, nap rooms, or colouring books. A company that understands the importance of employee mental health can educate its people to recognise the signs of mental distress in themselves and others, and then facilitate appropriate action to assist.
Think wellbeing and health is top-of-mind. However, it isn’t just offering gym memberships, personal trainers, dietitians, therapy or medical checkups. Other factors impacting health, both physical and mental, include employees’ financial wellbeing, and the environments they live, travel and work in. Do they know how to properly manage money, so as to not get into debt trouble? Are their environments congested, clean, quiet or dangerous? Or anything? The company that takes action to moderate health impacts for its people’s will support the creation of a wellbeing culture.
As intimated above, the modern employee wants to make a difference, so by clearly defining a business’ mission (hopefully involving the whole company in the process) and demonstrating the required behaviours from the top down, employees can be shown how their contributions fit in to the bigger picture, and align their efforts to achieving organisational goals.
That old chestnut. Communication. Employees value it, but stories abound of poor performance in this area. The two-way dissemination of information, from employee recognition, to customer success stories, and even reporting bad news, can tie-in to supporting a culture of wellbeing through collaboration, care and trust.
Employee development can be as simple as asking them what they want and helping them to get there. That might be further education, training in job skills, mentoring and coaching support, personal development or even learning how to cook. A worker who feels their employee experience is helping them become the best person they can be, however that may be, is more likely to have a sense of wellbeing in their job.
If the customer experience is the entire journey a customer takes with a company’s products and services, so too the employee experience is the entire journey an employee takes with the company they work for. It’s why the more progressive organisations are establishing HR teams such as, Employee Engagement, or Employee Experience Design, or Employee Services, or People and Culture, or People and Performance. Whatever the title, the prerogative is to create workplaces, tools and systems that keep employees happy, healthy, and motivated, so in-turn, it contributes to a culture of wellbeing.
The concept of a culture of wellbeing, while real, is intangible. It’s hard to measure relative to company KPIs. However, employee experience can be designed, tested, measured, and iterated. Thus, improving the employee experience can support employee wellbeing, promote a positive customer experience, and improve company performance.