Why Your Employee Engagement Strategies May Need a Pandemic Reboot

Image credit: iStockphoto/Nuthawut Somsuk

Businesses and employees are facing multiple challenges at once, because of the pandemic. The lines between work and home have blurred. Technology connected people when the pandemic hit to overcome the barriers of social distancing and will continue to connect people in the recovery — to reach people in moments that matter, support collaboration and manage the global vaccination rollout. The very definition of employee experience (EX) has changed.

Simple digital experiences for people are the new defining standard for well-run businesses and will impact how well companies are able to drive decisions, adapt to changing market landscapes, meet customer experience needs, and drive productivity in this new hybrid work culture.

To learn how companies are relooking at their EX initiatives and strategies, HR&DigitalTrends (now rebranded as DigitalWorkforceTrends) partnered with ServiceNow to investigate how to “Transform Employee Experience for the Future of Work”.

For over an hour, HR and business leaders from different industry sectors gathered to discuss their thoughts on who owns employee experience, key challenges, and why EX success needs trust and transparency. Key learnings include:

  • EX is no longer an HR matter; it relies on every business leader to get involved
  • Companies need to create EX journeys that start at the candidate level and continue after an employee leaves a company
  • EX now directly impacts employer branding
  • Trust should be the foundation for EX success

EX is not owned by a department

EX as a new concept has been around ever since people transcended the factory floor and companies realized the need to invest in people; the most valuable and productive resource for a company.

But in today’s world, where key job areas see a talent crunch, EX can determine how well a company can perform, innovate, respond, and even pivot when needed. As a result, the question of who owns EX becomes important. Why? Because it now directly relates to organizational agility and resilience.  

Bonnie Chan, co-owner & associate director – corporate social investment and talent experience at HKBN Group, felt that everyone in a company “should have a role” in EX. It is one reason why they have a chief talent and purpose officer position to drive the company’s talent-first culture and leverage its talent advantage to achieve growth in a purposeful way.

Jodi Kwok, head of human resources & administration at Swire Properties, agreed. Her company is just beginning its employee experience journey and sees it as part of its employee lifecycle. While Kwok believes that the HR department should take the lead, EX should always be everyone’s concern.

EX begins before you become an employee

Most companies start their EX roadmap when an employee becomes a permanent hire. It is easy to see why, as the employee ROI is clear and the investments justifiable.

However, in today’s world where companies are vying for talents in a limited pool, this approach does not work.

“Which is why you need to start your employee experience from the beginning, even before the employee enters the company. And it needs to continue after the employee leaves. So, it’s the entire package,” said Angioline Villanueva, the human resources director for The Emerald Bay.

Villanueva believed that all organizations need to assume that today’s hire may be “tomorrow’s president of the company.” So, companies need to map out a journey that offers the best EX across every point of the employee journey.

Companies also need to get away from the remuneration mentality. New employees no longer consider remuneration as the only concern. They want an organization that they can grow with.

One way to address this is to treat employees as an extension of the company family. In this way, companies can also engage contract, freelance, and gig workers, which are becoming important for key roles.

The link between EX and employer branding is clearer

For many companies, EX is now part of their employer branding.

“I think there's been a recognition for quite some time that companies don't really own their brands anymore; they are branded by their employees and candidates. And that really is about the employee experience, isn't it?” observed Jon Ingham, people and organization strategist at Strategic HR Academy.

As more companies see the link, it is shifting the conversation around EX.

“We are now finding it more challenging to have a coherent culture. So, employee experience is more important for that. And people are using more digital tools, and the digital nature of work, I think makes it more important for us to focus on employee experience as well,” Ingham explained.

Becky Chua, senior solution consultant for employee workflows at ServiceNow, calls this broader approach to EX a “paradigm shift.”

It is a significant factor that is accelerating today’s HR transformation. “It is about changing the operating model, like providing concierge service and creating a more effective delivery model. This will matter as we manage a more disparate workforce and give employees the ability to work from anywhere,” Chua said.

“Communications is key during the pandemic and post-pandemic. And it is where employee experience matters as it allows us to communicate directly with employees and their managers. This creates a level of transparency,” added Swire Properties’ Kwok.

EX is a two-way street and needs trust

While participants from different industries had different takes on how EX can be rolled out, they all agreed that EX needs trust and transparency to work.

Ingham admitted that this requires a big shift in thinking with “technology clearly a big part of this.”

“There is this shift from command and control to trust and track because we have to. We can't command people in the way that we have done. And therefore, organizations have had to trust their people more. And I think there is a realization that that requires transparency,” he described.

Self-service initiatives, giving access to company information, and creating virtual safe rooms for candid conversation reinforce this transparency.

Chua shared how the entire onboarding process in her company was transparent and virtual. The company was able to achieve this because of inherent employee trust.

But transparency is a two-way street. And it requires employees to play their part in observing policies and guidelines, she added. 

All participants noted that attaining this level of trust is not easy after decades of established top-down management practices that were never built on employee trust. Yet, they also noted this level of transparency should be a focus of EX initiatives if they need to succeed.

 “I still think we've got quite a way to go. But I do think it is going to be a big part of our agenda over the next few years,” concluded Ingham.

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends, DigitalWorkforceTrends, and DataOpsTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Nuthawut Somsuk