Understanding employee experience is about learning why employees hold certain perceptions about what works and what does not work for them. Future Workplace defines employee experience as “the sum of all experiences an employee has with their employer over the duration of their relationship – from recruitment to onboarding and career development, to exiting the organization.” A 2020 survey by the same organization found that employee experience was the top initiative for HR and business leaders.
That survey reflected the ongoing importance of employee experience and the profound ways in which the pandemic has impacted it. Just as sports leagues, churches, stores, and restaurants shut down or limited occupancy to promote social distancing, work environments had to either severely reduce in-person attendance or encourage employees to work from home. Before the pandemic, 17% of all U.S employees worked from home five days or more per week, a share that increased to 44% during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statista.
While technology can, fortunately, enable many workers to shift environments and maintain or even improve productivity, this change has had its downsides. According to a Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey, the pandemic has put unprecedented stress on workers’ mental health. Consider these findings:
- More than 1 in 3 employees report often feeling tired or having little energy.
- More than 2 in 5 employees feel burned out, drained or exhausted from work.
- Nearly 1 in 4 employees report often feeling bad about themselves or that they are a failure who has let themselves or their family down.
- Nearly 1 in 4 employees report feeling down, depressed or hopeless.
These mental health outcomes are not the fault of organizations, many of which have invested in improving the physical workplace experience to create more meaningful connections between employees and their employers. In 2019, according to Gartner, companies spent an average of $2,420 per person on efforts to enhance the employee experience. These include onboarding, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, mentoring, office ergonomics, leadership development and performance management programs.
Before the pandemic, only 13% of employees in the study reported being satisfied with their experience. The pandemic made implementing employee satisfaction programs difficult in a work-from-home arrangement because many of the investments in software technologies do not address the social isolation and feelings of increased burden that so many work-from-home employees feel.
Improving the Digital Employee Experience
Employers must now adjust on the fly to radically improve the employee experience in a digital, work-from-home world. Here are just a few of the solutions leaders can implement:
- Personalize the Work Experience: Employers must create a safe environment for discussions about problems. Managers and supervisors must be willing (and find the bandwidth) to consistently work with individual employees to find the right solutions and relay feedback to HR. These may involve online training and professional development opportunities, childcare options and flexible hours.
- More Support from Management: Across the board, and without tracking and monitoring, companies should invest in coaching employees, developing talent for managerial roles, setting clear and transparent short- and long-term goals and agile performance management.
- Get Weekly and Monthly Feedback on Initiatives: More people report feeling engaged at work when they’re asked for feedback (59%) than those who aren’t (49%). Leadership should solicit feedback in surveys and virtual focus groups, in which employees can interact and share ideas.
- Provide More Recognition: This basic psychological need is something that all humans share, and its importance in creating more meaningful relationships between managers and subordinates cannot be overstated. When working from home, it is easy for employees to feel that their efforts are not being seen or appreciated. Employees whose managers consistently acknowledge them for good work are five times more likely to stay at the company, and that impact is likely even stronger during the pandemic.
- A Holistic Approach to Wellbeing: Physical and mental health are more than abstract concepts for individual workers to consider independently. Employers should be willing to invest in the their employees’ physical and mental wellness, not only through health insurance and wellness programs but also through opportunities to improve their home offices and their ability to overcome isolation. This means employers could provide account stipends for options like yoga classes or even ergonomic chair/desk setups.
Employers should think of these solutions as long-term investments in the work-from-home trend that was gradually building before the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic simply accelerated the timeline by which most employees will work from home part or full time. Now, employers must adjust to the times to keep their workers satisfied.
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