Welcome to the Age of the Employee


Why EX is the Foundation to Great CX and Business Performance

We live in an ever-changing world, where new technologies and inventions have the power to fundamentally shift both business and society. When it comes to the relationship between businesses and their clients or customers, these shifts through the decades are pronounced.

It is widely understood that the last decade has been the Age of the Customer. Two studies were published by Forrester Research in 2013 that highlighted the impact and use of technology that signalled a change from the previous Age of Information.

The Age of the Customer of the last decade is defined by the power that customers have. Customers are more connected than they have ever been and are able to direct businesses through their power and influence on social media and third-party review sites. Just think—today, companies can be “cancelled” over a PR blunder or have a hard time getting business with poor Yelp reviews.

Businesses have responded by trying to create an amazing customer experience (CX) with things like personas, customer journey maps, or customer experience maps etc. They have embraced two-way communication on social media and work hard to earn their client’s trust and repeat business.

Focusing on CX is great and absolutely necessary, but the foundation of every CX is EX—the employee experience. CX led organisations continue to be market leaders but one thing that is often unseen, is that they are also great places to work. That’s because CX led companies have realised that although CX is the head, EX is actually the neck and will turn CX wherever it decides. Happy, engaged, and knowledgeable employees will be able to elevate the CX in a way that disengaged employees will not.

I propose that we are entering into a new age: The Age of the Employee. After all, it’s only taken a decade and a pandemic for businesses to understand that every CX starts with great EX. Companies need to focus on their EX or they will no longer be competitive in the after-COVID (AC) era.

Business through the Ages

Let’s take a step back for a moment. The last century has seen massive shifts in technology, business, and society. We don’t even really need to state that—it’s obvious. What’s less obvious is the nature of these shifts. A lot of experts and analysts have divided the last century into different “ages,” with each having a unique and defining feature. A summary of these ages are as follows:

  • Early 1900s—Age of Manufacturing: At the turn of the century, mass manufacturing took the world by storm. Companies like Ford or Boeing revolutionised the markets with their mass-production capabilities.
  • 1960-90—Age or Distribution: Increasing global connection and transportation networks allowed companies like Wal-Mart to distribute products far and wide, no longer limited to their immediate geographical markets.
  • 1990-2010—Age of Information: The rise of the computer and Internet made it possible for those who could control information to control the flow of goods and services, such as Amazon or Google.
  • 2010-2020—Age of the Customer: Social media and other internet-based platforms allowed customers and consumers to discuss their experiences with brands, shifting the power into the hands of customers. Businesses had to shift their priorities towards keeping the customer happy in order to avoid negative reviews.
  • Now—Age of the Employee: Precipitated by a global pandemic, employees have found their voice and expressed what they want in a workplace. Businesses will need to reckon with changing employee-employer dynamics and understand and invest in EX, as the foundation for CX.

The Age of the Employee

As mentioned, the Age of the Employee has been ten years plus a pandemic in the making. While the last decade of focus on customers has gotten a lot of things right, it has also missed a fundamental piece: behind every CX is an employee—a real human who is interacting with that customer and making a positive or negative impact on them.

Focusing on CX cannot be a siloed pursuit as it is inextricably intertwined with EX. Companies are slowly coming to terms with this and initiating employee care or engagement initiatives.

Then the pandemic came. And everything shifted.

For the first time, employees were asked to do something remarkable—work from home in the midst of an uncertain global pandemic. Some people struggled and some thrived with the work from home set up. But, as a collective, employees found their voice.

Employees felt like they could, finally, prioritise their health and family over work. They had additional free time without normal commutes to purse hobbies and side hustles. Pandemic losses caused people to re-think priorities and things that are important. They became comfortable working in pyjamas.

These shifts are monumental. Any company that thinks they can just call back their employees and things will maintain status-quo are sorely mistaken. The pandemic has given a voice to employees and, now that they have found it, they are not going to be silenced.

Businesses have two options: ignore the new-found voice of employees and try to pretend the pandemic didn’t happen, or listen to the voices asking for change and make real investments into EX and employee engagement. I think most people will agree that the latter option is the best choice: it’s time to embrace the Age of the Employee.

How to Invest in Employees

There are a number of strategies that businesses need to implement in the AC era to focus on employee engagement. And, while the pandemic is making these changes an urgent necessity, it’s important to recognise that they are a long time coming. Ignoring EX in the pursuit of CX has been a major oversight of the last decade. It’s time to merge the two and realise that they work towards the same aim.

Here are some of the ways companies can invest in their employees as people, creating a holistic EX that boosts engagement, productivity, and efficiency. Companies should invest in:

  • Continual learning and knowledge acquisition. The more employees know, the more invested they will become in the products and services. This leads to more engagement on their projects and high-quality CX.
  • Corporate child care and family benefits. Children were also affected by the pandemic and became accustomed to their parents working from home. Corporate childcare is an option for employees who want to stay closer to their children and it provides more flexible arrangements.
  • Technology. The pandemic highlighted digital inequity as employees moved to WFH arrangements. Companies need to invest in both technology and coaching to allow all employees access to what they need to be effective and comfortable in a WFH setting.
  • Physical and mental wellbeing. The pandemic took a toll on everyone’s health, both physical and mental. Companies need to recognise this and invest in it. Specific focus should be given to creating open and psychologically safe spaces for all employees; DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) needs to be at the forefront.
  • Employee portfolio careers and side-hustles. Employers need to accept that their employees have been pursuing new hobbies and side-projects during the pandemic. Flexibility towards this signals value and care to employees.
  • Physical premises. People have been cocooning for the last 2 years and are going to need some enticing out of the comfortable surrounds they have created. Investing in and refurbishing physical premises will help entice employees to embrace coming into the office. Make it comfortable, just like their home is.
  • Autonomy. Employees who are given autonomy in the workplace are more innovative, creative, and have a greater capacity for problem-solving. Businesses need to prioritise this to maximise the potential of their employees.

The Age of the Employee is an extension of the Age of the Customer and has been precipitated by the pandemic. It presents an opportunity for businesses to stay competitive in the AC era by honouring and valuing their employees’ new-found voices, but it will also make all the difference in their CX.

By Luke Jamieson

Keywords: Culture, Customer Experience, Future of Work

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