Employee experience (EX) might be the biggest buzzword along with AI in the last year. What I have noticed is that if someone (individual or company) was considered a customer experience expert two years ago they are now also an employee experience expert. That’s not me saying that some aren’t because I know and respect many of them personally and can attest to their passion and expertise for employee engagement and in fairness a few years ago there was no big EX category to stake a claim to. Regardless, there continues to be a noticeable shift in the content toward EX over CX. Even the big research companies have jumped on the wagon. This is in part because the pandemic created a gap and where there is a gap there is a way to monetise it, which bothers me as it muddies why employee engagement became a top-of-mind topic, to begin with.
Now I'll admit there may be a bit of “I liked that band before they were popular” or “I was a fan before they won the playoffs” vibe coming from me here… yes I hate it when someone says that too but, there is something about showing what colour you bleed that binds us to our convictions and fires up our passions. I'm reminded of that video “how to start a movement” (google it if you don’t know it) where one guy starts dancing and then another joins in and then a whole crowd gets in on the action and it raises the question of who is more important, the out-there leader or the first follower. Many would say "who cares, as long as everyone is dancing and having a good time".
Having directly led thousands of people in my career I have always been passionate about employee engagement and experience and bore witness to its importance… but again, why?
Well in case you haven't seen the million or so other articles saying this, great employee engagement and experience do equal great customer experience. But is that why EX and employee engagement are important? Heck no! EX and engagement are important because they are the right thing to do. It’s like saying tie up your shoelaces because you might trip over them or because they look better in a bow. No, you tie up your shoelaces because they are meant to be tied and then naturally the shoe functions as it should. The aim shouldn’t be, to create a great employee experience and engagement strategy because it’s good for the bottom line and good for customers. The aim should be to create an employee experience and engagement strategy because as human beings we are not built to be mindless widget-producing clones. We are social creatures who work better when we have purpose-driven goals and are seen being seen as a human, an individual and valuable contributor that has goals beyond climbing a corporate ladder, with a life outside of work that involves hobbies, family, friends and dreams.
Cash is no longer king; remuneration is being viewed more as a means to fulfil and support the things in our lives where we find purpose. It is no longer a primary driving force to work harder, longer and without question. Purpose-driven work, now more than ever is what employees are seeking first and foremost from employers and, in my experience, it's the first and most important step toward achieving employee engagement.
Let’s be honest, the pandemic changed us, neurologically and behaviourally which generally are not that easily changed. It takes something big to break a habit or lifestyle. It's why you often hear how someone only made a significant or dramatic change after a "life-changing moment". The pandemic was that moment for so much of the population and because these massive life-altering moments that force us to reflect do not happen often it is unlikely that we will revert to what used to motivate us any time soon. Let me reiterate... it took a freaking pandemic to change us and to get this topic to be a priority. Beforehand it was merely an HR issue, focus or KPI.
The pandemic was a giant mirror that opened our eyes to see things that we wanted perhaps needed to change and would no longer accept, for many that was work. It forced people to reflect on how they would spend their time and energy. Companies now need to catch up and provide a clear purpose that shows why the work exists and how it (and the company) benefit employees and society for good.
The need to have a purpose in our lives (which includes work) is innate. Companies that clearly define and align their purpose at all levels of the organisation create a win-win scenario for everyone - employees, employers, shareholders and customers but this win-win should not be the motivator.
I‘m not saying “customers be damned, you’ve been replaced by the employee”. Both hold equal importance, as do profits, and social, environmental and ethical responsibility (I feel a Venn diagram coming on). I’m simply saying employee engagement and experience should not be put in place because it is good for customers, profits, shareholders, brand and talent acquisition. It should be foundational in how and why we work.
All that said, I find myself in a quandary. If the path of least resistance toward achieving true employee engagement is only by showing how it benefits everyone else before the employee then does it matter?
I lean toward the prospect that it might. If profits slow and customer ratings dip and we start to push back on and ignore some of the positives we learned from the pandemic, employee engagement runs the risk of taking a back seat yet again. I don't want to be one of the few people left dancing some wacky dance because everyone forgot why we were dancing or because that trend was soooo 2022.
Would love to know your thoughts on this.
Until next time, hooroo!
Keywords: Culture, Customer Experience, Future of Work