The increasing focus on the employee experience is not simply the latest touchy-feely fad for organisations. It is a firm fixture for the C-Suite.
With better ways to analyse business metrics, leadership teams are learning that engaged, positive and motivated staff are critical to bottom line success.
Evidence now firmly demonstrates that unhappy or disengaged employees are a huge problem for businesses, not only in terms of corporate culture but also in terms of cost. They are less productive and have higher churn rates, which results in greater recruitment costs.
However, the biggest issue is the role of employees in the customer experience. It’s been proven that happy, engaged employees provide better customer experiences, which helps retain customers and spread positive word of mouth.
As a result, we’re seeing organisations expand beyond traditional annual employee surveys into more sophisticated employee engagement or Voice of the Employee (VoE) programmes. Not only does this enable companies to better engage their employees, it ultimately it provides a huge boost to customers – and by natural extension to profitability.
Engagement vs feedback
Employee engagement strategies, as their name suggests, focus more on whether employees are engaged (have emotional ties to the job) than whether they are happy (generally positive and with a sense of wellbeing). The underlying factor in the many reasons why employees feel dissatisfied or disengaged is a sense of not being listened to – and this is where engagement programmes can make all the difference.
It’s important to note here that this isn’t just about employees being heard when it comes to their own roles – such as whether they have the support they need, the right training or the right opportunities for career progression. It’s more far-reaching than that – and again comes back to customers.
Companies that really want to engage their teams need to develop an agile approach to listening.
One of the key benefits of engagement strategies is that they address every aspect of an organisation, inside and out. Employees, particularly those on the front line of a business such as in a call centre, will have incredible knowledge about the customers they speak to on a day-to-day basis.
They’ll also have clear views on how they can make their customers’ experience better. Often, in fact, their understanding is far greater than that of the C-suite, who tend to sit several steps away from day-to-day customer interaction.
Employees drive customer experience
It’s this involvement in customer experience – and by association business success – that underpins employee engagement. Employees who feel they could make a difference but don’t believe they have the opportunity to are never going to be particularly engaged, and this represents a real missed opportunity for many organisations.
Employee engagement programmes are designed specifically to answer the need for organisations to LISTEN to their employees. Of course, being available in person to chat is great, but processes and solutions must also be in place to listen to all employees on a regular basis.
It’s no longer an option to conduct an annual survey and tick that as a job done for the year.
Companies that really want to engage their teams need to develop an agile approach to listening, and implement programmes that combine pro-active, solicited surveys at key stages of the employee lifecycle with unsolicited, reactive approaches such as online comment boxes and social media sources.
The five fundamentals of employee engagement
While we don’t have the space to dive into the mechanics of designing and implementing a VoE programme here, there are some fundamental approaches that organisations need to embrace. Our ‘critical’ list is simple:
Make the programme proactive: encourage and ask for ideas, using short surveys to start the ball rolling
Build trust: It’s important to allow employees to give feedback anonymously, at least at first, so people feel safe and learn to trust the process. In some circumstances, it may work better to use a third party or a separate department to encourage honest feedback
Drive innovation and confidence: encourage people to rock the boat and make it clear that all ideas are good ideas, even if not all feedback is ‘good news’
Show you are actively listening: Share feedback, and tell employees what you’ve heard from other sources, so they can see that it is worth sharing ideas. It’s essential that you then act on feedback as soon as possible to make a clear statement that the process drives results
Reward employees for their effort: It’s important that the process shows a clear result. Often, building in reward and recognition processes drives much better and longer-term participation. Some organisations have found gamification a great way to increase input, while others use carefully planned incentives to drive long-term involvement
What all of these steps are designed to deliver is simple: an environment in which employees have easy access to sharing continuous feedback that informs business change. For business leaders, this delivers results that are far more useful than the numbers and statistics delivered by standard, annual employee surveys.
We’ve seen great examples of this ‘narrative’ approach in which the C-suite and HR leaders work together to harness a more investigative approach to engagement, using the testimonies, conversations and feedback from employees to fully understand real interactions, both internally and with customers, in real settings.
It all comes down to action
Of course, it’s not enough to simply listen. To make a difference to performance, efficiency and engagement, employees need to see companies taking action based on what they’ve been told.
It’s no longer an option to conduct an annual survey and tick that as a job done for the year. Now, the concept of making information and insight actionable must sit at the top of an organisation’s priority list – particularly as more and more data is being gathered from multiple, very different, sources.
Taking action not only allows for immediate and long-term business improvements, but also creates a virtuous circle whereby employees are more willing to contribute their views as they see them being utilised to drive positive change.
By implementing comprehensive VoE programmes, organisations are making a clear statement that they understand the role their employees play in corporate success and that they need to harness internal insight to drive change.
We believe that it’s this fundamental change in the corporate behaviour that will drive competition in the future – not just for the best employees, but also for satisfied, loyal and profitable customers.