Director, Employee Wellbeing Benefex
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How to nurture the employee experience through continuous change

Considering that employee wellbeing is already in such a fragile state, the frequent changes employers will need to make over the next few years will undoubtedly have a large-scale impact on the employee experience. How can HR tackle this?

26th Aug 2020
Director, Employee Wellbeing Benefex
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According to McKinsey, more than 80% of employees say the coronavirus crisis is materially affecting their work lives. But research shows that it’s the continual change we will see over the coming years that will have the most pronounced effect on employees.

For the foreseeable future, employers will be dealing with rapid changes to the employee experience brought on by Brexit, localised lockdowns, reduced business travel, continued home working and a re-introduction to a newly designed workplace. Employees will also experience changes in company budgets and restructures, which will significantly affect their morale and wellbeing. 

Trust, transparency and communication

I’ve written before about the importance of trust during times of crisis and this will apply long after your employees have been vaccinated against Covid-19. 

When changes need to be made within your organisation, you should take communications lessons from how you spoke to your employees at the height of the crisis. Almost every employer over-indexed on communications.

Overnight we held regular ‘all employee’ meetings, the CEO and board were more visible than they usually were, and managers stepped up to have more meetings with their teams. This is so important during times of change as multiple studies have found that continual communication is a leading factor in successful change. 

As a result, despite the largest health pandemic ever, employee engagement went up. HR expert Josh Bersin even said ‘Covid19 may be the best thing that ever happened to employee engagement’.

During this crisis, we got comfortable being honest and transparent with our people. We didn’t just tell them we were making changes, we explained why, and we were honest when we didn’t know the answers. This is so important as around a third of employees experiencing large organisational change say they don’t know why changes are happening. 

Research has indicated time and time again that concerns about changes at work relate to burnout, lower employee engagement and a drop in social support.

Personalise the employee experience

At the start of the lockdown, Microsoft employees had to change overnight most of the way they worked and where they worked from. Knowing that this forced change in their working behaviour might be an opportunity to learn something, Microsoft immediately started to study how these changes affected their workforce. After four months, they revealed some surprising results

One of the most interesting results from Microsoft’s lockdown study was how employees started to move away from the traditional ways of working to a new way that helped them personalise their employee experience more.

Meeting lengths shrunk (there was more than a 20% increase in meetings lasting 30 minutes or less) and the time of day that most meetings took place shifted from before 11am to after 3pm. Some teams even implemented ‘Recharge Fridays’ – days when no meetings took place at all so that employees could have time to themselves and to focus more.

Prioritise wellbeing

During the Coronavirus lockdown, employers brought forward their employee wellbeing plans and started to prioritise the health of their staff. The top issue on employee’s minds during this health pandemic wasn’t physical, it was financial.

Job security and personal finances were what concerned employees most and I expect this concern to continue for years while our economies get back on track. It’s important that employers maintain this commitment to wellbeing while they continue to go through change. 

Some basic employee wellbeing needs were shook because of the virus and the impact of that will be long lasting. As well as job security and trust, social cohesion started to have a disproportionate impact on wellbeing.

Research has indicated time and time again that concerns about changes at work relate to burnout, lower employee engagement and a drop in social support. One thing employees at Microsoft also did is start to formally make time to build their community wellbeing. One-on-one meetings between colleagues shot up by almost 20% as employees realised how much they needed each other during this crisis. 

It’s so important that during this time employers ensure that the experience they create for their employees remains positive.

Don’t underestimate the impact of benefits

During the start of the pandemic, just under half of employees said they felt their employer did not offer benefits that would help them during challenging times. As a result of the pandemic, employees are now more likely to want benefits that will support their health and wellbeing. 

A surprising result of the Coronavirus was how many employers immediately turned to their employee benefit schemes for assistance. Almost half of UK employers say they are changing their benefit schemes in response to the pandemic.

Wellbeing benefits all rocketed in take up over the last six months as employees looked for support to help them with the health challenges of lockdown. Now two thirds of employers say that for the rest of this year, the communication of benefits and wellbeing will be a top priority.

Change is coming

Organisations will continue to experience rapid and frequent change over the next 12 months and longer after the virus has been vaccinated against – a recession and Brexit will continue this trend.

It’s so important that during this time employers ensure that the experience they create for their employees remains positive. Wellbeing support is vital as stress levels fluctuate, mental health challenges increase and anxiety about the uncertainty of the next few years continues. 

As lockdown continues to ease, it’s natural for employers to slip back into the old way of doing things. Although employers reacted to growing demand from their people for more wellbeing support, what we saw five months into lockdown was this support starting to wane. 

Employees and their managers are around 20% less likely in July to agree that their organisation cares about their wellbeing than at the start of the pandemic. To maintain a positive employee experience and maintain high employee engagement during times of change, employers must ensure they continue to fully support the wellbeing of their staff and continue to communicate honestly and regularly.

We know that the relationship between employee engagement and business performance is much stronger during a recession than out of one, and those employers that are highly effective at managing change are three and a half times more likely to outperform their industry.

With time to make up for and revenue to recoup, ensuring you are committed to creating a more positive employee experience during these times of frequent change is going to help your organisation to get through it. 

Interested in this topic? Read 'Seven employee engagement myths busted.'

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