The workplace is undergoing a major transformation. In the industrial era, the primary focus was finding task-oriented laborers whose output came from their hands. Today, an employee’s knowledge base has become a core component of organizational success.
The information age has now morphed into the cognitive era, where machines are capable of learning, reasoning, and interacting with humans in a more organic manner. As a result, the boundaries between human knowledge and technological capabilities are blurring.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of playing a lesser role in the cognitive era, humans are at the forefront of both working with and enabling new technologies to achieve more than was ever possible before. In many ways the cognitive era is also the human era—it’s a time when work can ultimately prove to be a more rewarding experience for employees.
Organizations sense now that the battle for the hearts and minds of employees is played out daily through workplace experiences. Many employers are reexamining their employees’ experiences at work as a path to improved job performance and sustained competitive advantage.
Employee experience is best defined as an impactful, powerful—and ultimately human—experience, one in which employees look to invest more of their entire selves into the workplace. Most importantly, if employees are more emotionally tied to their work and have an understanding of its greater purpose, they tend to perform better, are more likely to exert extra effort at their jobs, and are less likely to quit.
Organizations need to ask how their cultures and practices can be enhanced to become more attractive to today’s top talent. This is a question that becomes even More critical as the boundaries between humans and technology become progressively blurred.
New research has some interesting findings around the employee experience. The Employee Experience Index: A New Global Measure of a Human Workplace and its Impact, from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute, explores five core facets of the modern employee experience, which all complement the influence of workplace culture.
• sense of belonging
In order to enhance each of these five facets, the study finds that company leaders and managers need to provide a high level of clarity and direction. Of those surveyed, only 56 percent of employees felt their senior leaders provide clear direction about where the organization is headed.
The study also examines the organizational practices that drive “humanness” at work, including organizational trust; supportive coworker relationships; meaningful work; recognition, feedback and growth; empowerment and voice; and work-life balance. There were several key findings around these talent-driven topics:
• Keeping positive. A positive work experience has the power to help organizations retain their talent. Analysis shows employees with less positive experiences are more than twice as likely to say they want to leave compared to those with much more positive experiences (44 percent versus 21 percent).
• Showing appreciation and accolades. Employees whose organizations offer recognition programs that provide rewards based on demonstrating core values have a considerably higher employee experience index score (81 percent) than those in organizations without recognition programs (62 percent).
• Motivating to get more. Discretionary effort is nearly twice as high in positive work experiences (95 percent compared to 55 percent), suggesting that a stronger employee experience can contribute to higher motivation levels to go ‘above and beyond’ typical job duties.
• Acknowledging achievements. Eighty-three percent of employees report a positive experience when they feel recognized for the good work they do, compared to 38 percent that don’t receive recognition.
• Encouraging feedback. It is also important for the employee voice to be heard. Employees who feel their ideas and suggestions matter are more than twice as likely to report a positive employee experience than those who don’t (83 percent versus 34 percent).
• Executing teamwork. Employees working in a team have more positive employee experiences at work (73 percent) than those who work on their own (61 percent).
The study reveals that more positive employee experiences are linked to better performance, extra effort at work, and lower turnover intentions. That’s why it’s now imperative for company leaders to listen regularly to the voices of their employees, understand the nature of their experiences at work, and conduct a drivers’ analysis to diagnose the culturally relevant workplace practices that are strengths to build upon or areas for improvement.
Companies must recognize the unique role that leaders and managers play in defining employees’ work experiences and enable managers to design experiences consistent with core values. They also need to ensure that the organization’s actions are conveying the values intended, nurture an environment that reinforces mutually supportive coworker relationships, and help employees understand the deeper meaning of their work as well as how it contributes to wider organizational goals.
Performance must be seen as a continuous conversation that is fueled by social recognition, feedback, and growth opportunities. Employers need to offer employees opportunities to participate in decision-making and trust them with the autonomy they need to find the best paths to achieving success, both for themselves and their respective organizations. This creates the kind of experience that keeps employees focused on not only utilizing their discretionary energy, but doing the best work of their lives for their companies.
Derek Irvine is vice president of client strategy and consulting for Globoforce.