This is a guest blog post by Phillip Hirons, Divisional Director at IQPC.
Firstly, a disclaimer. I’m not an employee experience expert and I’ve never personally worked within the EX (or broader HR) function. Yes, as an events director I have run a number of EX and HR events, but (for anyone reading this who does happen to be a professional in this, or any other closely related space) I’m by no means suggesting that this makes me a professional…at least in this capacity.
I am however, someone who finds this area particularly interesting, and over several years of running EX events I’ve had the opportunity to listen and meet a large number of professionals in this space and benchmark my own experiences against them. As an employee and an employer, I also get to see both sides, albeit from my own very personal experiences, which, has only continued to fuel my interest in this space. So here goes…
The landscape around EX fascinates me, and in recent years, certainly seems to have become far more prevalent than I can recall when I first started in the big, wide world. The time, effort, resources and money in this space now has grown exponentially, and with it a much broader interest in the workforce – and more specifically in the environment an employer seeks to create. I say ‘seeks to create’ as each business is naturally limited in some capacities, so it’s unfair to suggest that those who haven’t yet got to where they want to be simply aren’t trying hard enough, or don’t care about their employees.
Personal disclaimers aside, when the QoE team approached me to write this post on the challenges posed by EX in relation to the attitudes of organisations towards it, I was naturally hesitant. There appears to exist some tensions, not necessarily between employers and employees, or between certain businesses, but from a socioeconomic standpoint. By this, I mean a view between what we should and shouldn’t be doing, almost defining good and bad practice in a uniform approach, which just doesn’t seem possible in this day and age, but nonetheless, a minefield of varying opinions.
When it comes down to defining, creating, implementing and transforming an EX culture, you have so many variables that it makes life very tricky for employees and businesses alike. In my opinion, I’d boil it down loosely to the following:
Global vs. local
This is all a question of scale, and what is/isn’t possible (and in some cases legal) in the areas you’re doing business in. Equally, what would add value and a heightened EX in one office, may be something vilified in another (think incentives, dress code and socialising as clear examples), so the challenge is about balance and maintaining that balance, as different factors create noticeable shifts. If you look at the recent impact the digital revolution has had on the ability to work flexibly, or the value placed on health, fitness and nutrition, childcare (and petcare) in more recent times, these are slowly replacing the health plans, dental plans and life insurances of years gone by.
So balance, adjustment and a willingness to invest in change is needed. One way to look at this is as “flexibility within a framework”. In this case, the framework is a leadership commitment to invest in improving EX. How that investment manifests itself, however, will no doubt vary from business to business.
Knowing when to say no vs. knowing when to say yes
What is acceptable, and where should companies draw the line? For example, my office is split between 2 floors and houses around 250 people. We can’t offer a free cafeteria, an onsite gym or new laptops and phones for all, but we have invested a lot more in creating a fostering a working environment that facilitates positivity. However, based on what’s publicised about what other businesses are doing, expectations are naturally being raised, and importantly, these are factors that directly impact the war on talent.
Having previously worked in a start-up environment, saying yes to everything or simply glossing over what’s really important with false promises and shiny tech can lead to a culture of expectation without boundaries and foster a negative environment if not managed effectively. Ultimately these initiatives cost money, so for many businesses, the bottom line and the margins are critical – what value will the business see from these type of investments, and how can this be quantified? Without this, or without the buy-in from the top, the investment will remain comparatively low, which, somewhat ironically will likely mean the ROI of the investment will also remain comparatively low too.
Baby-boomers vs. Gen Z (and everything in between)
Let’s define this by personality as opposed to age, but there are countless studies which demonstrate that money isn’t a primary factor as much as it used to be. Equally, the average number of jobs my parents had in their working lifetime was a fraction of what it is in my generation (a millennial…just!). So naturally, for employers with multiple generations of employees, should we offer a ‘pick n mix’ type solution based on personal preferences i.e. you can have a robust health plan OR the latest technology…but you can’t have both? And, if so, does the issue then not simply revert to the whole global vs. local argument again i.e. how can this be done at scale? To the point around the average number of jobs increasing, I’ve heard comments based on not even bothering to invest in these generations, as they’ll come and go as they please anyway so why bother, but I feel that’s somewhat missing the point entirely.
The best vs. the worst
This is one that we’re seeing a lot more of recently. Take the stereotypical Silicon Valley based company as a whole and the fact that they are widely regarded as the pioneers in EX and investing in their people – at least based on material things. When looking to hire the next wave of talent, they often have their pick of the bunch. However, the level of expenditure placed on EX in these businesses is massive, and/or many were built on creating places people wanted to work in the first place.
Take most established businesses, irrespective of size, and we’re left with a lot of organisations who have at some level a huge desire to improve but have limited budgets, legacy systems, staff who can’t or don’t want to change and often a lack of idea as to where to start. For these companies, it’s not that EX isn’t important, but it’s a sense of reality and being smarter with what you can positively impact. This is where the vast majority of EX folk sit, and why more of them should be being given the opportunity to drive that change from the top. The underlying rationale is that this needs to start with a top down commitment to change. I’m not suggesting this is the only way, nor am I saying that the bottom-up or middle-out approaches don’t have merits, but from my own experiences the best results have started by building a business case for the C-suite that shows how EX investment can drive profit.
Within each of these areas there are naturally different opinions, different experiences and many, many different rabbit-holes to explore, but this is both the beauty and curse of EX. The challenge posed to those brave enough is to try and please us all in our day-to-days… at least until AI truly takes hold and the robots replace us 😉
A huge thank you to our guest panelist Phillip Hirons for generously sharing his experience for this podcast.