The experience employees have of work is increasingly recognised as a critical element of business performance.
In fact 84% of leaders rated it as important or very important in a recent report by Deloitte. However, only 9% of those leaders felt their organization was truly ready to address employee experience. This illustrates that it is both a vital priority, and a massive opportunity for businesses.
I think one of the major challenges for business leaders is that the concept of “Employee Experience” is still a bit nebulous and perhaps a little misunderstood. As a consequence, there is not a lot of clarity about how to positively influence employee experience – and how to do it with impact.
One way that organizations can go wrong is to focus on the fringe benefits, rather than the nature of the work itself. The most common actions in the employee experience space is to introduce perks, rewards and work-life balance schemes. Some new tech businesses will apparently even arrange for laundry to be done and bikes to be fixed! These tactics to “remove friction” from employees’ lives sound nice, and are probably quite appealing in a job interview, but they may not actually improve how employees feel about their jobs. And if it just means people spend more hours in a bad or stressful job because the business has saved them some “life” time, this will negatively affect their experience of work.
What does the science of happiness say about approaching employee experience differently?
Most of the evidence from psychologists and behavioural economists shows that that people perform better when they're motivated intrinsically rather than extrinsically. Intrinsic motivation is when we are driven to act by an interest or enjoyment in a task itself, rather than because we are expecting to receive external rewards, pressures or even punishments (extrinsic motivators).
In the world of work, this means that no promise of a performance-related bonus or perk can improve someone's work as much as them actually enjoying what they're doing can. In other words it is much more about job-fit, learning new things and enabling people to play to their strengths, than the promise of reward for doing a “good job”. Almost paradoxically it means that financial incentives don't create the most financial benefits for businesses.
Research from social psychology shows that whilst our experiences are deeply personal, they are also highly shaped by the people we interact with. This is especially true at work where few of us work alone - instead we work together with colleagues on projects or as teams. The old adage that “people join organizations but leave managers” has a strong element of truth in it and it reminds us that when our relationships go wrong at work our experience quickly becomes pretty miserable.
Behaviour change programmes almost always have a strong social element to them. The success of interventions such as Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous are based on weekly group meetings. Their design draws on the understanding that we are socially motivated and belonging to a group helps keep us on track.
So, if you are a leader who wants to become more ready to deal with the challenge of improving employees’ experience of work, then think beyond financial rewards, perks and benefits. Instead focus on building teams where people are, as much as possible, in roles they enjoy and working with colleagues they like. This will, over time, build a positive productive workplace culture with a great employee experience for all.