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The Employee Experience: Mastering Engagement and Retention

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The “business operations first” era is over. The years of 2020 and 2021 have brought so much turbulence to the workplace that putting your employees first is no longer a trendy modus operandi – it’s a necessity. 

HR is facing a Retention Crisis. Between the global pandemic, rampant burnout, talent shortages, political strife, and falling employee engagement, workers are quitting and switching their jobs faster than we’ve ever seen. Turnover rates are high and hiring rates are low, which means the role of Human Resources is more important than ever. 

A company’s Chief People Officer is now a strategic hire instead of an operational one, reporting directly to the CEO and taking charge of their greatest asset: their people. After all, retention and productivity are both inextricably linked to a team’s effort.

In addition to working to retain your staff, you have to keep them engaged and happy. Retention may be high for your company, but the workplace (and your business outcomes) could be damaged by displeased, unmotivated employees. A recent Gallup poll found that about 14 percent of American employees can be considered “actively disengaged”, and that the economic impact of such disengagement is estimated to be about $550 billion per year. 

In fact, burnt out employees are 2.6x more likely to be searching for a new job elsewhere.

On the other hand, people who identify as “happy” with their jobs are 20% more productive, and highly engaged workplaces are 21% more profitable with 31% less turnover. The question is not, “should we prioritize our team’s happiness,” it’s, “In how many ways can we prioritize our team’s happiness?” 

It’s not as simple as just raising pay and providing great benefits (even though that’s an excellent start). The true path to a satisfied workplace is through mastering the aspects of the workplace that your team wants: flexibility, socialization, company culture & mission, managerial relationships, growth opportunities, recognition, and diversity. That path is the Employee Experience: the prioritization of the employee’s needs first in order to promote employee engagement, improve retention, boost satisfaction, and foster culture that will in turn lead to business success.

The Employee Experience for the Modern Workforce

The first thing to know about the Employee Experience is that whatever tactics you put in place have to be effective in a remote and an on-site environment. This means your solution has to be technological in nature; you’re very limited in the ways you can interact with your remote staff without a robust program or strategy with which to do it.

Now, there are an endless number of tools and platforms that serve different functions around the workplace, but only certain aspects of them support the Employee Experience. There are lots of systems that simplify payroll, goal setting, and other niches, but they aren’t designed to change your culture. Employee adoption of these utilities is low, and that’s because they’re purpose-built for HR’s use. While they are helpful, they’re built from the top down and are essentially designed for the manager’s experience

First and foremost, you want a tool that’s instead designed for the employee and their use. A platform that supervisors use that’s designed to facilitate HR/managerial tasks isn’t one that makes their team happier. Remember, we’re here to support our employees, so let’s give them a solution that makes their lives easier. It should be a system that the employee wants to use rather than has to use, and it should become more dynamic and useful the more the employee explores it.

Your solution should also be able to support deskless workers as well as those with desks in an office environment. Your company may have team members on the front lines as well as members at their computers on-site or at home. An application that works for both keeps everyone connected, aligned, organized, and feeling part of a holistic community.

In fact, organizations whose HR departments are not providing a great employee experience for on-site workers are 34% more likely to agree that retention has been negatively impacted and 23% more likely to agree that candidate attraction has been negatively impacted.

So, what exactly should your online software specialize in?

It should be a social workplace community that’s dedicated to recognizing employees and building a company culture that works equally for the remote and on-site employee. It should be a system that makes things easier, from getting trained at your position, to 360° feedback, to getting recognized for your hard work. It should be something that puts the employee first. That’s the Employee Experience.

The Social Workplace Community

The concept of the social workplace community has transformed into something different, particularly over the last two years. It once meant that your work environment should be friendly, inclusive and inviting of discussion, especially since full-time employees spend the majority of their waking hours at work. Unfortunately, not everyone has that physical office environment nowadays, and the co-worker connections/relationships have been dramatically changed by the rise in remote/hybrid work environments. 

It’s easy to lose the camaraderie of a workplace when the only time you see each other’s faces is over a Zoom call. Bringing back the idea of the company break room, and “water cooler discussions” is more important than you might think. Re-creating that kind of social workplace community online can have a powerful, and immediate impact on your company culture and can be a huge driver of employee engagement. 

What makes today’s most popular social networks so engaging? Constant online access; interesting, helpful, entertaining content; connections to people with similar interests; and most importantly, a fun user experience designed for the users themselves. Suppose that was available to every employee, via desktop or a mobile app, specifically for your workplace? 

While many companies use collaboration applications like Slack or Microsoft Teams, messaging capabilities only scratch the surface of what a workplace community can be. Remote employees won’t get any info from someone’s name on a messaging thread… but what if that name is linked to a detailed employee profile?

Employee profiles are one of the best ways to create an online community for your organization’s people. Within an online community platform, team members can view each other’s profiles for essential information like skills, experience, goals, contact information, and anything else they might want to share about themselves. 

Seeing these profiles all in one place (perhaps even on an org chart) gives team members on-site and remote, an excellent picture of the company structure and the people within it. Its easy online accessibility makes this especially useful for hybrid workforces who might be experiencing a disconnect between the two halves of their team. 

It’s also an excellent solution for frontline teams, such as hospital or food service workers, whose days are too busy for the kind of togetherness that you would hope to develop at work. An online community – especially one they can access from their phone – can help them stay in touch with their employer, manager and coworkers whenever they have the opportunity.

Picture a social media platform that doesn’t distract from work, but enhances your work. A system like that will engage your company’s team and keep them productive regardless of where they operate from. A social workplace community reconnects all of your employees and lets collaboration be both easy and – dare we say it – a little more fun.

Making Feedback Your Priority

“Communication is the most important part of any relationship.” And, like any relationship, managers and employees need constant communication and feedback to keep their relationship strong, productive and rewarding. One-on-one discussions between a manager and employee are crucial for an endless number of reasons, from realigning on tasks, to employee engagement, to simply getting to know one another. This is another critical aspect of the employee experience.

The traditional manager/employee feedback conversation that both tend to dread is the annual performance review. The classic way to carry out performance reviews was, in the past, to give a formal review once a year. That’s been changing recently, with most companies carrying out more frequent informal review meetings and providing consistent feedback. In fact, per research firm CEB, 90% of HR professionals don’t think annual performance reviews give accurate feedback.

That’s the name of the game: feedback. A manager has to give honest feedback to their staff in order for them to be more productive, engaged, aligned, and ultimately, happy. Frequent one-on-one meetings turn feedback from annual and frightening to constant, constructive and casual.

A great way to make these conversations as productive as possible is by getting 360° feedback from other members of the team. Asking other peers and supervisors about a person’s aptitude and quality of work gives you perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten from your limited interactions with them. 360° feedback is especially useful when the person is remote and you don’t have much more than your conversations to reference.

A modern Employee Experience platform will help you simplify, automate and coordinate all these meetings by allowing you to schedule them on a cadence, include preview questions or agenda topics, and take notes that stay logged for future reference. It’ll be easier to stay organized and to meet with your remote team over video chat the same way you do your on-site team at your desk. If you and your team work in a deskless environment, it should finally bring you to the level of meeting organization that’s so difficult to obtain in a frontline industry.

Another way to upgrade your feedback strategy is a consistent employee survey strategy that lets you customize what questions you ask, the way you ask them and who you send them to. This lets you be extremely versatile in the ways you get feedback and ideas from your team, whether they’re voting on a yes-or-no or showing their feelings on a sliding scale. A group survey utility can help you in all sorts of scenarios, as we’ll see going forward.

Dedication to Employee Recognition

It’s one of the oldest principles in psychology – a person’s motivation to complete a task comes most strongly from the positive reinforcement they will receive afterwards. This is true of a kindergartener painting a picture of their family, and it’s also true of your most senior employees.

Giving your team positive reinforcement and public recognition is massively rewarding for them, even if it’s just on a subconscious level. For a lot of employees, it’s on a conscious level – per Gallup, the #1 reason most people leave their jobs is a lack of recognition.

On the flipside, Quantum Workplace found that when employees are consistently recognized for accomplishments, they’re 2.7x more likely to be highly engaged.

So, what does this recognition entail? It starts with your words – whether you’re seeing them around the office or you’re messaging them online, tell them they did an excellent job completing X task, or give them a specific compliment about how they handled Y moment.

It can be tough to keep tabs on everyone’s weekly highlights, though, and you want to stay consistent across the whole team. That’s why some Employee Experience platforms have introduced features like high fives, stickers, or awards to recognize employees for meeting goals or going above and beyond. Some even let coworkers exchange these with each other; peer-to-peer acknowledgement is another great dimension of recognition.

Now, even if your company’s great at recognizing employees for their productivity, sometimes they might just want something a bit more tangible.

That’s where employee incentive programs come in! These programs help managers reward their teams with bonuses, gifts, or events for putting in exceptional effort on the job. Whether given to one worker or a whole department, the presence of distinct incentives will motivate your staff to go above and beyond to both gain recognition and receive that “something special” that’s waiting for them.

This isn’t just a hunch; studies have shown that incentive programs boost productivity by 25-44% while simultaneously solidifying employee engagement and retention. The variety in numbers comes from the variety of ways you can customize your rewards program. Perhaps your staff wants a night out together, a monetary bonus, or a gaming system for the break room. They might all agree on one idea, or they might each want something different.

Most incentive programs will have the flexibility to adapt to nearly anything your team desires. You could send out surveys to determine what the group would prefer as a whole, or your program may have the ability for employees to select individual prizes for themselves. Either way, you’ll find that no one will be left unrecognized for their contributions, and that’s why it’s one of the best types of employee engagement strategies you can adopt.

When deciding what’s reward-worthy for your team, make sure it’s extra effort that earns them their incentives. Maybe it’s hitting some sort of milestone, completing an important OKR earlier than expected, or maintaining a long streak of consistent excellence. Handing out prizes for standard effort isn’t nearly as motivating.

You should also ensure their goals are specific as well as challenging. Ideally quantifiable, your team has to be aware of exactly what they need to achieve in order to earn a reward. For example, an employee might earn a reward if they land 30 new clients in a month, as opposed to, “Improving their sales numbers”. As long as it represents extra effort, it can be eligible for incentives.

Setting Goals

The types of goals you set are even more important than the incentives on the other end. Thoughtful goal setting is crucial to keeping your team aligned, productive, efficient, and even engaged. While it feels simple to assign your team responsibilities and send them off to complete them, there’s much more to the process than designation. It’s a part of leadership that’s easy to learn, but hard to master.

An aspect of goal setting that many managers don’t even consider is the formatting of the goals, which is vital to clarity and organization. One of the most popular templates is John Doerr’s OKR Method, which has been helping companies like Walmart and Microsoft dominate their respective fields for decades.

“OKRs” stands for “Objectives-Key Results”. By setting an Objective (a broad mission statement) and several Key Results (shorter, measurable assignments) great strides can be made in a quick and organized manner. Let’s take a look at an example –

Objective – Expand our product to overseas markets
Key Result 1 – Identify and sign a contract with a top European retailer
Key Result 2 – Test a new edition of our product that caters to a more international demographic
Key Result 3 – Hire bilingual sales reps to make calls to foreign countries

What you want to do is create a long-term, qualitative Objective that’s supported by 3-5 shorter term, quantitative Key Results. We dive much deeper into the OKR method in our article here, and we recommend you check it out if you’re interested in implementing it yourself.

Now for the juicy stuff – what are the types of goals, objectives and assignments you should be giving your team? 

The first key tip that’s often forgotten is the importance of tying your long-term goal to your mission statement. Ensuring that your end objective matches up with the theme – even the wording – of your company’s mission aligns your team with your organizational vision and therefore motivates them to work towards that end.

The next thing to consider are your A.C.E.S.: the action items you do want to hit this year. ACES stands for…

Achieve – What do you want to attain in the future?

Conserve – What do you want to hang on to?

Eliminate – What do you want to get rid of?

Steer clear – What do you want to avoid?

Running through your ACES can quickly reveal more goals you should create for the upcoming year, especially on the removal side – sometimes it’s just as helpful to subtract from your plate as it is to add to it. Additionally, because they help you step back and understand your strong & weak points, ACES also act as a reframing device for the way your business is running overall.

Similarly, it’s helpful to cover all your bases. If you’re implementing multiple goals, try to make sure they’re all slightly different types of goals to avoid overlapping. Outside of formatting, there are about five different categories of goals:

  • Day-to-Day Work Goals – Directed at increasing your company’s everyday effectiveness
  • Problem-Solving Goals – Problems that face your company or position
  • Development Goals – Encourage the acquisition of new skills and expertise
  • Innovation Goals – Identify innovative approaches that could help make your company more effective in the future 
  • Profitability Goals – Set your sights on where you want your bottom line to be

Setting one goal to match each category might be a bit overwhelming for your team, but it is helpful to hit two or three of the ones you find most important. It also reveals a pit that some leaders fall into: making all your goals the same type. If all your goals were profitability-based, for example, you could miss out on fixing some day-to-day issues.

As a final tip, make sure your short-term goals are specific and quantitative. Vague or subjective language such as, “Consistently impress our clients”, or, “Improve technical support capabilities,” feels arbitrary, and can leave workers confused as to how they’re supposed to meet the goal. If you can’t check it off as complete, it shouldn’t be a short term goal or Key Result.

Location, Location, Location

MUCH has been said about the strengths and weaknesses of remote workforces lately, and for good reason – it’s been by far the most important theme of the last two years. Most companies sent at least part of their workforces home once the pandemic took over in 2020, and even now, 67% of leaders say they don’t anticipate bringing their teams back into the office 5 days a week.

With the proliferation of different strains, industry challenges, and workplace systems, everyone’s reaction to the pandemic has been unique. Between it all, though, there has always been a reaction. Almost no companies have left their work environments unchanged, unless they were completely remote to begin with. 

When it comes to leading a hybrid workforce, there are two crucial elements to consider. First, where would your team prefer to work?

Consider some statistics: this fascinating PriceWaterHouseCooper remote work survey revealed lots of crucial information, including the facts that 55% of employees want to work remotely at least 3 days a week, employers and employees find themselves becoming more productive remotely as time goes on, and less experienced employees value time in the office more strongly, at 30% to 20%.

Don’t be afraid of remote work as a concept, either – employees can be even more productive when working in their home environment. Stanford conducted a study of 16,000 remote workers and found that they were an average of 13% more productive. The kicker? That study was right before the COVID pandemic, in the era before the proliferation of remote collaboration software and workflows designed around remote teams.

While these statistics can guide you, what you decide to do depends heavily on what your team wants. Most people feel rather strongly about where they prefer to work from – 29% of remote employees in a LiveCareer survey say they’d quit their jobs if they were brought back on-site. 

That’s why using a survey tool to gauge how each of your employees feels about working on-site/remote/hybrid is the best way to start planning for a big shift, whether away from the office or back into it. While you can do your best to cater to everyone’s needs, the tough reality of logistics and management is that some members may have to bite the bullet and work in a location that they don’t prefer. This is especially true for deskless workers who work on the front line and can’t really choose.

That’s where the second element of remote work comes in – making sure everyone is aligned.

Your company might have workers at home, in the office, and on the front lines all at the same time. This can wreak havoc on communication, cause misalignment, and result in three separate cultures under one organizational roof.

What any company needs to calibrate their teams is to make sure they have the same employee experience wherever they work. This means the same onboarding steps, communication networks, connectivity, culture, performance review standards, and more. The best way to do this is via an employee portal that supports as many of these processes as possible.

When remote employees share the same experiences with deskless frontline workers and office members, you’ll truly have a holistic team that works toward the same objective despite being in different places.

Building the Perfect Culture

While culture-building is crucial in most organizations, the ways to develop and measure it can be pretty nebulous. “How do we know if we have a good culture?”, is perhaps asked more than, “How do we build a good culture?”

One thing’s for sure: a great culture creates quantifiable business success. Per Forbes, companies whose workers identified their organizational culture as “strong” saw 4x the revenue growth than companies on the opposite end of the spectrum. But… how do we get there?

Well, culture is perhaps the most intangible aspect of an organization’s success. It can’t be captured on a spreadsheet or reported on a graph, it’s felt among employees and their feelings about their jobs. Therefore, you should start by satisfying your team and mastering the employee experience – and hey, we’ve been writing a bit about that!

The steps above are some of the most important parts of building the employee experience and therefore improving your business’ culture dramatically. Adopting a social workplace community, prioritizing feedback, committing to recognition, and making smart hybrid work decisions all represent long strides in the direction of a healthy culture. However, there are still more deliberate steps you should take. 

DEIBA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, Accessibility) is one of the most important. Diversity isn’t just about hiring minority groups, it’s about creating an environment of employees from all backgrounds with all kinds of points of view that have equal opportunity to succeed. There’s much more to discuss about DEIBA than can fit in this section, but we can certainly tell you why it’s crucial.

Companies in the top diversity quartile are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profits, while companies in the fourth quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are 27 percent more likely to underperform on profitability. Companies with DEIBA programs also tend to see improved organizational health, global competitive advantage, increased productivity, better online reviews, easier hiring and retention, and a positive public image. Great DEIBA practices can lead to a complete and positive culture overhaul.

Per McLean & Co, 62% of organizations have added DEI as part of HR’s role, which is trending upwards. You just can’t miss out on it.

Another element that’s a little less worker-centric is creating a meaningful mission/vision statement for your organization. A mission statement tells people three things: why the business exists, what makes it different, and what its people stand for. When it resonates strongly with those who read it, it not only puts your company under a good light, but acts as a positive influence for your employees. For example, retail chain Goodwill’s mission statement is:

“Goodwill Industries International is committed to advancing employment, education and skill-building opportunities for individuals across the globe.”

Not only does it share a lot about what the company aims to achieve, but it sets an example for its employees and illustrates the need to look towards an objective other than profit. A good mission statement can change the tone of an entire organization.

Lastly, how should you measure your culture? How do you know whether sentiment is high or low among your teams? Well, as is often the case, the first step is to survey them. Send out an anonymous survey asking specific questions like, “Do you think this company is destined for greatness,” “Do you enjoy the atmosphere your office provides,” or even simply, “What do you think of the culture here?” If you design the surveys with a sliding scale – or even leave it open for comment – you’ll learn a whole lot. 

You can still glean a lot of information outside of surveys from looking at a few key statistics. Find recent turnover levels and what tends to be the main cause, look into complaints sent to the HR department, and listen to what team members are saying about their years in 360° reviews. 

You can’t fix your culture without being proactive. Set a plan in motion and attack issues head on.

What’s Next?

The sheer amount of steps an organization should take to develop an exceptional Employee Experience can appear to be intimidating; knowing how and where to start is one of the most important parts of the process. That’s why we’re here with a solution that’s uniquely positioned to help you with every piece of the employee experience: HelloTeam.

HelloTeam is the only employee experience platform that’s designed to help you master performance management, employee engagement and establish a social workplace community for remote, on-site, and hybrid teams. We can help you modernize your HR processes and perfect the employee experience for both your deskless and online workers.

Our platform has features in place to help you enhance your feedback strategy, which engages your team and brings you crucial information you wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. You can use our customizable survey tool to solicit feedback from your staff, along with the ability to anonymize the results. We’ve also got a robust one-on-one/meeting utility that facilitates 360° feedback and enables you to evolve your performance reviews into continuous, real-time, coaching discussions that are documented and referenceable.

HelloTeam’s employee recognition features let you engage your team and have fun doing it. Our rewards solution lets them redeem real gifts after meeting goals of your choice. The heart and soul of our platform, however, is the ability to give recognition to other team members with high fives and badges. Send a colleague a high five with a personalized message as a congratulations or piece of acknowledgement whenever you want – even from your phone! Similarly, supervisors can customize recognition badges that can be awarded to workers and featured on their profiles.

This can all be found on HelloTeam’s dashboard, which is what sets us apart and makes us a true employee experience. When workers can congratulate teammates, fill out surveys, redeem rewards, give feedback, update goals, and far more all on one screen, it opens the door to a much higher level of productivity, employee engagement, and profit. 

We also made sure the HelloTeam dashboard is consistent for both team members that work from home and those that work on-site. Whether on your desktop or phone, you can schedule meetings, send high fives, and do everything else with any employee no matter where they operate from. We’re a social workplace community that simulates a professional environment that works for everyone.

Finally, let’s save your culture. Nailing feedback, recognizing your team, and bringing every employee together in a hybrid workforce already elevates your company’s culture to the next level. We can push it even further with our goal-setting feature that helps implement organizational mission statements, our org chart that helps bring all employees together, and surveys that help you figure out what needs fixing – and what doesn’t.

Building a complete Employee Experience can be a daunting task, we know. We’re here to help. Schedule a demo with us to give your team the experience it deserves and your company the profits it needs. If you want to learn more about engagement in general, go here

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