The question of “how to improve the employee experience?” is one being posed right now by an increasing number of businesses. They recognise the need go beyond employee engagement to focus on their experience more holistically. So, what does this look like? Well, sadly there’s no a ready-made template but there are principles and practices that are common to organisations known for being great places to work. We explore some of these and look at an Airbnb case study example.
Five key ingredients of the employee experience
The first thing to say is that engagement remains a crucial piece of the puzzle. However, what we’re saying is that it is just one of three pieces, along with enablement and empowerment. Organisations that offer a great employee experience tick all three boxes.
So, how do they do this and what is it that the best organisations – we all know the ones (Google, Facebook, Apple et al.) – do differently to attract top talent? Industry expert Josh Bersin highlights five areas in which “Simply Irresistible” organisations, as he calls them, excel in the employee experience they offer.
1. Providing meaningful work
If employees are to perform at their best, they need a clear purpose, to know how their own job role supports bigger organisational goals and, more than this, to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. As Simon Sinek tells us, the ‘why’ is really important from an emotional standpoint; we need this meaning. And, moreover, people need to be empowered and given the freedom to be creative if they’re to flourish.
2. Having great managers
Line managers have a huge bearing on our employee engagement. But what is it that separates the best from a just okay manager? Well, while individual styles may differ, the best managers are all able to coach people, to provide quality feedback, to aid personal development and to set stretching but attainable objectives. In short, they’re able to harness and nurture potential, to make people feel valued, to empower them and to drive improved performance.
3. Enabling growth and development
Career development opportunities is a really common driver of engagement. So, where employees find there’s no career path or no possibilities for them to advance themselves, they tend to vote with their feet. This is particularly the case with top performers.
Employees should be provided access to relevant training and, just as importantly, be supported and given time to focus on developmental activities within the working day. The very best companies recognise the benefits for both individuals and the organisation in doing this, fostering a culture of continuous learning.
4. Nailing the culture and environment
Flexible working is a big draw for today’s employees – they appreciate having an employer that ‘gets’ the need to fit in personal life commitments around work demands. But, amid the shift to more remote working, the physical workplace remains important too. On the practical side, employees must feel they are equipped and enabled to go about their jobs. And the workplace should ideally also foster fun, inclusivity and collaboration; whether that’s achieved through comfy chairs, clever design, standing desks or perks and freebies.
5. Having strong and empowering leadership
Senior leaders will naturally have a big influence on a business’s fortunes and, with it, how employees experience of working there. It is they that must set a mission that employees both understand and identify with. And, in shaping the leadership style, it’s important that they be seen to ’walk the talk’ in role modelling the values and behaviours that are up on the wall. This, along with being visible and communicating openly and honestly, is vital to building that most priceless of commodities: trust.
A case study example: Airbnb
Airbnb should be considered a pioneer when it comes to employee experience. In a move that raised more than a few eyebrows in 2015, they appointed a first ‘Chief Employee Experience Officer’. Now it’s pretty clear that they were ahead of the curve as droves of other big businesses have since followed suit. Mark Levy, CEO of Airbnb, offers an insight into how they see the experience their employees have of working there:
“At Airbnb we are focused on bringing to life our mission of creating a world where you can belong anywhere, by creating memorable workplace experiences which span all aspects of how we relate to employees, including how we recruit them, develop them, the work environment we create with them, the type of volunteer experiences we offer them, and the food we share together”.
Here are a few other aspects that characterise the experience employees have of working at Airbnb:
- They recruit people who share their passion, will fit into the collaborative culture and who will truly live their values
- They offer flexibility around when, where and how employees work
- They actively involve employees seeking regular feedback and honing processes and practices as a result
- They reward employees with great perks to such as giving each of them $2,000 a year to holiday in Airbnb residencies around the world.
The employee experience prize
Delivering a great employee experience promises a myriad of benefits for businesses, from better employee retention and increased productivity to an improved customer experience. But perhaps above all others, it turns employees into advocates. And that is powerful indeed.