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How the Pandemic Whirlwind is Changing Employee Experience

The pressures and ambiguity created by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected everything about what it means to be an employee of an organization (assuming you’re among the fortunate who are still employed). And defining employee experience today is a very different proposition than it was on January 1st of this year.

The Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) current research on employee experience, which we define as the whole of what people encounter, observe, and feel before, during, and after the course of their employee journey at an organization, has found that while 30% of the overall 785 respondents to our recent study (members: download the preliminary findings now) reported that their organizations have created a formal definition of employee experience, 32% are still in the process of working on it.

Human resources leaders who were focused pre-pandemic on developing their organizations’ muscle around employee experience are tasked with shifting to redefine employee experience and identify and deliver in real-time on the elements that matter the most now.

This requires taking a step back, reassessing, and redefining. And for organizations that haven’t yet begun or are in the very early stages of shaping and articulating what employee experience means, now is the time to get going. Because everything about work and the employee experience proposition has changed and there is undoubtedly more change to come.

Among those organizations that have already adopted formal definitions of what employee experience means for them, there is acknowledgement that these descriptions will have to adjust—among those representing larger organizations (those that employ >1,000 people)—a combined 69% indicated that they believe to a high or very high extent that the meaning of employee experience will change as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elements that combine to create employee experience include compensation, workspace, technology, total rewards (to include wellness and well-being programs), social connection, learning and development, and advancement opportunities.

But the importance placed on each of those essentials in terms of how they contribute to overall employee experience is shifting, understandably so in an environment in which recruitment and onboarding are now virtual, as are internship programs, and collaborating together over coffee in a meeting room has moved to whiteboarding on camera (with children and pets in the background).  Changes in Employee Experience

Priorities are changing in real-time, and part of delivering exceptional employee experience is recognizing that what was important six months ago may not even be on the radar now— staying on top of those changing needs and enabling employees to be agile and adaptive is imperative.  

The survey found that the top-five elements of employee experience ranked by importance before the COVID-19 crisis were:

  1. Compensation
  2. Leadership development
  3. Performance management
  4. Wellness and well-being programs
  5. Recognition programs

The top-five employee experience ranked by importance now (since the pandemic began):

  1. Ensuring employees have the technology they need to do their jobs from anywhere
  2. Compensation
  3. Flexible work arrangements
  4. Wellness and well-being programs
  5. Recognition programs

As organizations work their way through the rigors of ongoing crisis management, the focus is moving from basic needs, safety, and security to long-range enablement. There’s acknowledgement of the need for empathy, investing in well-being, and responding to the unique makeup and needs of the workforce.

Enhancing employee experience at one organization may mean shifting to hybrid working models, such as four-day work weeks, ensuring that people take time off. For others it may mean figuring out ways to ensure that career and life-defining events (“moments that matter”) are marked and celebrated in meaningful ways in a virtual environment.

What will employee experience look like in your organization six months from now? A year from now? How do we even begin to ponder this? It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity to shape and build something new, maybe even better.

A good start is defining (or reaffirming) employee experience from the perspective of your employees and where they are right now. If you haven’t done a pulse survey lately, now is a good time to ask: How do employees feel about their careers, their interactions with colleagues, their everyday experiences with your organization? How can you help?

i4cp will publish more findings from our Next Practices in Employee Experience study throughout the rest of the year as we continue to analyze and examine the data collected. i4cp members also have the opportunity to participate in the Employee Experience Exchange, a peer-driven working group consisting of dozens of leading employers.

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.