In the beginning, there was The Employee and The Company. The Company hired The Employee to do The Work. The Employee did The Work and The Company was happy. The Company didn’t care if The Employee was happy, all that mattered was The Work. The Work got done, The Employee got paid, and The Company grew and was happy.
The Employee, however, wanted more.
They wanted to grow and be happy, just like The Company. They wanted to be treated like a person, not merely as a provider of The Work. But The Company did not understand. To Them, The Employee’s life at work was simple. They got hired, trained, promoted, had anniversaries every 5 or so years, and eventually, retired. And so came to pass The Employee Lifecycle, and The Company rested, for it thought that it was done.
Thus ends today’s reading from the Book of Job. Please rise for our theme song.
Welcome to The Work Place, where we’re hot on the trail of what makes great workplace cultures tick, and what we can all do to make the ones we work in better. I’m Andrew Scarcella. On this mini-ep, we’re examining employee experience. What is it, how is it changing, and what should it look like as we enter a new decade?
But before we dig in, I have a little bit of what we podcasters call light housework. We do an awful lot of talking about workplace culture here at The Work Place and not nearly enough listening. Let’s fix that. If you have a burning question about workplace culture, or a story about why YOUR workplace culture is the best (or worst) send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll feature it in an upcoming episode.
We start where we left off: the employee lifecycle model. For some perspective, let’s see how employee experience expert, author, and futurist, Jacob Morgan, describes the evolution of employee experience.
It all started with a focus on utility—companies wanting to make sure employees had the bare minimum of what’s needed to get work done (a desk, a chair, a pencil), which soon shifted to what’s needed to get work done faster (things like employee optimisation, productivity analysis, and repeatable processes). Which eventually evolved into what’s needed to keep employees engaged and happy (think annual surveys, mission statements, and perks, so many perks). And now, finally, companies are starting to take a holistic view of the employee experience that includes all the things that make employees want to come to work—think culture, workspace, and intentionally designed experiences.
So that’s what experts say, but what do us regular people think? Well, a whopping 92% of employees surveyed in the 2020 Global Culture Report defined their employee experience as their everyday experience, but only 42% rated that experience as positive.
As the name suggests, the employee lifecycle model is organised linearly. It starts at the beginning and ends at the end, only stopping at major milestones along the way. It’s been the dominant model for decades, but over the past few years the term employee lifecycle has become increasingly confused with employee experience.
It makes sense, if you’re a company. But from an employee’s point of view, it fails to capture the most important parts of the journey: the personal, everyday micro-experiences that shape our lives at work.
The conversations between meetings. The off-color jokes around the lunch table. The last minute projects. The endless email chains. The enemies. The friends. And the countless minutiae of our daily grind.
Instead, the employee lifecycle defines our lives at work by looking at the macro-experiences, the supposed career-defining moments that are infrequent, prescriptive, and far too often, forgettable. Take onboarding. Do you remember YOUR last onboarding experience? All I can remember from mine was the weird, anti-carpal tunnel stretches they showed us in the section about wellbeing. Arm out, palm open, twist outwards
The underlying truth the employee lifecycle model fails to grasp is that milestones aren’t just forgettable, they’re not even single experiences! Onboarding isn’t just onboarding. It’s accepting the offer, receiving the welcome letter, your first day at work, the orientation, the tour of the office, meeting your team, meeting your leader, settling into your workspace, learning the company purpose, logging in to your computer, getting your first assignment, being overwhelmed by policies and procedures, and so on.
When companies hew to the employee lifecycle model, they often leave employees feeling more like a cog in whatever machine cogs are in. The term “human resources” itself speaks to the way many organisations regard their people—less as individuals with complex feelings and emotions, and more like raw material that needs to be extracted, refined, packaged and shipped. [now shouting] It’s a post-industrial mentality stuck in the information age like a simile I forgot to write.
By contrast, when we put the employee at the center of their own experience, we’re better able to understand the full breadth of their day-to-day work-life. It’s hard to over-emphasise the role micro-experiences play in creating a more engaging employee experience—but we’re going to try anyways. Here are five quick tips to make sure your culture is focused on the kind of daily micro-experiences that connect your employees to their work, their team, and their organisation.
NUMBER ONE: Look out for burnout. With 79% of employees reporting suffering from some form of burnout, even the most celebrated company cultures can’t afford to ignore its effect on employee experience. If you haven’t listened to our last mini-ep on burnout, go back and give it a listen. As dire as it may seem, there’s a lot you can do to prevent and even combat burnout before it embeds itself in your culture.
NUMBER TWO: Rethink leadership. The top-down, leader-knows-best style of management can leave employees feeling alienated, and frankly, it’s finally dying a well-deserved death. Rising from its ashes is shared leadership. When leaders give team members the chance to lead a meeting, plan a complex project, or simply have a say in big decisions, it encourages ownership and helps create the kind of daily micro-experiences that evoke feelings of independence and purpose.
NUMBER THREE: Listen to your people. Really listen. Don’t just ask for feedback, do something with it—surveys alone won’t cut it. Research shows you should use at least five different modalities of listening for people to feel truly heard. Then, by proactively communicating feedback, action, and results along the way, organisations can improve listening and the employee experience simultaneously.
NUMBER FOUR: Build better connections between leaders and their direct reports by encouraging one-to-one conversations. Monthly meetups decrease the odds of employee burnout by 39%. Kick that up to bi-weekly chats and that number jumps to a whopping 84%! It’s amazing how much simply talking to one another can impact someone’s experience.
NUMBER FIVE: Look closer at your team dynamics. Productive, happy teams have employees that feel included, supported, and psychologically safe. They give their members the autonomy to make decisions and direct process, and anchors them with trust and confidence in their leaders. Not sure where to start? Try peer-to-peers, which allow employees to share feedback, support each other’s development, and grow together.
Now, you don’t have to take any of this as gospel. These 5 tips aren’t the whole picture, but they are a great starting point for anyone hoping to move beyond the antiquated employee lifecycle model and build an intentional employee experience where people can grow and thrive.
With your help, brothers and sisters, we can strike down the impersonal, imperial “employee lifecycle model” and usher in a new age of employee experience.
That’s it for this mini-ep of The Work Place. This episode was written by yours truly with original music and sound design by Daniel Foster Smith.
The Work Place is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, the global leader in engaging workplace cultures. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud™️ provides a single, modular suite of apps for influencing and improving employee experiences through recognition, career anniversaries, wellbeing, leadership, and more.
If you want your organisation to become a place where people can’t wait to come to work in the morning, go to octanner.com.
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