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Why It’s Important to Invest in the Employee Experience

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ken Oehler – Global Culture & Engagement Practice Leader at Aon. His opinions are his own. 

Employee experience is something many HR leaders are talking about.  But what exactly should that experience be?  Aon’s 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement Report provides some clues. In this report we found that engagement levels amongst employees around the world rebounded to match all-time highs by the end of 2017.

However, with 73 percent of employees still not considered “highly engaged,” it seems that this relative high point means the average employee experience is probably still filled with disappointment and frustration.  In the current business context, most leaders need to drive faster innovation and growth but have not invested sufficiently in creating a work experience that makes it easy for employees to deliver on those goals.

Volatility in the Employee Experience

The average employee experience is turbulent.  Employee engagement and employee experience are not the same things Rather, employee engagement is an important outcome and lagging indicator of the employee experience. The employee experience is how an employee perceives all aspects of their employment throughout their tenure at a company.

Over the last year w,e saw average global employee engagement move up 2 percentage points.  Although this means aggregate engagement is relatively stable and improving, we know from our studies looking at the same employees over time, that an individual’s engagement can change year to year or even day to day.

Our research that looked beneath the surface of aggregate engagement scores found that about half of employees experience some change in their level of engagement and 25 percent of employees completely flip from engaged to disengaged or vice versa in one year.  So with our latest engagement trends, it is likely that beneath the net two percentage point increase, approximately 14 percent of people became engaged and 12 percent became disengaged.

We also saw in our 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement Report that year over year engagement changes varied from +15 to -7 percentage points across countries.  This type of engagement volatility indicates a lot of change in the work experience.   The top work experience opportunities from our research – rewards & recognition, leadership, career & development, Employee Value Proposition and enabling infrastructure – indicate significant room for improvement compared to what top quartile organizations are delivering.

Again, we see a lot of variability across segments in how these work experience indicators are changing.  And, about 4 out of 10 employees at any given point in time are having a less than positive experience with these important aspects of how they are led, inspired, rewarded, recognized, developed and enabled.

Employees in the Wake of Turbulent Business Pressures

So why are employees experiencing so much volatility and why are these work experience indicators so important now? The last year has been marked by intense and competing business pressures in the forms of economic tailwinds, rapid technological advancements, and digital innovation on one side and competitive disruption, social change, and political strife on the other.

What does this mean for the average employee experience?  A lot of change and uncertainty.  Whether change comes from business strategy transformation, M&A, restructuring, new technology adoption, a new leader, a new manager, or a new team, this is a lot for most employees to absorb on top of their “day job.”

Rapid change is likely to continue to accelerate.  As we see in the top engagement opportunities in our research, successfully engaging thousands of employees on this journey will require 1) Engaging, visionary and people-centric leadership, 2) agility enabled by technology, processes, decision-making, customer focus and 3) a maniacal talent focus on what it takes to attract, inspire, develop, manage and reward the right people who are focused on the right things.

HR Implications and Challenges

The journey to engaging employees through leadership, agility and talent focus can appear daunting. Below are some implications and tips on how to strategically invest in the employee experience:

It seems clear that the rate of change will not slow down, and leaders will need to understand and adjust more quickly to create an employee experience that unlocks engagement, agility and performance. Technological advancements will soon allow us to consume more information, act more quickly and deliver a better, more individualized employee experience with ongoing feedback loops.  We must remember, however, that this technology is a vehicle and not an end in of itself.

Accelerating greater organizational and individual performance is the ultimate objective and that requires a very personalized understanding of the employee experience, the barriers to remove and the enablers required.  Employees are not just the people you need to take along with you. Through stronger continuous dialogue, employees may actually tell you how to bring the organization along with them.

Ken Oehler

Ken Oehler is Aon’s Global Culture & Engagement Practice Leader. Ken specializes in developing data-driven culture, leadership, rewards and technology interventions that accelerate performance. He earned a B.A in economics from The University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Industrial & Organizational Psychology from DePaul University.

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