The upheaval of the previous year accelerated changes in the nature of work, and the concept of employee experience—the entire cycle of touchpoints and interactions that people have with their work and workplace—has shifted in tandem. But what does that actually mean in practice?
People Matters asked April Marcot, Head of People & Culture at Talent International, for some thoughts on what the employee experience strategy—or engagement strategy, which she prefers—looks like today. Here's what she shared.
There are quite a few varying viewpoints on employee experience vs employee engagement vs employee satisfaction. What are your own thoughts on the distinction between these three?
For me, employee experience is about the whole journey encompassing every single experience that the employee has in the workplace. It starts when when you're interviewing somebody—the relationship that they have with the interviewers and how they've been treated, how they're feeling—all the way through to the end of their life cycle in the company. Employee engagement is truly about their relationship to work: the relationship that they have with their manager, predominantly, and with the people around them. Employee satisfaction, I believe, is a much more passive state, and it is about the difference between what you expect from your job, your relationship to work, and the company that you work for, versus the reality.
At Talent International, we focus a lot on employee engagement, because I believe that's the aspect that is really going to creat the biggest difference in people's desire to stay within the organisation, their desire to do more and to learn more, to push themselves harder, and to achieve.
What kind of relationship do you think employees are looking for with their workplace in today's changing workplace environment?
I'm not convinced that expectations are changing as much as we think. As humans, we all have the same needs: to be communicated with, to have transparency about why we are being treated as we are, to be respected, to be heard, to have opportunities to grow if we want. Ultimately, to be treated as humans. I don't think that's ever really been different. But possibly now, people are more likely to understand that they can have that. Their expectations are higher, because they know that some companies are making a huge effort to give them that treatment.
Perhaps a few decades ago, we were more likely to accept that things were just the way they were. It's not that people in the 1980s wouldn't have wanted communication and transparency and authenticity and a manager that they could trust and rely on—they would have been more likely to accept that they couldn't get it. Whereas the younger generations now would say, “If you won't give that to me then I'll find somebody else who will.” And I think that's a great thing.
Another thing that stands out is the desire to have vulnerability from leaders. There are two aspects of vulnerability: one is where a person says “I'm human and I've experienced these hardships in my past”—things like a lack of educational opportunities or an impoverished childhood—and this kind of vulnerability is really essential for empathy and building relationships with people.
But there's also the other kind of vulnerability, that I think we're still missing a little of. And that is the vulnerability to actually admit that, as managers, sometimes we don't have all the answers, and sometimes we are confused or hurt by things in the workplace, or we find some things challenging.
I think that's a really important kind of vulnerability—for people around you to understand that you just don't have all the answers, that the CEO or other leaders haven't always been in that position and that they, too, ask questions like “How did I get here?” and “Do I really know how to do this job?”
And I think it's really important for everybody else in the organisation to hear those stories and understand that.
It's certainly a huge shift in corporate culture. What do you see as the major obstacles—what's holding companies back?
I think that ultimately, the greatest obstacle to having a good culture, or to managing change or dealing with uncertainty, is when senior leadership are saying one thing and behaving in a different way.
That lack of authenticity means that people don't trust. If you're taking somebody on any kind of journey, whether it's related to COVID or whether we're just moving from one CRM to another CRM, if what you're saying doesn't match up with what you're doing and how you're behaving, people are going to home in on that. They're going to see the disconnect. And then it's going to be incredibly hard to get anybody to buy into that journey.
What role do you think an employer's approach to social issues such as gender equality or racial justice, or broader concepts such as diversity and sustainability, plays in influencing employees' relationship with the company?
If you're saying as an organisation that you care, that's actually the value that resonates most with people. For us at Talent International, it actually defines the way we behave with each other: with our teams, with our contractors, with our candidates, with our clients, and with the world. For example, we set up a foundation called Rise, to help young people with barriers to employment find work. And it shows: when I speak to new employees around the six-month mark to find out how things are going, 90 percent of the time they'll tell me everything is great and they love the culture. Ultimately their experience is a proof point that we actually do what we promise, and that we do care about the society that we live in.
That resonates with people who want to work for organisations that care holistically about the entire society that they are in, rather than just themselves.
But if you have a value like that without having any proof points that you actually do care, then that value is not going to resonate with anybody. It's going to do the opposite. I think that's a great thing. If everybody said “I'm not going to work for a company without a social conscience”, then companies would have to change much, much faster.
Contract work has always been a major feature of the industries that Talent International serves. Could you share some thoughts on what the employer-employee relationship means in the context of these high demand, low supply, project-based roles?
We recognise that the majority of our contractors choose to be contractors, because they're highly specialised in certain areas. They're quite happy to briefly join an organisation to deliver a project, and then to move on to the next one. And we respect that. But that doesn't mean that they don't want certain levels of connection.
So what we do is create long term relationships with these contractors. We do a lot to ensure that these contractors feel as connected to us as possible. We extend benefits to them, such as counselling services under an EAP, that often, they wouldn't have the same access to as an employee. We focus very much on understanding their expectations of us and tailoring their experience with us accordingly. We have contract care managers in most of our offices, who are solely there to manage that relationship and to ensure that our contractors are being cared for and that their needs are being met, to give them that support network that they might not otherwise have.
Some of our contractors have been working with us for years, which shows that we've given them some level of stability or comfort and the knowledge that they have a relationship and that their personal needs are catered to. The relationship is one where we respect the decisions that they make about their careers, and we work to support them so that they can continue to thrive as contractors.