5 reasons to prioritise employee experience during hard times

While many companies are focused on their businesses during these tough times, they should not forget about engaging their employees.
By: | March 24, 2020

By Ken Matos, Director, People Science at Culture Amp

There is boundless research available these days showing how employee experience influences people’s commitment and performance at work.  However, many organisations disregard this knowledge in times of crisis, viewing employee value propositions and experience as concerns solely for times of rapid growth.

In truth, employee experience is one of the most important business considerations during tough times, when an organisation’s commitment to its employees is laid bare. During crises, employees are especially keyed to issues such as which benefits get cut first, and whether sacrifices are fairly distributed between units and levels. Leaders may be focused on the business, but employees (who could be let go at any time) don’t have the luxury of putting the company first.

Here are five ways in which ignoring employee experience in a crisis can do more harm than good.

  1. Company reputations are fragile: Employees keep track of how they are treated when the chips are down, and they share those notes with their social media networks. A company that goes from angelic to draconian will find that their reputation doesn’t recover as quickly as its bottom line. Ignoring employee experience now will haunt your Glassdoor ratings for years to come.
  2. Cost efficient retention strategies for top staff are essential: If you need to run on a leaner staff to manage labour costs, you are likely to be eager to recruit top-notch talent that can do more than the average employee. The same is likely true for your competitors. Employee experience is a key tool to holding that staff without paying a premium.
  3. Feedback is key to influential corporate communications and policies: When companies are struggling, their leaders often focus on large scale issues and external stakeholders. As a result, they tend to forget that employees care about both the organisation’s financial health and what it is like to work there. Employees are unlikely to work harder for less when they hear about executive bonuses for cutting jobs and salaries. Understanding how employees are experiencing changes is foundational to prioritising labour spends and communications that inspire commitment.
  4. Innovation is the key to adapting to challenges: Employees who are worried about job losses or perceptions that they might appear ungrateful for their job during tough times tend to focus on maintaining the status quo. Yet, challenging times are exactly when organisations most need to innovate new ways to make the most of limited resources, create new products, or push into new markets. Understanding whether crisis management efforts are igniting or suppressing innovation is instrumental to quickly adapting to the new normal.
  5. Avoiding the recovery collapse: Leaders may count on poor job markets to retain valued staff despite poor experiences. Employees don’t forget these collective indignities and will abandon ship at the first opportunity. This means that when the situation changes and you are positioned to ride a lean, finely honed team of employees to success, you suddenly find them running for the doors. This gives your competitors an opportunity to absorb more of the newly available market share while you sit on the sidelines rebuilding your teams.

Instead of dropping your employee feedback strategy, evolve it to deliver the insights you need at the right time and for the right cost.

  1. Use real-time survey reporting: If you are using consultants for your feedback strategy, you are paying a premium to have them do all the work by hand. Using a lower cost, self-driven technology to administer and instantly report on data redirects more of your budget to taking action in the moment when it matters most.
  2. Focus on groups of greatest value: While all employees should have a good experience with an employer, there are some who will be more essential to weathering the current storm. Using heatmaps and other tools to look at the responses of key departments or high performers can help determine which policies to put on or save from the chopping block.
  3. Use comments to adjust messaging: Employees will tell you what hurts in a crisis and often it’s less about the crisis itself and more about how they are treated during the change. Comments (and tailored questions) can alert you to specific actions that might need to be adjusted to be better accepted. Comments can surface rumours and stories employees are telling themselves, social media and reporters about what’s happening. Use employee feedback to help you control the narrative.
  4. Anticipate and defuse change resistance: Employees may not fully understand the circumstances demanding change or fear what will happen to them after a change, causing them to resist adapting as quickly as the organisation needs. Conducting a change resistance survey can identify both which employees are likely to resist the change and for what reasons, allowing for tailored interventions. The sooner you defuse change resistance, the sooner you can adapt to a new market.
  5. Anticipate and stop post-recovery turnover: Use turnover forecasting to identify populations that are likely to turnover when given the opportunity. Then act now to either address their issues or strategise how you can best make it up to them after the crisis is over.