Redesigning EX for 2023? Put purpose at the centre of your plan

Organisations can create a productive and meaningful workplace for employees by developing an experience based on purpose.
By: | December 28, 2022

As HR leaders head into 2023, many are placing new emphasis on the employee experience (EX), redesigning everything from tech offerings to benefit programmes to ensure a competitive edge in today’s candidate- and employee-driven market.

Employers would be keen to note, experts say, that efforts to strengthen EX must go more than skin deep; perks can only get the company so far, as today’s employees are looking for an experience rooted in purpose.

Meghan Stetler, a Director at the O.C. Tanner Institute, says the firm’s recent research found that employees use varied language to describe what they are looking for out of their work experiences, but it largely comes down to one idea: fulfilment.

It is a concept employers are increasingly recognising in the last few years, as the pandemic prompted a large-scale realignment of workers’ priorities, and the lack of such drove many to the door. A recent study from Gartner found that more than half of employees surveyed said COVID-19 made them question the purpose of their day-to-day job.

Industry analyst Stacia Garr, who will be exploring the concept of purpose in the leadership pipeline at the upcoming HR Technology Virtual Conference held from 28 February to 2 March 2023, said earlier this year that “purpose really matters in our society today.” And if employers simply think of purpose as a “Great Resignation” fad and not a permanent change in employee expectations, she says, “we have missed an incredibly important opportunity.”

Just what type of fulfilment are employees looking for? Stetler says O.C. Tanner drilled the concept down into four dimensions, namely the need for community and belonging, growth, purpose and balance, all of which were threatened by the stressor of the pandemic, social unrest and continuous upheaval in recent years.

To meet employee expectations for fulfilment in their EX, she says, HR leaders should work to target each of these dimensions. For instance, align individual contributions to common purposes, encourage autonomy and flexibility, promote development including through stretch assignments tailored to individual passions and incorporate recognition throughout the employee lifecycle.

Natalie Rothman, Executive Vice President and CHRO at Advance Auto Parts, says the auto retailer has been shifting its EX strategy in recent years with employee fulfilment in mind. It has strengthened its investment in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives, for instance, and is working to give employees more of a voice in company initiatives.

Its Innovation Garage, for example, allows team members to submit ideas to tackle business problems, anything from furthering diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy to improving the team member experience. Employees vote on ideas and have the chance to present their solutions to company leaders.

“It’s really fun for them,” Rothman says. “We’re getting people involved all across the company—people in stores, in warehouses—and the winner gets stock in the company. We have a ‘Be an owner’ culture, so we want to make sure all of our team members feel like owners of our company.”

When fulfilment can be successfully embedded in the EX strategy, Stetler notes, it can yield quite a return for employers: O.C. Tanner research, for instance, found that highly fulfilled employees are likely to stay with the organisation three years longer than those who are not.

While EX improvement cannot happen overnight, the environment may be ripe for it. According to recent research from FOUNT, a provider of an EX management platform, 94% of respondents agree that EX work is a long-term commitment at their organisation; more than 60% have an EX strategy for at least the next six months. No long-term strategy is possible without leader buy-in and, according to the report, about 40% say senior leaders view EX improvement as equal to other business priorities.

As the world of work continues to transform, Christophe Martel, Co-Founder and CEO of FOUNT, expects to see even more investment in EX redesign.

“The pandemic increased the urgency for long-term investment in EX because employee expectations have changed,” Martel says, “and the cost of inaction is higher than ever.”

About the author: Jen Colletta is HRE’s managing editor. This article was first published on Human Resource Executive.