Our expectations about work and the brands we work for have created a shift in how work gets done, who does the work, how employees interact with organizations, and how their experiences impact the overall success of the brands they serve. Currently, there are several trends shaping the future of the workplace and HR’s role in it, including:
- The Gig Economy
- A growing skills gap in some industries
- HR tech and the resulting available data
- An emphasis on workplace culture
- A focus on employee engagement
While each one of these trends is worth discussing in some depth, the trends around employee experiences are some of the most challenging for most HR departments. While there is a growing awareness of the importance of a positive workplace culture, the challenge of creating and managing such as culture is becoming harder as it becomes more important. Earning high marks for employee engagement has been elusive for all but a very small minority of companies, despite widespread focus on the issue.
In the next few years, HR teams will need to undergo a mindset shift to make way for processes and policies that change assumptions and practices that involve everything from hiring and onboarding to workforce management, talent redistribution, and workforce expectations around off-boarding, layoffs, and former employee relations.
Social media sites such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook have created a transparency into company culture and employee satisfaction like never before. Employees, both past and present, are telling your brand story to future employees and customers every day. Never before has it been so important to make your employees your brand evangelists and to create positive employee experiences that begin with the hiring process all the way through to the end of their employment with your company.
Deloitte’s Josh Bersin predicts, in “Predictions for 2017: Everything is Becoming Digital,” that HR will play a bigger role in understanding, managing, and improving the employee experience. Organizations will prioritize building an end-to-end set of experiences, from recruiting to outplacement services, which coexist to benefit the employee.
According to Bersin, “The topics of culture and engagement will remain top of mind for business and HR leaders around the world….[while] the challenge of managing culture will become even harder.”
The report shows a substantial growth in the importance of workplace culture as evidenced by the significant rise in the frequency of Google searches for the terms “workplace culture” since 2008 – reaching over 3 million in 2015. Interest in workplace culture was part of the reason Merriam-Webster voted “culture” as the 2014 word of the year.
Improving your workplace culture requires three things:
- Defining your culture
- Measuring employee attitudes about your culture
- Protecting your branded workplace culture
Defining your workplace culture
Before you can tell the world who you are, you have to decide what defines your company and its people. It’s not enough to say you have a “work hard, play hard culture.” Your workplace culture is about more than just a flexible work schedule and Friday happy hours. Your workplace culture includes everything in your organization from attitudes to leadership styles, meeting communication norms, traditions, hiring practices, benefits packages, values, and practices – to name a few.
Defining your workplace culture will help you set the tone for your internal and external communications. How do you want your employees to talk to each other? What should be the tone of internal meetings? How should employees interact with vendors? What kind of people make up the workplace and what kind of people will you hire to fit into the current culture?
If you’re not sure what describes your company culture, you can start by asking your employees. Design an internal survey that asks your current employees to describe their working environment and tell you what they’d tell a friend who was considering applying for a job there or to describe the communication tone of their manager. Include any other questions that will help you determine the human experience of working at your organization.
Compare current employee answers to the comments on social media forums such as Glassdoor or Twitter. If you’re not sure where to start, or which questions to ask, you may want to employ an outside agency to help you find the answers. You may also need outside advice to decide what steps to take if you aren’t getting the answers you’d hoped for.
Measuring employee attitudes about your culture
The growing emphasis on creating a positive workplace culture has also created a demand for measuring employee sentiment. Taking the temperature one time to define your culture is only the beginning. Keeping your finger on the pulse of employee attitudes and your successful or unsuccessful attempts to create a culture that encourages cooperation and high performance, will help you to implement the strategies and practices necessary to maintain a positive image, reduce turnover, and attract the best talent.
Once you’ve established a positive workplace culture, conducting regular employee surveys will help you to protect the brand you’ve worked hard to create and the good reputation you’ve earned in the market.
Protecting your branded workplace culture
Getting good reviews on Glassdoor and engaging employees on Twitter in a positive way is easier when you’re aggressively hiring, promoting, and improving employee salary packages. But what happens when it becomes necessary to restructure your organization? Will you let all those good reviews turn negative with terminated employee grumblings and complaints against your company?
If you think bad reviews following a company-wide event are inevitable, you haven’t done enough to make sure you’re offering exiting employees a way to leave without ruining your relationship, and you may not be doing enough to find places for your best talent within your organization.
Although layoffs have always been a part of the business lifecycle, using resources to effectively help impacted employees through a career transition and to land a job faster is still relatively new. If you think outplacement services are just something you offer because you have to, you haven’t looked into what contemporary outplacement services can do for you and your brand.
Organizations that are truly committed to improving the company culture, benefit from the many advantages of using outplacement services, including:
- Higher alumni sentiment rating
- Improved employee engagement
- Increased talent retention
- Positive employee referrals
Showing your employees that your company culture and core values extend beyond a poster on the wall, yields benefits far beyond the initial restructuring event. Encouraging your impacted employees to use the outplacement programs you’ve provided improves their success rate and your alumni sentiment rating, further protecting your good name in the industry and reducing your costs overall.
As part of the trend toward improving workplace cultures, we’re seeing leading organizations completely revitalize their layoff process, evolving their somewhat limited severance package into a robust severance package that includes outplacement services designed to redeploy impacted employees either outside of the organization or to new roles within the organization.
When companies are forced to downsize, the workplace culture and company image can both be negatively impacted. Companies that are dedicated to creating a positive workplace culture are showing greater empathy towards their entire workforce by supporting both exiting and remaining employees during downturns in business.
Employee engagement isn’t just a buzzword. Engaged employees are more productive, share their ideas, take positive action with coworkers and customers, contribute to the overall success of the company, and are more likely to stay longer than two years. Bersin’s research identifies 20 key drivers of engagement in 5 key areas:
- Meaningful work
- Great management
- Fantastic environment
- Growth opportunity
- Trust in leadership
In three of these areas, employees identify opportunities for employers to adopt new processes and rethink the status quo to create a more engaged workforce:
- Fantastic environment
- Flexible, humane work environment
- Facilitated talent mobility
- Investment in people; trust
- Transparency & communication
The traditional HR mindset identifies candidates with specific skills and backgrounds to fill specific roles. When that role is no longer necessary or eliminated due to a corporate downsizing event, the employee is released. Later, when the need arises, HR again seeks to fill the role with the best qualified candidate. As corporate expansion and contraction become part of the normal ebb and flow of doing business, the cost of layoffs, recruiting and onboarding are taking their toll. Instead of thinking about the workforce as a rigid, roles-based resource, HR department can shift their thinking to add flexibility into their hiring practices to include encouraging and supporting career transitions within the organization.
Modern outplacement services aren’t just reserved for placing employees outside of the organization during a downsizing or restructuring event. Contemporary outplacement includes the ability to place employees in other roles within the organization, saving companies time and money associated with recruiting and onboarding and giving them the ability to retain their best and brightest employees.
Leveraging the career coaching and job matching expertise of a contemporary outplacement firm, organizations can provide the flexible, mobile workplace employees have come to expect from the best brands. While many companies are increasing their investment in employees during their tenure with the company by providing more opportunities for learning and career development, HR departments will need to shift their focus to include investing in employees after employment ends.
Since employee engagement sentiment is often expressed by employees after they’ve left the company, extending your support to them post-employment has become an imperative to the best employers. In his report, Bersin compiled Glassdoor results from over 20,000 respondents and found that, on average, companies receive a score of 3.2 for Glassdoor ratings of employer (Recommend to friends). Only a very small percentage gave the company a rating of 4.0 or better.
The study found that “the companies that received higher rankings place employees first and their leaders and managers think hard every day about what they can do to make their employees more productive and rewarded at work.” Those employers are committed to getting regular and continuous feedback. Companies who have access to feedback from their alumni employees have a better chance of proactively protecting the brand. As part of the new “big data” in HR, contemporary outplacement firms provide HR departments with relevant, actionable information to help companies maintain a positive workplace culture and increase employee engagement overall.
Building a positive workplace culture that includes high employee engagement takes time and a focus on every aspect of the employee experience. For many companies, improving the employee experience will require a shift in thinking about the role of HR, the processes and the practices that constitute our hiring and firing norms. At the very least, the focus on the employee experience will extend beyond the boundaries of their employment within an organization to include their experiences before and after their tenure within the company.