Q&A: The Employee Experience with Ben Whitter
The employee experience is shifting and with it, so is the awareness of HR leaders when it comes to what employees experience on day-to-day basis.
As employers look to create positive experiences and improve the way they impact and influence employee lives, there is a great deal to consider. From remote work to employee safety and company culture, HR teams looking to get it right will be asking themselves a lot of questions right now and in the months that follow due to the COVID-19 crisis.
To talk about how to build better experiences in the post COVID-19 workplace and how to fully embrace the employee experience, we interviewed Ben Whitter, founder of the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI) and author of "Employee Experience: Develop a Happy, Productive and Supported Workforce for Exceptional Individual and Business Performance."
HREN: The ability to work remotely was once seen as something of a benefit or a luxury. But now it’s quickly become a requirement and is tied to employee safety. How does that shift have to be mirrored in the way we view remote work as part of the employee experience?
Ben Whitter: Remote working has always bee a great option within the employee experience, but it has been under utilized up until this point because of fears from employers stemming from a perceived loss of control and a lack of trust in their workforce. Let’s face it, some employers are just not that great to work for. These will be the ones quickly installing surveillance technology to monitor their employees!
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In my view, the workplace has never been a building. It’s the spaces and places that enable our best work. We have lots of choice in this regard. It has taken something like COVID-19 to force through a mindset shift, yet the goals of great businesses have not really changed. We want people to be at their best and deliver their best work. Any option or choice that helps with that is in scope.
HREN: Employers spent a long time focusing employee satisfaction and employee engagement, but more and more, they’re turning toward the more holistic view of the employee experience. What advice would you give them as they start that journey?
Ben Whitter: My first piece of advice is to determine what matters most to the business and to customers. Then work back into the employee experience and install only those things into everything you do. If you do that, the connection between employee and customers will be strong, and will create something of an engagement cycle where we create value for all stakeholders within and surrounding a business. Many internal functions and projects fail because they skip this step.
HREN: In this sort of new normal we’re all adjusting to, what are some of the biggest challenges for improving the employee experience and what is that north star companies need to always keep their eye on and move toward?
Ben Whitter: The big challenges are still the old challenges with EX. Alignment, accountability, and transparency are the big three to go after and solve immediately. Companies can increase their likelihood of success with EX by setting up their internal projects and programmes in a way that removes any friction, tension, or silos.
We need to deeply understand our customers and employees, and everything should be set up in a way that best serves them. Even the best EX companies struggle with this. The North star is the Truth. A company’s unique purpose, mission and values. These are all-important. The EX should reflect them at all times. If it doesn’t, the big three challenges have not been addressed.
HREN: We’ve seen some employers get the response to COVID-19 wrong, either initially or as it has unfolded and the impact that has on their employee experience is undoubtedly significant. How can those companies go about rebuilding good will within the organization through employee experience initiatives?
Ben Whitter: Employers would be wise to really lean in and constantly amplify its Truth. This creates clarity for the workforce, but also serves as an important reminder of why you’re in business and keeps a solid connection between people and the company. Within this, greater efforts around listening, demonstrating empathy, co-creation, and emphasising human-centred leadership are great places to focus.
Building trust happens through a consistent series of positive communications and interactions. Leadership teams need to make the most of every moment, solve problems that employees have, and take values-based actions every day.
HREN: Obviously some organizations are having to make tough decisions regarding separating with some employees and it’s important not to forget that the separation is still a part of the journey. What advice do you have for employers for viewing the separation through the lens of the employee experience?
Ben Whitter: The separation is only contractual. The relationship never ends. The employer becomes a memory and an experience. These things are shared throughout our lives and they have the potential to build or damage your business.
In this sense, view it as a transition. All employers who have to reduce their workforce are simply transitioning people into their alumni community and extending the impact of their brand. I suggest readers take a look at the letter the Airbnb CEO sent to his colleagues after announcing 25% of them would be laid-off. This will provide some clues as to how to approach this in practice. We have a connection with employees for life. We have a duty as businesses to make sure it’s a positive one and serving our brands well long into the future.