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Improving employee experience to build resilience

Restoring stability post-pandemic

Talent
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Hamish Deery and Lesley Brown | July 13, 2020

Employers can adapt the high-performance employee experience (HPEX) model to see how they can communicate with their employees as they restore stability in their business operations.

Employees are worried, distracted from work and have increased financial concerns.

As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are bracing for the new normal. The massive changes and disruptions of the pandemic have consequently impacted the employee experience (EX) in many organisations. Willis Towers Watson research has found that employees are worried, distracted from work and have increased financial concerns. These are legitimate and immediate concerns that employees are eager to hear from their employers about.

91%
Report at least some anxiety from COVID-19, with 54% indicating a moderate or high degree of anxiety
69%
Report at least some distraction from work from the COVID-19 concerns, with 25% indicating a moderate or high degree of distraction
66%
Report at least some new financial concerns due to COVID-19, with 32% indicating a moderate or high degree of worry

One consequence of the crisis has been to cause the business and the employee experience to be even more intricately linked, as employees return to work with new restrictions in place. Employers can adapt the high-performance employee experience (HPEX) model to see how they can communicate with their employees as they restore stability in their business operations.

Employers can adapt HPEX to see how they can communicate with their employees as they restore stability in their business operations.

Using communications to enhance the employee experience during the pandemic

According to our study of high-performing organisations, EX can be viewed at three levels: 1) The Essentials, which are the foundations or basics that underpin understanding of the organisation’s goals, how work is organised, fair pay and trust in local leaders; 2) Emphasis, where EX takes on more personal agency through providing stronger connections to company direction, employee voice, autonomy and connection to other teams; and 3) Excellence, where the hallmarks of EX are inspiration from purpose, agility and competitiveness of the organisation, trust in leaders, and employees being able to achieve their potential. How can employers design employee communication in each level of this path to help employees feel engaged and connected through the pandemic?

  1. Essentials – what are the things organisations must do right to keep the business operating effectively and support employees during and after the crisis?

    Clear and regular communication is critical in making sure that employees are aware of the foundational things they need to remain healthy and safe, stay connected to their manager and team, and be able to get their work done (increasingly remotely). This includes:

    • Understanding how their work during this time has connection to the priorities and broader response of the organisation to COVID-19
    • Having access to the right technology and tools to perform their day-to-day tasks effectively
    • Being aware of the support and benefits they can access to manage their wellbeing.

    Organisations are using a range of communication channels and spanning leadership levels, often quickly standing-up digital platforms (their own or linking externally), drawing on already curated content on the above topics, and supplementing with leadership communication. This includes written, video and virtual meetings. For managers, this can include guidance on how to work with, support and manage their teams.

    Employers will need to rethink the Essentials and respond to new and emerging employee needs.

    As we rebound into the next phase of the crisis, employers will need to rethink the Essentials and respond to new and emerging employee needs. They will need to focus employee communications on things like:

    • Return to work policies
    • New hygiene routines
    • Physical distancing protocols
    • Ongoing remote and flexible work arrangements
    • Mobility and travel policies.
  2. Emphasis – how do organisations start to add voice and agency to support EX and the business challenges?

    A key component of the EX at the Emphasis level is employee voice. Many organisations are focusing on understanding their employees’ experience and needs in the crisis, by focusing on a combination of informal and formal employee listening activities such as pulse surveys and virtual focus groups. It helps them to understand and prepare for return-to-work, manage stress points, and provide clear direction for action.

    Emphasis also includes creating agency and inclusion.

    Emphasis also includes creating agency and inclusion. Some examples include:

    • Refreshing inclusion and diversity efforts, to ensure that they address the needs of the diverse make-up of the workforce to be able to bring their whole selves to work and manage a range of personal circumstances (across increasingly complex work arrangements), contribute their ideas, and feel accepted
    • Foster inclusion where more remote ways of working are likely the new normal
    • Continue to ensure employees have the tools they need to collaborate.
  3. Excellence – what are the hallmarks of excellence in high performing organisations that allow them to break away from the global average?

    The hallmarks of Excellence are underpinned by a high degree of personalisation of the EX in the context of a purpose-driven, agile organisation, in which trust is pervasive and the growth of people is realised. Hence, personalising communication is very much reflected in how high performing organisations are thinking about and designing their EX for excellence, with the support of technology, data and smart algorithms.

    Technology is a significant enabler of the EX.

    Technology is a significant enabler of the EX. This can range from immersive, scenario-based learning based on personal profiles, to personalised advice. For example, as part of their employee listening, organisations can quickly and easily deploy COVID-19 pulse surveys, and based on their individual responses, an algorithm can provide each employee with immediate advice and nudges on what they can do to enhance their own experience. Often this reflects advice on the most pressing issues for employees about the impact of COVID-19 on their health and wellbeing.

    One of the most exciting recent developments has been in the areas of “EX Platforms” or digital hub — employers can combine digital software that enables multi-media communication with their core employee data, so they can deliver highly-personalised content. Based on employee profiles, employees can receive personalised content, reminders and nudges to support their EX and the desired outcomes for the organisation.

Critical role of the leadership

Although technology is a great enabler of a high performing EX, there remains a central role for human-to-human connection. The role of leaders is key. This pandemic is serving to be a defining moment for leaders as they steer their organisations through uncertain times. Senior leaders are looking out for the wellbeing of the employees and the state of the organisation. Managers are needed as the change agents and as those that will inspire people daily.

This pandemic is serving to be a defining moment for leaders as they steer their organisations through uncertain times.

With a lot at stake, leaders and managers are expected to:

Leaders

  • Be prepared and present
    • Plan with agility and focus; with the courage to rewrite the rules, especially during these times.
    • Be empathetic and with wellbeing as their utmost concern.
  • Instil trust and confidence
    • Communicate with simple and transparent messages with meaningful accuracy.
    • Always take a firm stance on issues that matter.
  • Leverage other leaders
    • Educate, empower and trust the managers.
  • Continue the conversation
    • Always be ready to re-valuate business priorities and to change course if needed.
    • Consider the employees’ sentiment and respond appropriately.
    • Analyse what worked and where improvements are needed.

Managers

  • Activate empathy
    • Understand the human experience and take its perspective to relate to the team – the challenges, struggles, state of wellbeing and how and where to get help.
    • Make themselves available and must have a team-oriented view.
  • Show support
    • Be a safe place for concerns and questions and understanding of employees’ situation and needs.
    • Always recognise excellence no matter how big or small.
  • Inspire people
    • Rally the team by reminding them their mission and purpose.
    • Lead by example and genuinely care about employee wellbeing.
  • Embrace change
    • Open opportunities for the team to develop new skills so as to encourage growth and fuel employee’s ambitions.
    • Get insight and feedback from the ground and report with leaders.

There’s no doubt that there is still a sense of looming uncertainty ahead, so it’s important that leaders strike the right balance between business sustainability and employee experience. This will help build the right foundation as organisations adapt to the new normal.

With the carefully designed employee communication strategy and the strong leadership from top and senior leaders to support employees to overcome the crisis, employers will be able to help employees feel engaged and connected, building resilience to for what lies ahead.

Authors

Managing Director, Talent Line of Business, Asia and Australasia

Regional practice leader, Employee Insights,
Asia & Australasia, Willis Towers Watson

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