Steve Bennetts is the Head of EX Strategy and Solutions for Qualtrics in APJ, leading a team of specialists in guiding organizations to optimize EX at every point in the employee life cycle.
He specializes in EX and human-centered technologies and is one of the region’s most experienced EX specialists. A passionate psychologist, he utilizes the crossover space between creativity, psychology, and digital technologies to create a positive experience on our planet. Here, he shares his thoughts on today's EX landscape and how employers can create and implement a good EX strategy.
What are the top trends shaping employee experience in 2020?
The way we work has been changed forever by COVID-19, with individuals, teams, and entire companies working from home. It’s the first time flexible working programs have been tested at such scale, meaning leaders and HR managers are faced with new and sometimes unexpected challenges. This new world of work means it’s more important than ever for businesses to engage their teams in two-way communications. During times of change, research shows that employees want to provide feedback—and importantly, individuals will reward those that listen and act with increased engagement. Throughout this period of change and uncertainty, regularly understanding and actioning employee feedback will be a key enabler to helping businesses run effectively and seamlessly.
Why is EX more important than ever, such that it has become a top priority for business leaders across the world?
EX is critically important on two levels.
Firstly, insight into your EX when everyone is working remotely helps businesses understand how effective their programs are, and whether networks and services are performing as needed. For example, if there is a known issue accessing the company VPN, a step-by-step guide can be created and shared across the company. Understanding your EX also helps prioritize employee well-being by using engagement channels to deliver support and maintaining team interaction and collaboration.
On a commercial level, EX is fundamental to a good customer experience - which is paramount in the current economic climate. When employees are more engaged and satisfied, they are more motivated to provide superior customer experiences, and positively reflect the brand too.
How does the EX scenario look like in SEA? How does EX vary across organizations and industries? Which trends in the employee engagement space are you tracking in 2020?
Southeast Asia may be characterized as a single market but is very diversified in terms of its development. Generally, we are seeing more organizations in the region investing in employee experience and genuinely interested in keeping their employees engaged and motivated.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, I’ve had many conversations with leaders around how to remain connected while teams are working outside of the office. The answer I always give to this is to be able to listen, and act.
Whilst the level of investment in employee engagement initiatives is growing, employee engagement scores aren’t growing. How does the cumulative effect of an employee’s experiences shape their engagement at work?
Cultivating a great EX and reaping its rewards takes time. Engagement naturally improves over the course of the employee’s employment. Our research shows employees are most engaged when they are with their company for about four years (54 percent). They are least engaged during their first year of employment (31 percent).
The drivers of engagement also change as well during the course of their employment. For example, the most important engagement driver for employees with under two years of tenure is ‘a link between work and the company's objectives’ whereas ‘confidence in senior leadership’ rose to the top for employees with over four years of service.
Our research also told us that employees want to feel heard by employers. This means they are open to giving real, genuine feedback. Acting on these insights is what is really going to move the needle on engagement, demonstrating the importance of providing a program that evolves and changes over time to meet the unique needs of each employee.
All this means it’s crucial employers commit to an EX program of action and remains dedicated to fulfilling it if they are going to achieve lasting success.
How can employers leverage AI and next-gen technologies to fuel differentiated employee experiences? How important is people analytics and why is it good for the company and its people?
Artificial intelligence and next-gen technologies help employers identify key themes and priorities that they should act upon. For example, artificial intelligence enables employers to rapidly analyze open text feedback based on what employees write in the comments section as part of the employee engagement survey.
AI also provides insights on which combination of team members work best together or which employees would be well-suited to take the lead on a certain project — saving time, negating gut feel and creating a huge impact on operational efficiency. Similarly, modern solutions like Guided Action Planning can provide leaders with expert advice on how to respond in certain situations.
But although AI is becoming ubiquitous within EX, the general consensus is that it can never fully replace humans. The best results will be achieved with humans and AI complementing each other. This is necessary as AI is missing a fundamentally crucial aspect of HR: empathy.
This includes things like being able to predict resilience and emotional intelligence. Despite this, we’ll undoubtedly still try — but by using AI to predict these aspects of potential, we run the risk of falling further into an already deep human-based bias hole.
What are the world’s leading organizations doing around employee experience?
The world is in unprecedented times right now, and the situation is changing quickly all the time. My conversations with various businesses reinforced my belief now is the critical time businesses need to listen and act on employee feedback, which will help us all succeed in the long-term. Businesses like Ford and Goldman Sachs have put in place measures helping them remain connected with their teams, such as daily or weekly check-in surveys. Others are continuing their annual census but significantly changing their questions to focus on what’s important now. Ultimately, focus on what is salient and important to employees right now.
Another thing we are seeing is different types of employee listening, such as open-ended questions and always on-channels. We’ve implemented these programs ourselves at Qualtrics.
What are some of the biggest pitfalls you see organizations making when executing their employee experience strategy?
Collecting employee feedback through various means such as pulse surveys, 360 performance reviews and new hire surveys but not listening and taking action on the feedback. When no action is taken, employee engagement takes a dip. In our study that was conducted last year, 65 percent of respondents reported having an opportunity to give feedback; however, only 25 percent of them indicated their company turns their feedback into action “very or extremely well.”
Which are the ways in which HR leaders can measure the effects of employee engagement?
By integrating EX with customer, brand, and product experiences, businesses can measure the impact of EX in a multitude of ways. Modern EX platforms will help organizations correlate high employee engagement with customer satisfaction or product innovation. Doing so enables the profession to demonstrate the critical value it brings to the business.
Many business owners say they don’t focus on employee experience because they don’t have the budget. Is it something that requires big spending?
While investing in modern tools is beneficial and makes the program more efficient, the fundamentals and foundations must be first set in place. It all starts from engaging with their employees, listening to their feedback and acting on their feedback. The engagement program will naturally undergo multiple iterations for them to answer the right type of questions and obtain the right type of actionable feedback. These programs are scalable over time and business owners can progressively increase their budgets where they deem fit.
What’s the future of employee experience?
EX has been thrust onto the main stage due to the current world we are living in. As a result, the importance companies put on EX is changing forever.
In the immediate future, EX is helping businesses maintain business continuity and employee safety. And as we emerge into this new world of work the elevated role of EX will see it become an integrated function combined with customer experience, product experience and brand experience. It will not be an area that’s only limited to the HR function given how business leaders are placing employee experience as a strategic priority.
Many functions will be part of the wider effort from the IT teams to the finance teams to the workplace design teams as all of these functions have meaningful interactions with the employee. For example, the IT team has a relationship with employees pertaining to all IT matters such as teething issues with hardware and software. As for the workplace design team, they will be engaging with employees to collect feedback on what they expect to have in their workplace.