Arina Krasnikova, Pexels.
Arina Krasnikova, Pexels.

What Do Your Employees Really Want?

“The employee experience” has emerged as a hot trend for improving recruitment, retention, and satisfaction.

The Great Resignation has human resource officials scrambling to think like marketers.

At least 68.9 million workers left their jobs in 2021, and nearly 70% did so voluntarily—a one-year record. And that’s prompted organizations to think carefully about how they attract and keep employees, giving new life to a term in the HR world: the employee experience. 

Think customer-centered design—but in this case, you’re designing an experience at work for your most valued asset: your employees. HR leaders across the nation are carefully analyzing what work is like for their employees to make it better. That includes everything from in-office interactions and people’s stress levels, to compensation and whether people are getting promoted. 

The reason? People can see through surface-level perks—whether it’s the ping-pong table and free bagels or elaborate events with free concerts. They want real, lasting changes to core workplace practices. Half of all Americans do not feel their voice is heard at work or that their company listens to them, according to a State of Work Report by consulting firm Grant Thornton.

As many as 21% of Americans have switched jobs in the past 12 months, and 29% are actively looking for a new job at a different company. And those making $100,000 or more? That number jumps to 48%, according to the Grant Thornton report.

Employers that miss key pieces of the employee journey will find their workers looking for jobs at other companies. Mimi Thian, Unsplash.

Clearly the grass isn’t always greener. Among those who switched jobs in the last 12 months, 40% of them are actively looking for a new job again.  

“There’s almost a one in two chance that the person you’ve hired in the last year is looking to go elsewhere,” says Tim Glowa, a principal and leader of employee listening and human capital analytics

As a result, leaders are looking at the entire experience an employee, or potential employee, has within their company. Managers are checking in with their teams for their happiness and emotional health and HR leaders are sending out flurries of surveys, analyzing that data, identifying pain points and coming up with solutions to make life at work better. 

It starts with the application.

The employee experience begins when a person is just considering applying for a job at a company. HR processes should be smooth. Was it easy to apply for the job? How long did it take to get scheduled for an interview? How did it go if they were rejected?

The key reasons for employees turning down a job varies, according to research by Grant Thornton. As many as 42% said compensation didn’t meet their needs, a third said benefits didn’t meet their needs, a third said the company took too long to make an offer, and 48% cited a poor company reputation or values. Pay attention to why people don’t accept your offers.

Once hired, pay attention to the onboarding experience and how they’re greeted at work. Then, plan to check in every thirty days, says Ira Wolfe, a leadership consultant whose podcast Geeks, Geezers and Googlization, explores the future of work and careers.  

Yes, salary is still really important.

Compensation is a big deal in today’s labor market—and employers must take care of existing employees as well as new hires. Three out of four people who left their jobs this past year said they did so because they could get higher pay at another organization, according to a March survey by Mercer

As many as 40% of people who switched jobs received pay raises, compared to just 18% of people who stayed in their current jobs, according to data by Grant Thornton.

Take care of people’s emotional health.

The most important part of a job these days is loving where you work, finding meaning and purpose at work, says Josh Bersin, CEO of the Josh Bersin Company, which analyzes talent market and trends impacting global workforces. 

As many as 52% of American workers surveyed by Gartner this year said the pandemic made them question the purpose of their day-to-day job. Half of those people said it changed their expectations toward their employer.

Finding purpose and meaning at work and feeling valued and connected at work are some of the most important reasons why people stay in a job. Blake Wisz, Unsplash.

There’s also a lot more talk since the pandemic about whether employees feel “psychologically safe” at work. People may be more inclined to contemplate another job if they’re feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and don’t have the right resources. Or perhaps they don’t feel safe talking about their vulnerabilities and weaknesses, as well as their strengths and their challenges.

“Psychological safety is at the top of an employee’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs,” says Bersin. “It’s important and can’t be ignored. And if it’s not there, it is what will force people to quit.”

You can’t possibly have a good experience if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed. If this is the case, consider how to help reduce that stress. An employer could cut down the number of meetings, paying attention to stress, offering flexibility or offering more emotional support, says Wolfe.

Just over a quarter of workers surveyed by Grant Thornton said they feel their manager is the single most stressful part of their day.

“It’s been well known people quit managers, they don’t quit companies,” says Wolfe. “So the manager and the coworkers have a really strong influence.”

The team is vital too: if a good manager leaves and the team isn’t supportive, then people may become disengaged, burned out, stressed out and, as a result, leave their jobs.

Taking care of the world, too.

Americans don’t trust the government, the media, or the Supreme Court. But they do trust their bosses and managers, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer. “If you create flexibility, they look at their job as their most trusted part of their life,” says Bersin.

Part of that trust is ensuring you’re taking care of the rest of society too, says Bersin.

Employees expect that employers are not just taking care of employees, but the rest of society too. At least 56% of workers will not even consider working for a company that doesn’t share their values.

Younger workers especially expect their employer to take a position on important societal issues, whether it’s gun violence or the environment. You don’t necessarily need to be politically active but should make an effort and demonstrate your commitment, Bersin says. 

Are you committed to the environment and focused on sustainability? Are you taking a stand against systemic bias and injustice? That could be a deciding factor of whether they want to work for you. “It’s not an irrelevant thing,” says Bersin.

More companies are starting employee resource groups, or ERGs, which create smaller communities within organizations centered on certain demographics or interests. They could comprise a variety of groups, whether it’s a group for employees who identify as LGBTQ+, or groups and events for Black workers or single mothers. They help employees see the diversity at work and create a sense of community, says Bersin. 

Managing every single detail of the employee experience is complex, and it’s tricky for leaders to tackle everything. But when leaders stop and listen carefully to their employees, they will find out what’s important to them. And if they chip away at meeting those needs, they can grab top talent, reduce turnover, and create a more engaged and productive workforce.