Why do I care about the employee experience? The most obvious answer — because I am an employee and I’ve had many, many experiences. Seriously though, I think there is something to that, so I take seriously the mission to carry the story forward and be an advocate for the employee.
Employees often operate within a system designed to take away their power. We exchange time and expertise for wages and benefits to work towards a common goal. However, sometimes the goals are not aligned; for example, the company needs more work hours and the employee needs more support. A lack of alignment here can exacerbate communication issues, negatively impact retention, and torpedo team morale. Employees can feel ignored, devalued, or pushed aside.
Most employees want to do a good job, they want to do meaningful work, they want to feel that they make a difference. We look for autonomy and growth opportunities, seeking out new challenges. We’re curious, social, and learning creatures. We can rise to the occasion, beat the odds, and pull an all-nighter to deliver and delight, just in time — but like any athlete, the speed is only for the sprint. It takes endurance to run the marathon. This is when you realize the problems that caused the panic are actually structural, organizational, and cultural and that you’ll never break out of the “hero syndrome” if you don’t address the underlying issues first.
Which brings me back to the power imbalance; employees often feel like they don’t have any. Complaints about seemingly trivial things are dismissed as just that, trivial, pushing the employee further away. What if, instead, complaints were treated as a symptom? It’s not about the parking spot, it’s about respect, time management, dignity? How would you know if the complaint arose from a grinding sense of frustration caused by the day-care’s strict drop-off time plus commute so they always arrived after all of the close spots were gone, forcing a mad dash across campus to make a mandatory in-person client standup (this is a hypothetical, but grounded in enough truth). You see, we never know how policies or actions impact the individual. In this case, the company could leverage their leadership to more forcefully push the client for a later standup time, so the employee doesn’t have to hope for a daily miracle. We hope employees are “empowered” enough to take action to solve their own problems, but often the solution is just to deal with it as part of the job, until the number of items being “dealt with” outweigh the perceived benefits, a net negative.
Improving the employee experience isn’t about parties or lunches (though those are super nice), it’s about listening and acting, hearing the said and unsaid then taking action to center the business around what we can do together. What can we imagine? What can we build? While often overlooked, I would argue there is value in starting with the employee’s own experience first.