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Bridging the employee experience disconnect

The correlation between positive experiences at work and engagement is undeniable. Engaged employees are not only committed to their roles but also contribute to the company’s success. According to McKinsey and Company, actively engaged workers are twice as likely to go above and beyond their usual responsibilities.

In today’s dynamic business landscape, the role of human resources (HR) has evolved far beyond its traditional administrative functions. Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) and Chief People Officers (CPOs) are now at the forefront of shaping organizational programs that impact the employee experience (EX). While employee engagement has historically been a focus, the concept of EX encompasses a broader range of factors that influence an employee’s journey from hire to retire and beyond. This shift in perspective from engagement to overall experience is crucial, as it directly affects employee retention, productivity, profitability, and growth. Strategic and intelligent HR communications holds the key to elevating employee experience for enhanced productivity, stronger talent retention, and higher profitability.

The Impact of Low Engagement

Gallup reports, “employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report. That’s equal to 11% of global GDP.” That’s at the macro level. Down at the company level, Gallup research shows that employees who are not engaged cost their company the equivalent of 18% of their annual salary.

Empowering the Workforce through Engagement
The correlation between positive experiences at work and engagement is undeniable. Engaged employees are not only committed to their roles but also contribute to the company’s success. According to McKinsey and Company, actively engaged workers are twice as likely to go above and beyond their usual responsibilities. This positive engagement leads to benefits beyond financial gains. Engaged employees provide superior customer service, excel in sales performance, drive innovation, take fewer sick days, and exhibit higher retention rates. Businesses that prioritize employee experience through HR initiatives are 1.3 times more likely to outperform their competitors, as reported by McKinsey & Company.

The Role of CHROs in Crafting Employee Experience
The current state of employee engagement paints a clear picture of the employee experience disconnect. According to Gallup, the engagement rate in the U.S. has dropped by two percentage points to a mere 32%. This means that the majority of full-time workers—over 100 million individuals—are either passively or actively disengaged. It is the responsibility of CHROs, CPOs, and leaders in charge of employee experience to reverse this trend.

Creating an exceptional employee experience involves understanding employee sentiments, digitizing HR functions, breaking down silos, mapping the employee journey, and realigning HR strategies. To bridge this gap, HR leaders must initiate the change by implementing strategic HR communications.

Step 1: Understanding Employee Sentiment
The first step in improving the employee experience is understanding how employees feel. This involves measuring their perceptions of the company culture, work environment, and the significant events throughout their career. Companies can achieve this by gauging sentiment across the three core areas:

Culture: Company culture, often referred to as the organization’s personality, is characterized by the company’s values, symbols, and everyday behaviors that shape the overall atmosphere of the workplace. Are your employees proud to be part of the company? Do they feel a sense of belonging and purpose? Do their values align with the business? Employees should feel valued, accepted, and integral to the team.

Environment: While once centered on the office, workspaces, and equipment, today’s world of hybrid and remote work has extended the definition of the work environment to include the technology that enables a distributed workforce to connect and to meet performance expectations. The environment impacts their overall experience, regardless of other positive factors like recognition programs. Are your workers—whether they’re in an office or on the front line—able to efficiently complete tasks? Do they have the systems and work practices to be effective on the job? Do they have an efficient way of connecting with their colleagues and peers?

Events: EX is also shaped by how well HR leaders and other managers observe the moments that matter throughout the employee journey. Every touchpoint—from job description and offer letter to performance reviews and exit interviews—impacts a worker’s perception of the company and their employee experience, and ultimately their engagement. Events throughout the career life cycle go beyond onboarding and promotions. Are you recognizing significant moments in an employee’s life, such as a change in marital status, having a baby, moving to a new location, or going on bereavement leave?

While many organizations gather information about their employees’ experience from sources such as HRIS systems or annual engagement surveys, these data points are not sufficient. Relying solely on infrequent performance reviews or manager check-ins, you miss crucial signals about an employee’s experience at every touchpoint along their journey – both big and small – that truly matter to them. Instead, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can help HR teams take a holistic approach to employee experience data and think of it as more than just getting the right data, but having a deeper understanding of every employee experience moment. 

Step 2: Digitizing Essential HR Functions
Many HR departments have yet to fully embrace the digital aspects of EX. They may be looking at culture, but they’re not always considering how digital tools and platforms can enhance these elements and contribute to overall engagement.

Digital transformation is the way forward for HR departments. However, it’s essential to remember that not all employees can work remotely. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 60% of the U.S. workforce cannot work remotely. This includes the millions of people in healthcare, manufacturing, utilities, retail, and hospitality, as well as other workers who spend their days away from a desk and computer screen. 

To reach this population, HR teams often resort to traditional means of communication—from mass emails to mass mailings—regarding open enrollment, safety training, and other critical initiatives. This means many important communications are missed by these frontline and deskless workers who are not connected via email. And, with so many channels and platforms used by distributed workforces, HR teams tend to blast communications everywhere in effort to boost engagement. But over communicating only leads to information overload & burnout. 

HR teams need to ensure that all employees receive critical communications effectively. Digitization, when done strategically, optimizes engagement and improves the overall employee experience.

Step 3: Breaking Down Silos for Cohesion
One significant challenge in digital transformation lies in fragmented tech stacks and communication systems. Silos hinder interdepartmental cohesion and confuse employees about which technology to use. CHROs must drive cross-functional collaboration by forming digital workforce committees, bringing together HR, IT, internal comms, safety, management, and C-suite executives. This collaboration ensures a unified approach to implementing technology for enhanced employee experience.

Step 4: Mapping the Employee Journey
The employee journey is a unique experience for each worker, consisting of expected and unexpected moments. For instance, if an employee is having a baby, HR teams could send benefits information as well as a congratulatory message, adding a personal touch to a significant event in their life. 

Despite the heroic efforts of HR professionals, manually personalizing every interaction simply isn’t feasible. That’s where digital platforms come into play—automating communication around every important moment (whether scripted or unscripted) and creating more meaningful connections to employees, but at scale.

The onset of generative AI also has the ability to empower HR communicators to deliver personalized, relevant, and engaging experiences that elevate the employee experience through content creation, efficiency and the delivery of hyper-personalized employee communications aligned in topic and tone to an employee’s needs.

Step 5: Realigning HR Strategies with Workforce Relationship Management
Strategic HR communication is the linchpin of employee engagement, retention, and productivity. Modern AI-driven communication platforms empower CHROs to foster two-way interaction, deliver critical business information, segment audiences, and gather real-time data. 

Generative AI has made creating content in a variety of formats faster and easier. Almost too easy in some cases. As ChatGPT and other generative AI integrations become more common, HR and internal comms leaders will need to be careful not to use AI to create more noise and unnecessary content for employees to sift through. By shifting the focus from process-driven to people-focused digitization, CHROs pave the way for a positive workforce relationship management.

In a rapidly evolving work landscape, elevating employee experience is non-negotiable. Strategic HR communications serve as the bridge between common HR challenges and a thriving workplace. It’s the secret ingredient to delivering a rich employee experience. As HR leaders and communicators, we have an opportunity to connect with all aspects of our employees’ lives, embracing their individuality and promoting connection. When our employees thrive, our customers and companies do as well.

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