Employee Experience Is About Work-Life Integration, Not Balance
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
- Maya Angelou
I’m not surprised by the shift in expectations of today’s labor force. However, I am surprised by organizations that didn’t sense this shift has been brewing for years.
Following the Great Recession, the lingering emphasis on efficiency and productivity clearly has taken its toll on workers. Individuals who entered the workforce in the decade preceding the global pandemic have been signaling — clearly and repeatedly — that the “employee value proposition” they were seeking was difficult to find.
To add insult to injury, the pandemic has been mentally and physically exhausting for isolated single people, working parents juggling home-schooling for their children, extended families caring for the most vulnerable, and individuals struggling with economic and healthcare inequities.
While compensation remains core to the employee value proposition, the elements that enable a sustainable employee experience are now operating at a deeper, more human level. The need for meaning, belonging and fairness are shaping how employees view the intersection of their personal and business lives.
The legacy phrase of work-life "balance" has given way to work-life "integration." During the height of the pandemic, many people experienced a highly distilled version of work, fueling their desire to reflect and recalibrate their career expectations. The expectation that social good and business success can productively co-exist is rapidly becoming a non-negotiable.
Probably the most impactful dimension of our humanity in the workplace is simply how we treat one another. In Jamil Zaki’s latest book, "The War for Kindness," he writes: "Empathy is less like a fixed trait and more like a skill — something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world."
Historically, emotions at work have been minimized, ignored or, even worse, characterized as a weakness. That perspective has dramatically changed over the last two years. Mental health, psychological safety and overall well-being are now center stage. As obvious as it seems, these five habits are good ones to reinforce in yourself and appreciate in others:
- Treat others as if they matter.
- Listen and respond with compassion.
- Help others learn and grow from their mistakes.
- Be flexible in your problem solving — life is complicated and often messy.
- Express gratitude broadly and often.
Invest the time to read the study conducted by The Conference Board, led by Robin Erickson as principal researcher. I’ve worked with Robin for years and her perspective on traditional employee engagement as well as the accelerating field of employee experience is well worth the read.
One last idea: We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” And therein lies the problem. It is personal and it’s not just business. That’s the seismic shift that is underway.
Robin Erickson, PhD, is a principal researcher of human capital at The Conference Board. She leads research on COVID-19’s effect on employees, talent acquisition, employee experience, talent mobility and retention. She was formerly a talent strategies consultant at Deloitte before leading talent acquisition and employee engagement research at Bersin by Deloitte.
Retaining employees is not complicated — most importantly, you need to genuinely care about your employees. Think about your best boss ever. I would lay odds they cared about you as a person.
Last spring, The Conference Board interviewed seven organizations that were thriving during the pandemic, all reporting gains in productivity as well as employee engagement/morale and/or work life balance/well-being.
The study found that genuinely caring about employees was apparent in the actions that organizations took to support workers during the pandemic. As workers faced many challenges in getting their work done, leaders responded to provide support ranging from increased well-being initiatives to revised work-from-home policies. Not surprisingly, the organizations that regularly surveyed their employees were more aware of the challenges they were facing and their employee engagement was higher as a result.
One HR leader we interviewed reported that managers asked about and fulfilled employee needs, from noise-cancelling headsets to more flexible hours. Interviewed HR leaders spoke openly about caring for employees, and several companies incorporated caring into their mottos, such as “We can’t be our best if you can’t be at your best” and “Grace and space.”
Where can you incorporate more care, grace and space?
About the Author
Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY.