Is PwC’s $2.4 Billion Bet on Employee Experience Enough?
It’s one thing for organizations to say they value the employee experience. It’s another for them to put their money where their mouth is.
That’s where professional services firm PwC gets it right with the announcement of the My+ people experience. News that the company is spending $2.4 billion over the next three years on employee experience has made waves in an emerging category that has struggled to define ROI and key outcomes.
PwC Deputy People Leader Yolanda Seals-Coffield told Reworked: “With My+, we are fundamentally rethinking the way people operate within our profession. The future requires flexibility, choice and a willingness for organizations to continuously innovate and evolve, so that’s what we’re doing in order to bring the right people to our firm to serve our clients and fuel our growth.”
Companies have woefully underdelivered on the employee experience, so this is exciting news. $800 million a year is nearly 5% of the consulting and accounting giant’s 2020 US revenue. That sounds like a gigantic investment. But diving deeper into the program though, I wonder if it is enough.
4 Components to Shore Up Employee Experience Challenges
The $2.4 billion investment is divided into four components of what PwC calls the employee experience:
- Employee well-being
- Total rewards
- Learning and development
- Alumni network
Under the well-being component, PwC committed to continuing to offer location flexibility, including full-time remote work for the company's 44,000 US associates. In addition to an existing week-long office shut down in December, they added an additional week-long shut down in July.
For total rewards, PwC announced more flexibility for the amount of time people work, expanded mental health benefits and longer parental leave, from eight weeks to twelve weeks.
In the L&D space, the company is offering some unspecified elevated coaching and leadership skills for employees and the ability to move within the organization based on interests, even if those interests eventually lead employees outside the company.
Finally, PwC launched a more formal alumni program called “Always a PwCer” that keeps former employees connected.
So, cutting through the big numbers and hype, what we essentially have is another week off with an office closure, expanded benefits for mental health and parental leave, work flexibility, development opportunities and an alumni program. The $800 million a year investment seems to be mostly factoring in the costs of drops in productivity due to increased time off. I’m not sure if the company's expenses are actually changing that much.
Don't get me wrong: These are all solid investments, but outside the specific callouts to work flexibility, there's not much here that really creates a substantially better employee experience.
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It's Time to Reimagine a Big 4 Employee Experience
Traditionally, the Big 4 accounting and consulting firms — PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG — aren’t known for providing a great employee experience. Instead, they are places where people move up or move out.
The work experience while moving up can be particularly brutal. Compensation is not great on the low end and improves slowly. It comes with its benefits, though. For those who don’t want to move up, a couple of years spent at the company can be a good stepping stone to other opportunities.
While this has been the standard for decades, with great results, it nevertheless leaves a void in the middle layer of experience in the organization. These companies are heavy with experience at the top and always have a new class of early-career professionals ready to join, but the middle layer of folks who aren’t ambitiously pursuing the highest ranks in the organization is thin. This has made work more difficult, as onboarding new associates is still incredibly challenging.
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Outside of the work flexibility initiative, none of these employee experience measures actually change that reality. It’s also difficult to say how much work flexibility will actually be feasible culturally when working through nights, weekends, holidays and burnout has been the norm for decades.
Creating meaningful change would most likely require an entire rethinking of the model of these gigantic professional service firms. For example, rethinking partner-to-staff ratios, support for mid-career professionals and more realistic performance evaluations could make a bigger difference. An evolution in staffing and reducing the amount of hours worked probably needs to be on the table, too.
What PwC has done is less than a half measure to face their most significant challenges. But, at least for now, it seems like it still might be better than the competition.
A real lift in employee experience probably can’t be price tagged, even by the best accounting firms in the world. That’s going to continue to be the struggle, as PwC wonders if the EX investment was worth it when there is so much left to fix.
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About the Author
Lance Haun is a leadership and technology columnist for Reworked. He has spent nearly 20 years researching and writing about HR, work and technology. Connect with Lance Haun: