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PA OPINION

When did you last delight your employees?

Why are so many organisations failing to live up to their employees’ expectations? With 21 per cent of employers struggling to recruit the innovative people they need for success and 38 per cent failing to retain them, why is our attitude to reward and recognition firmly stuck in the mid-twentieth century?

Today’s workers are more empowered than ever before. They have an inconceivable amount of choice enabled by hyper-connectivity to opportunities that are just a click away. Technology and generational dynamics have changed the way we relate to what’s around us, placing us at the centre of our own ‘universe’ – our very own ecosystem of people and organisations who inform, inspire and influence us. Organisations that fail to recognise this fundamental shift risk a rapid decline in career relevance and value in the eyes of their employees. In turn, this makes them less likely to secure the people and capabilities they need to deliver their business and customer promises.

Responding to this challenge starts with re-imagining your offer to employees. This isn’t just about dusting off your Total Reward programme and offering the opportunity to buy a few days extra leave. Instead, it’s about understanding the individual hopes and desires of the people who have the skills and capabilities you need, and giving them the same care, attention and experience that you lavish on your customers.

It’s the individual focus that’s important here, as what delights one person might not delight another. For example, contractors and mobile workers may delight at their very own desk and equal access to resources as full-time employees while digital natives who see seamless technology as a hygiene factor may value face-to-face time with managers who are willing to coach and develop them. It’s the personal touch and reflection of individual dreams and values that makes someone feel wanted – not being treated as one of a nameless herd.

Find out why HR is the key to unlocking the transformational benefits of AI and automation

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How have Employee Value Propositions changed?

During the 19th century, we saw the advent of industrialisation and the mushrooming of factories that led to more than half of the population living and working in urban environments. Employment was based on the Master and Servant Act of 1823 that was originally designed to discipline employees. This finally shifted with the expansion of trade unionism.

In the first half of the 20th century, commercialism took precedence over everything else – health and safety at work were absent. You either had a job or you were on your way to the workhouse. Employment protection legislation entered the statute books in the 1960’s and it was only in 1963 that the Contract of Employment Act ensured all employees had a written statement of contractual terms.

In the latter half of the 20th century, branding and advertising started to create differentiation between employers – characterised by slogans and aspirations. We saw the coining of the phrase ‘employer brand’ in the 1990s, followed by The Times’ top companies to work for in 2000. The aim was to “create a positive workplace culture” and give “employees a sense of fulfilment and purpose, encouraging them to go the extra mile.”

So, you’re probably used to enticing people into your world through your brand and great job opportunities. Now you need to reverse the logic and decide how you’re going to fit into each person’s universe. For many organisations, this will involve redesigning your employment model and re-thinking the day-to-day experience of being an employee in your organisation.

At the turn of the century, we entered a world where products are augmented by an experience intended to draw them into the providers’ world in the most compelling way possible. The aim is to delight the customer, driving satisfaction and loyalty. But the experience-led attitude to employment has passed most organisations by. Employers are still offering the same old package of reward and development, plus presenteeism, despite individuals asking for something that enriches and fits into their lives.

As we move further into the 21st century, we’re seeing people driven increasingly by values. Employers can be more relevant and attractive by positioning themselves in the employee’s universe, being there when needed and getting out of the way when they’re not. That means allowing people to develop their own businesses while working within yours and to move in and out of your employment as new options arise.

Leaders need to redefine the organisation so it’s fit for the people with the skills and capabilities they so desperately need. So, here are some guiding principles to help you navigate the employment revolution.

It’s all about goals and outcomes

Stop thinking about what you give employees and start finding out what they want from life, work and you. This is so much more than flexible benefits. Start by asking those who work for you now what they value. You might find some surprising answers, such as a manager who cares about me, or the opportunity to volunteer and so give something back to the communities.

Blur the boundaries between those on your payroll and those working for you in contingent, third-party and contractor roles. Your customers don’t see those differences, so why are you treating all the people delivering your customer proposition differently?

Start thinking about tenure in days, not years. Modern careers are about a series of empowering, enlivening experiences not a job or profession for life. How will a stint with your organisation make someone more employable and give them a positive life experience?

Examine the day-to day reality of employees against your customer offering. Do the key messages about social responsibility or technological advancement match up? Are the significant moments of a career such as on-boarding, development and progression making the individual feel you are truly interested in them as a whole person, not just as a skills bank?

So many companies say people are their greatest asset. Let’s make sure reality reflects that belief.

With today's workers more empowered than ever, recruiting the innovative people you need for success will take positioning your organisation within the employee's universe. Read our new blog on how to delight your employees #FutureOfWork

Contact the author

  • Heledd Straker

    Heledd Straker

    PA future of work expert

    Heledd is a workforce futures expert and design thinker who helps clients think completely differently about their people

    Insights by Heledd Straker

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