After graduating with a psychology degree, I worked in television for a few years for the BBC, Channel 4, and a stint in local radio (even racking up some production credits on IMDB). Struggling to get work in the media, I got a job working in pensions at Legal and General. Five years later I was managing the key accounts team and had developed some strong pensions knowledge as well as CII and ILM qualifications.
After leaving L&G, I moved to Barclays, where I started working in employee benefits technology for clients like GSK, Coca Cola, and British American Tobacco. Fast forward a few years later and I set up the employee benefits department for (at the time) one of Europe’s largest insurance brokers.
I then moved to Benefex, where I have been for eight years as part of the senior management team. My time at Benefex is when my interest in Employee Experience really took off. As well as working closely with organisations like EY and PwC, I started writing and speaking publicly to share my growing knowledge of ways to improve EX.
Benefex has given me the opportunity to help some of the worlds biggest brands to develop their employee engagement, experience, and wellbeing strategies. It’s also give my own best Employee Experience to date.
What led you towards the world of Employee Experience? Did your own previous experiences influence you positively or negatively?
For years I was passionate about improving engagement at work and was lucky enough to help great employers do amazing things to get their people more engaged. But while all of this was going on, there was a growing trend for employers to take a different view of engagement – that it was a psychological product of how we designed employees’ experiences.
In the same way organisations had focussed on how great Customer Experience led to better sales and loyalty, the most progressive ones had now realised that a carefully designed Employee Experience was the best way to boost employee engagement. At the time, Jacob Morgan’s book, The Employee Experience Advantage, really opened my eyes to how the most experimental organisations were achieving this.
When I started to think about my own experiences, I started to realise that historically, when I had been disengaged at work, it was as a result of lots of things – difficult commutes, poor technology, uncomfortable offices, lack of autonomy, etc. I’ve had some of the best and worst experiences that both had an impact on my wellbeing. I wanted to make sure that I could help as many employees as possible have a great experience at work and this started by writing my thoughts down in a book.
Tell us about the book and your inspirations/influences in writing it.
Aside from my own experiences, I became really taken with the idea that employment in general has a significant effect on humans. Work has become a big part of our lives and rightly or wrongly, plays a part in how we identify ourselves and how we define success. The lines between home and work life rarely exist anymore, which means the way we feel about our experiences at work have a big effect on how we feel about our lives.
The more I read, researched and wrote about people’s experiences at work, the more I found the growing body of evidence for how treating employees well leads to business growth. I also found that the more time I spent with employers, the more I realised that lots of this knowledge wasn’t well known.
In 2017, many employers were still treating employees unfairly. However, what did start to happen at that time was that the media was paying close attention. As whistle-blowers started to expose poor employment practices, we saw well known brands dragged through the mud.
This started to have a big impact on consumer behaviour for those brands and so suddenly, lots of organisations really started to see that they had to treat employees better if they were going to deliver the kind of Customer Experience they needed to. At the time though, the big issue seemed to be that many organisations didn’t know how to improve the Employee Experience. Most organisations couldn’t afford to be as experimental as the likes of Google, so I saw an opportunity to help these employers improve the experience easily and with little investment.
As I started writing the book, I realised that so many of the new and progressive EX practices companies were using were actually really old. In some countries, they were hundreds of years old!
That’s when the format came to me – I could use lessons from different countries and cultures all over the world as a way of telling a story I could then back up with academic research. Where possible, these would be stories that could help organisations take a different view of their employees’ experiences and the impact old ways of thinking were having.
Since its publication, the book has hit the Amazon HR bestseller list and won an award. But the most rewarding achievements come from the messages I receive from the people managers who tell me they’ve changed their EX after reading the book. In some cases, decades old HR policies have been binned in favour of ones that improve the lives of their employees. I never expected that would happen!
Employee Experience is now a deciding factor for job seekers. Can you tell us where many firms are going wrong when it comes to attracting and retaining talent?
One of the most popular reasons employees give for leaving a new job is that the experience didn’t match up with the expectation. Many employers spend huge amounts of effort developing an employer brand and an employee value proposition, but if the reality is that their employees are struggling at work, it becomes wasted effort.
We live in a world where your employment practices can be publicly discussed. Organisations can now analyse your employer brand to see how ex-employees talk about you online. Employees can also rate and review their employers.
We have never had transparency like this before!
Add that to low unemployment and a shortage of talent and suddenly, the job is the product and the employee is the consumer. The employee now has the choice and ease to decide who they want to work with. This means employers have never had to work harder to recruit and retain employees.
Where lots of organisations are now going wrong is that they aren’t thinking about how their experiences are being designed. Your EX shouldn’t be something that just happens; it should be something you have carefully designed.
This begins with empathising with your employees. Take something like changing jobs: when an employee has signed a contract with you and quit their old job, they are an engaged employee in their prime. They are excited, but they are also nervous. Changing jobs is stressful and ridden with anxiety, yet many organisations don’t empathise with these feelings.
We make potential employees wait weeks to hear from us after an interview and then after we’ve signed their contract, we don’t speak to them again until their first day. Then we give them lots of paperwork to do and so rather than a fun, exciting first day, it’s usually full of admin that could have been done weeks before.
On a more positive note, what are your experiences of interacting with organisations that are getting Employee Experience right?
Its probably the question I get asked most: “Who is doing Employee Experience well?”, but it’s not the question employers should be asking.
We are obsessed with wanting to know what other companies are doing in a desire to do it better than them. When it comes to EX, every employee has different wants and needs and what employers should be concentrating on is developing the best experience they can for them. A unique experience that you can deliver will be your USP. A potential employees’ best experience to date will be their benchmark, so you should be focussed on making an experience that is better than that, rather than a competitor. Every company is unique, so the kind of experience you can offer should be too.
Where I see organisations with great employee experiences, there is trust. I believe its at the heart of any great experience at work. When real trust exists, employers can get the employees to design their own experiences. When we trust employees to make the right decisions, great things happen.
Employee Experience naturally leads to better Customer Experience. Can you tell explain why this is the case to any organisations that might not yet realise this?
When I come across organisations that are doing the experience right, I can really feel it. I notice this more as a consumer than I do as someone working in the industry. We can’t expect employees to deliver the best CX unless they are cared for and treated well themselves. You can follow a great Customer Experience backwards and find a great Employee Experience. The best CX will always start with Employee Experience!
There are some really good examples of where great EX has enabled employees to do great things for customers. A UK bank gives employees a discretionary budget each to empower them to make their customers’ day great. I’ve seen them buy pizza for a hungry customer visiting the bank on their lunch break, and deliver flowers to a customer that was having a difficult day. As humans, we love to do things for other people and when we make others happy, it makes us happy.
We are also seeing how some major brands are now using their EX to market themselves. When John Lewis re-branded as ‘John Lewis and Partners’, it was to reflect the key role their staff play in the company’s success. An expensive advert campaign declared ‘When you’re part of it, you put your heart into it’. Brands now know that the way they treat their staff will play a part in whether you want to buy their products or services. When organisations have struggled to realise that, they’ve felt the damage. We’ve seen this with Uber, Amazon, and Sports Direct.
As I write in the preface of the book – more than ever, a company’s front line affects their bottom line. Improving the lives of employees should be a priority for every employer. Nowhere is this more important than with those who deal directly with your customers.