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Moving from employee engagement to employee experience: 5 lessons from one of Asia’s leading banks

The concept of employee engagement has been around for several decades now. Many companies use annual employee surveys to gauge how connected their people feel towards the workplace, but few go beyond this to improve engagement. Globally, only one in two employees feel engaged in their work. 

Recent studies, including one by Qualtrics, have shown that employees feel more motivated at work and willing to stay with a company that cultivates a positive employee experience (EX), prompting employers to rethink employee engagement with a more holistic approach. These studies have also shown that the ability to retain talent impacts an organization’s long-term productivity and success, in addition to the immediate benefits of reducing costs associated with employee turnover. 

At United Overseas Bank, we believe people give their best when they are supported, happy and healthy. This is why we took our HR strategy a step forward in 2018 by deepening our focus on the experience of every stage of our employees’ lifecycle from a culture, workspace, and technology perspective. 

From engagement to experience

The first step of building up our EX strategy was to place employee feedback at the core of what we do. Partnering with experience management company Qualtrics, we developed a continuous listening framework that helps us uncover valuable insights into our people’s morale, needs, and challenges on an ongoing basis. 

Using these data insights, we have been able to enhance initiatives for all colleagues across the group in ways that matter to them. These include enabling better productivity and collaboration through the use of technology and expanding learning and development opportunities for all. Thanks to our holistic efforts that cut across various aspects of our people’s work lives, we have seen engagement scores rising over the years, bringing us closer to our goal of ensuring that our people feel fulfilled, productive and purposeful at UOB.  

Through the learnings from our journey, we believe that HR leaders can similarly create a positive EX in their organizations by focusing on these five areas:

1. Finding the right EX coach/partner

Just as building a business case is always the logical starting point for any new strategy, it is equally important to develop an implementation roadmap that is tailored to your organization and is clear in its desired outcomes.  

We found that there are plenty of advocates who know the inside-out of EX and its benefits, but very few who can guide you on how it can be applied within the context of your organization. Partnering an EX coach early on can help you to build the right foundation, starting with your business case to formulating and executing your strategy, and eventually measuring its effectiveness and assessing areas for improvement. 

2. Delivering EX is a cross-functional effort 

Even though EX is an HR-driven strategy, we recognized that delivering an experience does not simply hinge on creating and analyzing employee surveys or developing initiatives in silos. Instead, a successful EX strategy is a cross-functional effort that requires close collaboration across the entire organization. 

At UOB, we formed a cross-functional team that comprises our business leaders and colleagues from various functions such as technology, workplace infrastructure, communications, and brand. Working together, we are able to shape a holistic EX, such as enhancing our digital tools for better collaboration, accelerating the transformation of our workspace for hybrid work arrangements, and launching a dedicated program for our people to stay mentally resilient and connected. Our team also comprises around 300 EX “champions” across the Bank who listen to voices on the ground and share this informal feedback and micro-moments of our people’s experience with the wider team to refine our strategy.

3. Taking an employee-centric design approach

Instead of taking the traditional approach of assessing the effectiveness of policies and guidelines only after they have been rolled out, we found it more productive to have our colleagues be part of the design or co-creation process before launching them. This approach takes reference from human-centered design in which the experience of end-users determines the shape and form of a product or service.

An example of this is our post-COVID-19 Remote Work policy which is guided by learnings from our people’s experiences adjusting to prolonged work-from-home arrangements over the last year. The policy gives most of our people the choice to work remotely two days a week once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, providing greater flexibility to manage their work-life priorities and mental well-being while continuing to be productive and engaged.

At UOB, this means that we will only put a policy into practice when we are confident that it captures what matters most to our colleagues and effectively addresses their needs or pain points. By creating policies with EX in mind from the start, we can minimize unexpected pushback and ensure that the respective programs and initiatives under these policies are both beneficial and sustainable.

4. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy

Every organization is made up of diverse talent and personalities and this is an important consideration when developing an EX strategy.

A reimagined EX as a framework and our employee programs as products/services that we are offering to employees. We then deep dive into customer experience research and customer segmentation, applying these principles to our EX strategy. 

Equipped with insights into the different needs of our workforce, we developed initiatives that cater to various segments of employees such as those who are fresh graduates, mid-career professionals, IT professionals, and senior leaders.

We then rolled out these initiatives at scale and assessed each segment in relation to key moments across the EX journey — from onboarding to professional development and key milestones. These initiatives complement our bank-wide programs, ensuring that we holistically address the different needs across our diverse workforce.

5. From continuous listening to continuous dialogue

EX is more than just continuous listening, as “listening” implies having one-way communication. Instead, organizations should strive towards enabling continuous dialogue which encompasses a cycle of listening to employee feedback, acting on it, and communicating how you have addressed it. 

At UOB, we use a platform by Qualtrics to capture and analyze feedback from a variety of sources to drive a single outcome of improving EX. These include key employee events and touchpoints such as town halls and social media, as well as external sources such as job portals. With a thorough understanding of our people’s perceptions and sentiments — be it our alumni, candidates or employees — we turn feedback into action that moves the needle.

The foundation of success

These five lessons serve as the foundation of our EX strategy at UOB, enabling us to make meaningful changes over the years that have an impact on our people’s productivity and engagement levels. Building a positive employee experience is certainly not an overnight journey, but it is a journey that organizations must embark on today or be at risk of losing out on their best talent.

Vikas Verma // Executive Director

Executive Director and Head of HR Strategy at United Overseas Bank.

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