Employee Experience

Employee experience expectations likely to accelerate post COVID-19

Organizational disruptions and change always create uncertainty among employees, managers, and senior leaders alike. COVID-19 is certainly the most salient and ubiquitous disruption impacting nearly every organization on the globe. In response, organizations are making rapid, widespread changes that are dramatically changing the employee experience (EX). We’re all still learning how these temporary changes affect employees, but another question is quickly emerging – how will these current disruptions affect employee experiences in the future?

Our research suggests that employees’ perceptions of experiences are influenced by their expectations. These dramatic disruptions will likely accelerate changes to employees’ expectations of their organizations. And while we don’t know for sure how or the rate at which employees’ expectations will change, organizations should prepare for several possibilities.

Which employee expectations are likely to change?

Employees will expect to bring their whole selves to work

Bringing one’s “whole self to work” has become a popular phrase of late. However, in certain cultures, industries and organizations, this is considered “unprofessional.” All of a sudden, though, this has become the reality for millions of workers.

For example, those of us working remotely for the first time are taking video conference calls with children and family members in the background. We get to see and hear intimate details of others’ home lives. Now, this doesn’t mean that all employees will want to bring their whole selves to work in the future as many will prefer strict work and personal boundaries. But organizations should expect employees’ expectations to adjust when it comes to this.

Employees will expect more workplace flexibility

Many employees around the globe are experiencing flexible work arrangements for the first time in their careers. And for some, this will be an emotionally-charged experience that will create lasting expectations.

In some countries, like Japan, working from home wasn’t even conceivable for most organizations and employees but over the past two months, it became a reality. While remote work isn’t appealing to everyone, organizations must anticipate that workers will expect for more flexible workplace policies in the future. This includes the options to work from home several days a week or allowing employees to tailor the workdays around their schedules.

Interestingly, even before COVID-19 disrupted most organizations, the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP) published its top 10 workplace trends of 2020 and among those trends, “virtual working spaces.” Along with this report, SIOP published a telework white paper that summarizes the literature and provides practical guidance for organizations to prepare.

Employees will expect greater connection with their colleagues

As with any crisis, along with the terrible consequences, there are also amazing things that happen. One of those things is that nearly every worker on earth is facing the same crisis together.

In many ways, this global experience with COVID-19 puts everyone on equal footing and again, this is a profound, emotional experience that will likely change employees’ expectations and perceptions of working in a global environment.

In fact, I’ve personally observed more cross-cultural and cross-country collaboration among our clients in the last two months than I have ever seen. And this is a great thing! Organizations must prepare now to facilitate this same level of collaboration and cooperation in the future.

How can organizations prepare for these changes in employee expectations?

Formally seek feedback from your employees

April and May are popular months to conduct employee census surveys and many organizations are facing the question - should we continue to survey our employees? The short answer is that you definitely should ask employees for feedback right now.

In our most recent EX trends report, employees who are asked for their feedback during times or major organizational change were substantially more engaged than those who are not.

However, this does not mean that organizations should simply ask the same questions it always asks. Rather, any surveys administered right now should be ultra sensitive to employees’ current concerns and uncertainties, which may mean focusing on their physical safety, their ability to get work done, perceptions of support, quality and frequency of communications, etc.

Measure employee expectations

This might seem like a no-brainer. But it’s also not something that most organizations do. This can easily be done through direct conversations between employees and their managers but this should also be measured more systematically through formal listening mechanisms like surveys.

For example, embed specific questions around their expectations about flexible work arrangements that you may be considering and then multiple times after any changes have taken effect. These findings should inform how the organization communicates and frames communications.

Unite your employees around your company’s cultural values

Nearly every organization has formal core or cultural values. These values, however, are not your company’s culture. The actual culture is represented by the shared perceptions of employees. And distributed organizations, subcultures are very common.

In every organization, there are gaps between the organization’s ideal cultural values and the actual subcultures that exist. For employees moving to a completely remote environment, this is a unique opportunity to break down subcultural differences and unite employees around those ideal, cultural values of the organization.

Now that employees are getting used to a new normal, organizations will not simply be able to revert back to their old workplace policies and practices. Now is the time to anticipate, measure and prepare for the future of work in-line with your employees’ expectations.


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