6 minute read 23 Mar 2022
Smiling tourist in the city walking on street

Why building a human-centred employee experience is pivotal

By Adrian Moorhouse

Partner, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

Inspirational business leader who has a passion for improving peoples working lives and building a better working world. Gold medal winning swimmer at the 1988 Olympic Games.

6 minute read 23 Mar 2022
Related topics Workforce Corporate culture

To attract and retain talent, leaders must leverage communication, vision and strategy to create a human-centred employee experience.

In brief
  • By building a human-centred approach into their strategy and behaviours, leaders can give people the best job they ever had.
  • Leaders should encourage open communication, provide individuals with a line of sight and empower everyone to shape the employee experience.

In the context of rapid change, challenges adapting to hybrid working and a global pivot towards a more sustainable future, the only employee experience that stands a chance is a human-centred one. Be it by introducing flexibility, improving inclusion or demanding sustainability, to retain and attract talent, leaders need to show they have people’s best interest at heart.

Prioritising a human-centred approach requires time and attention. It is not enough to say that mental health is important if you are insensitive when they share their struggles. To walk the talk with your employee experience, you need to take the time to be curious about what the different components of employees’ lives are, and how those impact both their well-being and work habits. By considering each individual piece that makes up people’s lives, such as caring responsibilities, well-being and career aspirations, you improve everyone’s employee experience.

This article outlines five key things that leaders need to do to create a human-centred approach to employee experience.

1) Make your strategy human-centred

Our sports heritage at EY Lane4 means we are well versed in dissecting the different components of performance. When talking about a performance environment, focussing only on specific metrics that measure profitability misses out the human element. For example, you should also consider your employee’s well-being and their wider societal impact. A recent LinkedIn article by Amy Walters, Manager, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited, states that it is critical that you take a holistic approach when looking at performance and ensure that this is integrated into your strategy, including how you measure KPIs and reward your employees.

If this is not a part of your strategy, you risk creating a disconnect between what you say is important and what managers are evaluated against. For example, if you state that improving the company’s societal impact is top of the agenda, but managers’ performance metrics relate only to revenue, you are not empowering them to have conversations about how their teams use their corporate social responsibility days. By building well-being into performance metrics, you are giving managers, at all levels, permission to build that into their approach to work, ensuring they expand their vision of performance and build a human- centred employee experience.

2) Provide individuals with a line of sight

One of the biggest tenets of my leadership over the years has been helping every individual have a line of sight to what the organisation is trying to do. A recent LinkedIn article by Mark Richardson, Client Director, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited, states that if employees do not have this line of sight, their sense of belonging, contributing and pursuing a common goal will be significantly limited, which in turn impacts their employee experience.

Pivotal to drawing that line of sight for individuals is being clear on what your organisation’s purpose and ambition are. We refer to the heart — purpose —and the head — ambition. Our purpose is to build a better working world by improving people’s working lives, and our ambition is to reach as many leaders and managers as possible. By establishing this, you can build a strategy which sets out the detail of how you will achieve this ambition and the organisational goals which underpin that strategy.

By having clear statements about your organisation’s purpose, ambition, strategy and goals, you enable each individual to establish how their individual role and goals contribute to fulfilling the organisation’s purpose. This is significant for a human-centred employee experience because people want to feel they are progressing and doing meaningful work — whether that is in their own personal development or within their team.

3) Give your employees the chance to share their views

As a leader, your main communication avenue is generally one to many, in the form of speaker slots at company updates or emails to your team. These invite people to participate in making sense of what is going on in the wider organisation, together, and are an important part of providing that line of sight mentioned earlier. At EY Lane4, we have monthly ‘Magic Mondays’ where leaders can update all employees on change initiatives, client wins and social value programmes. They also include a communal lunch for people to connect afterwards, helping to build belonging into the employee experience.

Crucial to good communication is ensuring that your high-level communication trickles down. The ‘waterwheel analogy’ is particularly useful when explaining this. When you present a new way of operating, managers need to discuss with their teams, employees need to discuss it with one another and then people’s thoughts need to be fed back, so that you can make any necessary adjustments. This approach is decisive for the human-centred employee experience, as it turns a high-level message into something that includes everyone and encourages each person to make sense of it — regardless of their role or rank. To do this well, every manager needs to feel skilled and secure in having honest conversations with their employees around how they feel about any organisational updates or changes.

4) Build psychological safety

One of the aspects of a human-centred employee experience that leaders need to be focussing on is psychological safety. People like stability and yet, our landscape is more uncertain than it used to be. This is partly employee driven, with people leaving organisations or switching roles, and partly organisation driven, with the needs of the marketplace changing. In times of change, as leaders, you can feel the need to become more rigid, and double down on rules and processes to feel in control. However, the opposite is needed.

To support your employees as they make sense of and carve their path through this change, you need to build psychological safety. A recent LinkedIn article, states that leaders should have conversations with each team member to better understand what they need from you to navigate this period of change. Psychological safety is largely reliant on respect and trust. In these conversations, show your team they can be honest about their thoughts and feelings without fear of negative consequences. Making time for these conversations will encourage people to communicate more effectively and feel valued, which in turn boosts psychological safety.

Psychological safety is at the core of a human-centred employee experience. Without it, employees will struggle to bring their whole selves to work. It is also key to the success of any flexible working or mental health initiatives, which employers might introduce to help weather this period of upheaval. If your employees feel safe psychologically within their team, they will feel safe as they, the organisation and the world, transition.

5) Empower everyone to contribute to shaping the employee experience

Putting humans at the centre of decision-making is fundamental. Leaders and employees both have a role to play in shaping any employee experience, but it is up to leaders to set up channels for that symbiosis to occur. One way to generate opportunities for open communication between senior leadership and employees is to instate shadow boards. These encourage groups of nonexecutive employees to work closely with senior leadership to share their feedback, insight and ideas, and hear about the company’s strategies and decisions to feedback from their peers.

Another way to empower employees to share their ideas, and contribute to building the organisational culture that they want is to host culture captures. In actioning the feedback which arises from these forums, you can show employees the influential role they can play in shaping their organisation.

Summary

Leaders have an opportunity to create a human-centred employee experience that improves individual’s lives, helping employees feel part of something bigger. By leveraging strategy, vision and communication, you can give people the best job they have ever had.

About this article

By Adrian Moorhouse

Partner, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

Inspirational business leader who has a passion for improving peoples working lives and building a better working world. Gold medal winning swimmer at the 1988 Olympic Games.

Related topics Workforce Corporate culture