The 10 pillars of employee experience

A recent study has revealed what New Zealand employees really want in an employer—and it’s not ping pong tables and bean bags. If you want to attract the best talent to your workforce, and to keep them productive, engaged and around for the long term, take note. These are the top 10 features employees want from their workplace.

  1. Attractive salary and benefits
  2. Work-life balance
  3. Job security
  4. Pleasant work atmosphere
  5. Good training 
  6. Strong management
  7. Career progression
  8. Flexible arrangements
  9. Financially healthy
  10. Location

 

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1. Attractive salary and benefits: 54%

It’s top priority for New Zealand employees—and the world too. A recent report surveying over 200,000 employees in 32 countries also ranked salary and benefits in the number one spot. 

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pay top dollar to attract top talent. The paycheck is not the only major factor that employees consider: work-life balance is nearly equally as important to Kiwi employees, followed by security and a pleasant work atmosphere. Research from our Perceptive Omnibus has found that 95 per cent of employees who find their job meaningful think they will stay in their current job for more than two years. 

Moral of the story: throwing money at people may not get you the staff you want. Employees are seeking companies that value their employees and a workplace that allows them to work to live, not live to work. Provide them that, and you’re well on your way to an engaged workforce.

Read more: 2020: the year of the employee

 


 

2. Work-life balance: 53%

Kiwis value work-life balance more than career progression and job security1. And while New Zealand often boasts about our work-life balance, how good are we really? 

As it turns out, we’re doing all right. Three-quarters of working Kiwis say they’re satisfied with their work-life balance2. However, some industries are still suffering, particularly the healthcare and allied health industries with nearly half of New Zealand doctors having considered quitting due to burnout.3 

 

How can employers improve work-life balance?

  • Flexible work: allow staff to have flexible hours and the option to work remotely. Part of this includes providing them the means to do this (e.g. laptops, company phone). 
  • Establish boundaries: let staff know what’s expected of them. Establish what the boundaries are regarding working after hours. Does that late night email need answering right away, or can it wait until the next day?
  • Encourage staff to take leave: letting staff stockpile leave is not only poor business practice, but it increases their chances of burnout. Promote a culture where it is okay to take time off.
  • Schedule in social: regular social events can help relieve stress and aid team building.
  • Embrace sleep as a tool for well-being: Europeans are onto something there with their siestas. Lack of sleep affects employee output and increases the risk of workplace accidents and injury. In Australia, about a third of full-time workers say they are extremely tired all the time. Providing quiet spaces for employees to rest can help reduce absenteeism and boost productivity.

 


 

3. Job security: 43%

With half of New Zealand’s temporary workforce wanting a permanent job4, the importance of job security shouldn’t come as a surprise. Speculation about an imminent global recession in 2020 combined with fears of technological change causing widespread disruption to New Zealand industries—and ultimately replacing Kiwi jobs—are making employees nervous about their future.

The good news is, there is a way to alleviate these fears and ensure your employees have a secure future.

 

Educate and embrace

Much of our technology fears are unfounded. In fact, New Zealand’s outlook concerning technological change and disruption to the workforce is actually fairly positive. Here are the facts:

  • There is little evidence that widespread disruption to work is coming soon.
  • Technology and labour-market trends in New Zealand tend to lag behind those overseas, and will be more muted, if recent history is anything to go by.
  • The main problem facing New Zealand today isn’t too much technology, it’s not enough. New Zealand needs to embrace technology, not treat it as a threat.5

This last point is particularly important. According to the Productivity Commission, by not embracing technology we’re hindering our ability to create new opportunities, provide more time to support people who are less able to adjust, and prepare young people for the future. 

In short, embrace more, fear less.

 

Provide career security over job security

Despite the findings above, it is inevitable that technological change will happen. And businesses might be tempted to offer job security to employees to help them feel protected from the potential financial repercussions of losing their jobs. However, this could come at a cost to your business.

“Emphasising job security is a drag on the economy as it encourages firms to hold on to staff when their jobs could be taken by machines,” reports Thomas Coughlan of Stuff. 

In other words, you risk losing productivity and remaining competitive with the rest of the market (especially if that market includes international competitors). Moreover, wages remain low too since you’re paying more people, which in turn reduces employee well-being. 

So what is an employer to do? 

Think career security. While you can’t promise job security, you can ensure your employees feel valued, financially safe and their career protected should the worst happen.

There are three ways to do this:

  • Career planning and reviews will help your employees feel like the company has a vision for them for the future.
  • Income security in the form of negotiated, voluntary redundancy pay to help employees cover the financial fallout of losing their job.
  • Regular training and growth opportunities not only improves your employees’ productivity at work, but it also boosts their experience and career prospects if they must be let go.

Read more: Corporate social responsibility in the workforce

 


 

4. Pleasant work atmosphere: 42%

From the physical environment to the workplace culture, having a pleasant work atmosphere boosts employee satisfaction and their overall employee experience. A positive workplace facilitates productivity, team work, innovation, personal growth and the overall health of your employees.6 A negative workplace does just the opposite; your employees get stuck in a rut with low productivity and high absenteeism. It might seem like a no brainer, but creating a positive, pleasant workplace is an aspect businesses often struggle with. And much of it comes down to people—particularly leadership.

With this in mind, here are three key considerations for creating a pleasant workplace culture:

 

Hire for fit

Your people are the backbone of your workplace culture, so choose them wisely. For example, if your company thrives on its social atmosphere, it is important to hire talent who will excel in that environment. A lone wolf personality might have all the qualifications and experience on paper, but they might not thrive in your workplace, which isn’t good for them or you.

Read more: How to turn a toxic workplace around

 

Be diverse

Diversity is an asset in any workplace. Having people of various cultures, backgrounds and genders helps companies break down barriers and feel inclusive. Diversity offers alternative perspectives too, which aids creative problem solving, as well as creativity and innovation, which in turn improves productivity. And it’s good for your bottom line too—research has found that U.S. public companies with diverse executive boards have a 95 per cent higher return on equity than those with homogeneous boards.

Read more: Embracing diversity in the workplace

 

Turn down the pressure

A little pressure is not always a bad thing. It challenges employees and allows them to grow their skills. But being too cut-throat could have a major impact on your employee well-being. The Harvard Business Review has found that healthcare expenditures are nearly 50 per cent higher at high-pressure companies than other organisations.

Read more: Is too much happiness at work a bad thing?

 


 

5. Good training: 38%

Training is not just good for productivity. It is essential for employee retention, engagement and overall experience. In the 2019 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, an overwhelming 94 percent of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.7

In New Zealand, 6 out of 10 employees undertook work-related training in 20178, which included (but is not limited to) in house training, training courses (in person and online), mentoring, job shadowing and conferences, seminars and workshops.

While it’s good news that the majority of our workforce is experiencing training of some kind, an uncomfortable number are not. Coupled with findings that nearly half the New Zealand workforce has problems in reading, maths and communication skills—creating stress, frustration and often poor performance at work9—we still have some work to do.

 

Tips for facilitating workplace training

1. Create a training plan and policy

Policies are particularly important for setting expectations of what training employees can do (or request) and who will pay for it. Consider questions such as, if an employee drops out of a course, will they be required to pay their employer back? Read more here.

2. Ask your staff

Talk to your employees to learn if there are any parts of their job they struggle with and ask what skills they’d like to learn to progress their career.

3. Think digital

As a first step, consider digital providers, such as LinkedIn, as many offer a range of online courses that can cover the basics—such as reading, math and communication skills, as well as general business and management skills for staff new to management. 

For more job-specific training, you may need to seek out specialist courses, but every dollar invested in online training results in a $30 increase in productivity10. It’s a win-win.

4. Carve out time

Give permission for your employees to spend part of their working week on training.


 

6. Strong management: 36%

When it comes to employee experience, it is the leaders of your business who establish your workplace culture. Their attitudes and behaviours play a critical role in creating safe, pleasant workplaces to be in. But what about their management skill and style? This too has become a major factor that employees consider when choosing where they work.

There are six main styles of management: authoritative, pace-setting, affiliative, democratic, coaching and coercive. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses, and ideally a strong leader should be able to lean on various styles as situations demand. 

What sort of leader are you? Take the self-assessment.

 

Traits of strong leadership

Autonomy

Giving your staff autonomy to manage how they perform and organise their daily tasks creates better working relationships. The New Zealand Survey of Working Life found that employees with high autonomy had better relationships with their direct manager and colleagues compared to those who reported lower levels of autonomy (72 and 76 per cent versus 53 and 39 per cent).

Trust

This goes hand in hand with autonomy. Unfortunately, it's something many managers struggle to build with their employees, with 58 per cent of people saying they trust strangers more than their own boss.11

But trust is a two way street. You’ve got to give it to receive it. This could mean trusting your employees’ expertise, to manage themselves, to work from home or find creative solutions to problems.

Recognition

Regardless of what traits you foster, there is one trait to rule them all. Recognition. Multiple global studies have found that recognition inspires employees to perform better than any other incentive—including a pay bump, promotion, autonomy or training.12

Read more: Employee satisfaction strategies from EX leaders

 


 

7. Career progression: 35% 

Money, status, personal growth, more interesting and varied work, new challenges—whatever the reason, New Zealanders care about career progression, particularly young employees who are coming into the workforce in entry-level roles. 

Failing to provide satisfactory career growth, planning and opportunities could see your employees heading for the door. According to an IBM study, employees are 12 times more likely to consider leaving a company if they do not feel they can achieve their career goals there.13

But not everyone is comfortable talking about their career ambitions. According to Hays, 38 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men are not confident that their line manager knows what their ambitions are. As an employer, it is important to facilitate opportunities with your staff to have these candid conversations, such as during annual reviews. 

 

Promotion is not always the answer

It’s important to recognise that career progression is more than just promoting people—it’s about professional growth and helping employees map out and set about achieving their career goals. Promotion should be the byproduct of growth, not the catalyst for it. 

There are risks that come with promoting staff before they are ready. 

“Each and every promotion should be thought about and weighed and measured very carefully because the last thing you want is for someone to fail and you take the job away from them,” says Ann Maynard, managing director of Maynard HR Consulting Inc, to Fast Company Magazine. Having someone fail in their role doesn’t just cost your business, it can cost your employee their career growth. No one wins.

To avoid this scenario consider these questions:

  • Is that person ready to assume more responsibility? It’s important to explain to your potential “promotee” what the new role’s responsibilities are and what’s expected.
  • Do they want to manage people? Not everyone wants to go into management, and that’s okay. 
  • Do they have the critical soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, emotional maturity, self-awareness, to build strong working relationships? Technical skill and knowledge is one thing, but have they developed the soft skills they need to succeed in the new role? If not, consider putting the promotion on hold to give your employee time to broaden their skills, as Ron Meyre did in this article.
  • Do they love their current job? If so, they may not be ready to leave it behind.

 


 

8. Flexible arrangements: 30%

As a country, New Zealand is moving away from the traditional nine to five working day. In the the 2018 Survey of Working Life half of New Zealand employees had flexible work hours, allowing them to start and finish work at different times each day, and 67 per cent worked non-standard hours.14

Flexible working hours feeds into work-life balance. Giving your staff the ability to move work around other important aspects of their lives, such as children, errands and hobby commitments, is good for their overall health and well-being, which in turn is better for productivity and your bottom line. But most of all, providing flexible hours is a sign that you understand that employees work to live, not the other way around. 

Read more: Setting up your company to work from home? Here are 4 must-haves.


 

9. Financially healthy: 24%

In the same way flexible arrangements ties into work-life balance, financially healthy ties into job security. New Zealand has a healthy small business and start up culture—approximately 28 per cent of our GDP is produced by enterprises with less than 20 employees.15 Data from New Zealand Statistics shows that 58,560 businesses started operations in 2016, representing about 11 per cent of all Kiwi enterprises.16

Of these new enterprises, 84 per cent survived their first year. However, only 26 per cent survived 10 years.17 In other words, the rate of failure is high, and businesses with healthy financials are more likely to stay in the green, and in turn, keep their staff employed. 

While being financially healthy is no guarantee against the future, being transparent about your company’s finances can help reassure your employees the business is not in financial strife.

“When I joined Perceptive in 2009, we were still very much a start up,” says Oliver Allen, General Manager here at Perceptive. “And with the nation-wide stats showing such a high risk of failure, it was important to show our finances to staff to reassure them that ‘yes, we’ll still be here tomorrow’. We’ve evolved beyond that now, but at the time it was crucial to our performance and culture that employees felt secure about their futures.”

 


 

10. Location: 24%

Having a job in a convenient location, such as close to home, can help take the tediousness out of the day-to-day commute. Long commutes eat into your employees’ time and does more than affect their work-life balance. According to Dr Sonia Nuttman from Deakin University’s Faculty of Health: “Regularly battling peak hour traffic and travelling long distances to work leads to poorer mental health, stress and an increase in road rage incidents.”18 And that’s before we consider the health risks of sitting too much.

Unfortunately, location is often out of your hands as a business. Some staff will be close, some won’t be. But here are ways to ease the toll of spending long hours in traffic:

1. Flexible working hours. Allowing employees to start earlier or later may help them avoid the commuter rush.

2. Remote working. Where applicable, provide employees the option to work remotely from home one or two days a week.

Read more: Setting up your company to work from home? Here are 4 must-haves.


 

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  6. Sandler, Four Reasons to Create a Positive Work Environment and Why It’s Important, 2017.
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