Creating an Equitable Employee Experience
Inequities in the workplace are not new. However, the pandemic has amplified many of the biases that existed previously, and created some new ones, specifically the gap between front-line and essential workers – who are required to be in a physical workplace to perform their job – and their peers who have transitioned to remote work. Now, as many organizations are forced to support a split workforce – some 100% in-person, others 100% remote, and still more working a hybrid schedule – the disparity in the employee experience across groups is expanding.
While these new inequities are being seen and acknowledged, many organizations are struggling with how to address them. In a recent roundtable hosted in conjunction with Consero, we talked to a diverse group of HR leaders in organizations ranging from large, global enterprises to smaller US-based, mid-market companies, representing every industry from retail to real estate, healthcare to automotive and everything in between. Here are some of the eye-opening takeaways we learned from this engaging and informative conversation.
Measuring Equity in the New World of Work: 10 Key Takeaways
- Most organizations are not measuring equity differences across in-person, remote, or hybrid workers. A number of people admitted that segmenting data like this is difficult because they are not tracking it directly within their core HRIS. Although, leaders did acknowledge it would be helpful, especially when considering future return-to-office plans and determining the differences and potential impact to the employee experience across different, location-based groups.
- There is an increase in “officism,” and it is affecting the employee experience. Many organizations noted the feelings of resentment between workers on the front line and those who get to work from home. Part of the issue is stemming from different managerial styles. Some departments are having more flexibility while others are expected to be in the office full time. Companies are now working to create cohesion among managers while still offering them autonomy over their teams. Additionally, other organizations noted they are now thinking about in-office days differently than they did in the past and encouraging their teams to use the time in the office for collaboration and team building.
- All employee groups are struggling with burnout, but it differs depending on how and where they work. Front-line workers are experiencing very high levels of stress that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. They’re dealing with an increasingly distressed, often angry public, and are being asked to enforce guidelines, such as mask mandates or other rules that not everyone agrees with. Those employees working remotely are also reporting feelings of exhaustion and overload, with back-to-back virtual meetings and mounting screen fatigue. Additionally, work-life balance has taken a hit as people are struggling to shut down the computer and stop working when their ‘office’ is never more than a few steps away. Companies discussed the need for checking in with their employees more on a personal level, making time for one-on-one chats or adding well-being pulse surveys. Consequently, many organizations noted they have increased availability of mental health and other social service support or increased options for paid time off.
- Managers are finding it difficult to connect with their teams and measure performance virtually. A number of participants noted a misalignment between manager expectations and employee behavior, and that the managers are struggling to address issues effectively. Other managers are struggling with helping new employees connect to company culture or to exhibit a new managerial skill, empathy, which has not previously been a requirement. Some attendees noted that people leaders are also challenged to observe and provide feedback on performance in a virtual environment, while another attendee pointed out this was more of a mindset shift and that measuring performance should be relatively unchanged from in-person to remote.
- Companies are expanding their employee listening program, including the addition of new, more frequent survey types. A number of participants cited the addition of lifecycle and pulse surveys as a means to gain new information about why employees leave the organization, the quality of the onboarding experience, feelings about remote work, and much more. One company noted that it was their organization-wide pulse survey that brought to light the disparity in the employee experience for customer-facing workers and everyone else in the company. At least one organization has added a crowdsourcing component to their surveys to truly give employees a say in what happens next. Another participant noted that they are now making survey results and metrics a part of larger organizational goals, so that people managers are effectively engaging with and developing action plans to improve the employee experience.
- There is confusion around hybrid work and how its being defined. A number of organizations defined their hybrid schedule as two days at home and three days in the office, while others wondered if a more flexible arrangement, such as only coming in for team meetings or collaboration sessions, would be considered hybrid. While it doesn’t need to be defined industrywide, the definition should be clear and well understood within your company. If it’s not, this can lead to more inequity.
- Organizations have increased pay and other benefits for essential workers to help combat inequity. While many participants opened up about their difficulties in finding ways to bridge the gap between in-person and remote workers, others shared their keys for success. Ideas included increasing hourly wages, lowering the requirement for full-time benefits from working 40 hours per week to 30, adding more PTO, increasing cross-training, implementing significant hiring bonuses to offset staffing shortages, adding free lunch programs, and offering more flexibility in shift scheduling based on need.
- Remote work has widened the talent pool for many organizations. As companies switched to remote work and productivity didn’t wane, they realized they could hire the best talent from anywhere. On the flip side, the competition for that talent is also greater, so some participants noted a significant increase in salary requirements for some of their open positions.
- There’s continuing disagreement around how to return to the office or if they should return at all. A number of roundtable participants noted that their senior leadership wants employees to return to the office. However, their employees want to maintain the flexibility of working from home. Many organizations are also concerned with how remote work is impacting younger generations of workers who rely on in-person networking and training to build much-needed professional skills. Hybrid schedules seem to be the most talked about compromise, but with new COVID variants and other issues changing all the time, many organizations are pushing back expected return dates. Other organizations have realized that working from home is as productive as being in the office and can save on overhead costs, so they’ve decided on a fully remote schedule for their formerly in-office employees. One consensus from the discussion was clear: there is no right or wrong answer and the impact of these shifts won’t be truly realized for years to come.
- Organizations are changing the way they work and are seeing an improved employee experience as a result. With all of the challenges organizations and HR leaders have faced over the last couple of years, there has been a silver lining. The needs of their people have come to the forefront. Workers are being open and honest about their daily struggles and reprioritizing what they want and need from an employer. In turn, organizations are listening and trying to react positively. Added flexibility and autonomy is improving trust between employees and organizations. There is increased transparency and communication around decision making, so employees feel more informed. Even in areas where organizations are having lackluster results, such as equity, they are acknowledging it and working to make improvements.
“We’re All in This Together”
Perhaps, the biggest takeaway from our discussion with top human resources professionals across all industries is, “you’re not alone.” Whatever people management issues your organization is struggling with, there is likely a peer in another company going through it too. We can all learn from each other, and support from other professionals is key to getting through these difficult times. However, we also know that listening to and learning from employees is your North Star. Frequent feedback, supported by smart people analytics, will help direct your organization to the decisions, processes, and programs that are right for your people and company and will lead to an improved employee experience.