Implementing the employee experience is possible only when the organisation is ready for it. When employees really come first. When they are the subject of true empathy. When people show a genuine interest in their lives. When you raise the employee experience in your organisation to a higher level, it means you take an interest in your employees and you use those insights. Showing such an interest demands shifting your focus to empathy. So first and foremost, you need to tap into your own human resources.
Empathy is the social skill to share the emotions and realm of ideas of others, linked to the skill to demonstrate this. It will make a person feel truly understood. Empathy is mostly seen as a personal trait in people who are warm and emphatic, who show emphatic behaviour. Empathy on an organisational level means you step into the shoes of an employee. You turn your perspective 180 degrees, so you no longer think as the organisation but you place yourself in the employee’s shoes. This allows you to get to know the employee better, think from his point of view and anticipate his needs and wishes better.
Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, feeling with the heart of another
Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
Reasons for empathy
Why would you have to make a bigger effort to place yourself in your employee’s shoes? Three important reasons:
Nothing is as unequal as the equal treatment of unequals
Professor Hans Galjaard
Use empathy for the employee experience
So how do you go about empathising more with your employees? We give you three options:
Really listening to employees
Talk to the employees frequently and extensively. Also involve former employees or rejected job applicants in these talks, which can be done one-on-one or by means of panel meetings. Listen to the employees’ explanations of why they work at your organisation. What they find important in their jobs. What their motives are. What they experience at work. How they truly feel and what makes them feel like that. What they think of the culture, the employee journey, communication, the systems they use and the set-up of the workplace. What makes them happy in their jobs and what doesn’t? And from a broader perspective, what about their private lives? After all, their job is only one part of it. How do their jobs and their private lives influence each other?
You can also ask colleagues to keep a diary about their experiences. You could ask new employees to regularly document their experiences during the first few months, what they thought about it, how they felt, what their prior expectations and wishes were. And if there is any difference between reality and their actual experiences.
Collect information from employee surveys and pay close attention to the comments. Collect numeric insights and make cross-analyses. Also talk to departments or groups that come out positively in surveys and analyses: what can you learn from them? If no staff survey is held, you can decide to distribute a brief questionnaire in addition to the interviews you hold with the employees.
HR managers often don’t expect much from a survey. They tend to think they know the outcome. However, they are pleasantly surprised afterwards, as they learned more than they had expected and have come to new insights.
Innovation instigated by the employees
The traditional notion of HR is an HR manager in the expert role, gathering most of his internal knowledge from behind his desk and through management and gaining his external knowledge from professional literature. He provides the innovation and he solves problems by implementing HR standards top-down, slightly tweaking them for the organisation. He then monitors the HR processes in his HR control role.
The employee experience is based on the fact that innovation comes from the ideas put forward by employees, and they can be as unique as the organisation itself. Those ideas are gathered through interviews, brainstorming sessions or via social media. From ‘what generally works best’ to ‘what works best here’. Ideas that fit in with the unique purpose and core values of the organisation and that are supported. This way, HR creates new employee experiences by ensuring those ideas are actively collected.
Working with personae
A persona is a fictitious person (or stereotype) who represents a category of employees in your organisation. You will be designing new experiences for these personae. The characteristics of the personae come from the target group itself:
Using personae makes it easier to empathise with the target group and to realise a suitable, new experience. It increases the focus and gives the target group a face, which is more interesting than a ‘flat’ set of data. You gear these personae to the specific part of the employee journey. After all, the persona for recruitment and selection may differ from the one for sustainable employability.
Identify the results by means of employee journey mapping
Now that you have listened, gathered ideas and prepared personae, it is time to prepare the employee journey. This journey maps out the various phases completed by an employee during his contact with the organisation, from orientation and job application to leaving. A mapping session gives you an idea of the highs and lows experienced by the employees during the employee journey. You can use all the information you have already gathered. This will quickly clarify where your priorities lie in order to get started. The suggestions for improvement this yields are developed with the help of a delegation of employees, thus ensuring you really are line with their wishes and needs. This way, empathy results in a better employee experience.
Heleen Mes is an Employee Experience expert and founder of HXWork based in the Netherlands. Oracle named her as a top HR influencer in their 2018 annual report. Author of Employee Experience; happy people, better business. Her mission is to make every employer a top employer. She has over 25 years of experience in HR and she reached a top-10 position as ‘Best Employer’ with her companies twice. She is the founder of the LinkedIn group Employee Experience Nederland/België and editor of the news site Happy People Better Business News (www.hpbbnews.com).