The War For Talent: Why Improving The Employee Experience Is The Key To Retaining Your People

You’ve heard me refer to “the war for talent” before — a phrase originally coined by Steven Haskin in 1997. Not only are organizations working hard to attract talent in an increasingly competitive landscape, but they are working equally as hard to retain that same talent. 

Even after a global pandemic when thousands of people were out of work, we were still seeing high demand for top talent and a continued shift in hiring power — previously held by the organization, but now being held by the employee. 

Retaining employees in this war for talent is no longer as straightforward as offering a good base salary or a secure corporate job. Instead, employees expect more than the usual salary, benefits and time off package – they desire a positive, mutually beneficial employee experience.

The Employee Experience Explained

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to the employee experience, is that people often believe it is synonymous with employee engagement — but it’s not. Employee engagement is part of the employee experience, but if your employee’s overall experience is subpar, they won’t be engaged. 

So instead of thinking solely about engaged employees, we really have to think about designing the complete employee experience — from start to finish. 

For example, consider what a lot of companies did during the pandemic with remote workers. Many companies have either downsized or let go of their physical office space because they realized their team can work productively from home.

But consider this attitude once the pandemic ends: I hired you for your skillset but then imposed unnecessary restrictions once things changed. For example, my company enforces that you work in the office from 9-5 (when you worked well remotely throughout the whole pandemic). You now have strict one hour breaks when instead you could (and want to) be sipping coffee in casual clothes while working productively from home.

From an employee experience standpoint, I have the person I want and the talent I need, but I’m not empowering them or fulfilling their desires.

Designing the employee experience means matching the employee’s needs, wants and expectations with the organization’s needs, wants and goals. Marrying those two together creates an intentionally designed experience for current and future employees. 

That’s what the employee experience comes down to — what is life like at work? Are they getting their needs met by your company? Is their work meaningful? Are they proud to work for your company?

Why Employees Require Purpose-Driven, Meaningful Work

According to Harvard Business Review, more than 9 out of 10 people are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. Meaningful work is more than simply a good salary, benefits and time off. Those ancillary aspects are important, but they are the bare minimum these days. It’s about adding meaning on top of those ancillary elements that curate a positive employee experience. 

Employees want to be proud of who they work for, and proud of the work they do. In today’s digital age, we share our personal lives and experiences online to connect and even live vicariously through others. Sharing our experience at work is no different.  

So, are your employees working with good people? Do they have all the tools and technology they need to be successful? Do they get along with their co-workers, their managers, their bosses? All of these components make up their experience at work, and they are all questions candidates in today’s workforce are asking, especially the younger generation.

Shifting Focus From Engagement To Experience

So in order to engage today’s candidates, companies must readjust their outdated basic employee packages. Most organizations have some kind of employee engagement activities in place – from monthly pizza parties to casual Fridays. And while engagement activities are important, they are not the complete employee experience candidates of today are looking for.

Because employees might be happy while they’re at the one-hour event, but it doesn’t change their employee experience for the other 39 hours of the work week. 

Generation X taking leadership seats has been a key driver in accelerating this culture change. Twenty years ago, when “casual Fridays” became a thing, organizations thought they were doing everyone a favor by allowing their employees to let their hair down. 

However, this new generation quickly exposed a flaw in this plan: “Well, if I can wear jeans on a Friday, why can’t I wear them Monday through Thursday? What makes Friday so special?” It’s almost illogical when you think about this engagement plan today, but 20 years ago, it wasn’t. 

Employees now focus on their experience more than ever, instead of their benefits package or an annual salary. 

So as organizations, we need to ask: How can we accommodate our employees and ensure they’re in their zone of joy and genius — the best possible spot for them — all day, every day? If we can do that, their experience will go up majorly. They’ll be engaged because all of their needs and expectations are being met.

Take throwing an annual event, for example, like a picnic or a Christmas party — something that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. If the event continually has low attendance, it’s a sign that your employees don’t want to attend. Improving your employee experience focuses on what your employees actually want and need, taking that money and putting it into something that will enhance their experience at work year-round — maybe it’s a training program, vending machines with better choices, or technology that works for them. 

Curating this experience is an ongoing challenge, because what your employees want today when you hire them will probably be different two years later. Big life events, promotions and company changes shift perspectives, and your employees will want different things from their work at different points in their lives. 

So to successfully shift the focus from employee engagement to employee experience, you need to talk to your people, and ask them what they actually need and want — that’s where you invest your resources accordingly. 

Scaling The Employee Experience

Now the employee experience does get harder to manage as an organization grows, but there’s always room for personalization that will make employees feel like a valued member of the team — and not just a number. 

Personalization can be as simple as using an employee’s preferred name, rather than legal given name, or reviewing blanket training to see if it’s truly necessary for each employee – as it often isn’t. Both of these experiences happened to me personally, where I was addressed by the wrong name and forced to sit through training well below my experience level, and I can tell you firsthand that they did not make me feel valued or considered. How organizations cater to individuals with wider business experience says a lot about their policies and willingness to invest in their people.

Why Curating Employee Experience Is A Business Priority

So now you can see why the employee experience must be a priority. It’s not something to be considered only when a business is profitable. A question like, “Are we giving our employees the experience they want?” should be weighed equally with questions like, “What is our annual revenue?” or “How are we gaining market share?” The employee experience has to be considered if you want to attract and retain top talent. 

It’s also about being completely honest — Can you provide your employees with the experience you know they want and deserve? Because if you can’t, and you hire them anyway, they’re not going to stick around — no matter how good the pay or benefits or vacation time is. Their experience matters, and takes a toll on their morale if it’s not positive.

In this war for talent, we have to work just as hard to retain talent, as we do to attract them effectively and authentically in the first place.

As a talent transformation expert, I can help you design your employee experience to optimize, streamline and create positive change, regardless of your organization’s size. Because people are people, and they want to be a valued member of your team. Contact me today to get started contact me today.