A waste of $2,420?

According to recent Gartner research, in 2019 companies spent an average of $2,420 per person to enhance the employee experience in their business.

But increasingly “enhancing the employee experience” is leaving people cold – that same research found that only 13% of employees were fully satisfied with their employee experience at those businesses.

I don’t know about you, but if I was leading an initiative that failed 87% of the time, I wouldn’t be ploughing that particular furrow for very long. I’d try a bit harder to find something at least a working majority of employees actually did like.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that employee experience isn’t important. I wouldn’t have bothered leading a business to the Top 100 Places to Work in the UK listing if I thought that.

But in too many places, employee engagement has become one of those terrible tick-box initiatives deployed by the sort of people who went into HR careers despite clearly not liking other people all that much.

The exercise becomes never-ending wish lists for free coffee or on-site childcare or flexible working hours. And for every employee who likes a particular perk, there will be others who hate the very idea of it.

I vividly remember the childless, middle-aged lady at the business I took to the Top 100 Places to Work list who was incandescent at the idea we might help out young parents with childcare because it wasn’t going to benefit her directly. Sometimes you can’t do right for doing wrong.

So if you want to provide free coffee or flexible working, just decide to do it. Don’t make a song and dance about it.

That’s a 30 second decision. Forget the painful HR strategy development papers and subsequent detailed process-writing…not to mention the excruciating monthly management reports about how much coffee you’ve bought or how many people worked what hours.

HR Departments love this stuff, of course. They get to hire an Employee Experience Manager and go to a fresh set of HR Managers’ conferences. Because you’ve given someone a job of managing this, you’ll end up spending rather too much time in management meetings having them report to you on data 87% of your workforce, statistically speaking, doesn’t actually care very much about, and so probably has very little to do with making your business more successful.

Want to know how to make your staff feel like they’re having a better employee experience? It’s really simple.

Firstly, just give them free coffee and flexible working. Don’t agonise over it or over-complicate it.

Tell each department to work out the details themselves to make sure all the work is covered and everyone puts in their contracted hours over the course of a month. But apart from that leave them to it. This will cost you somewhere close to nothing.

Secondly, take the $2,420 per person you were going to spend on employee experience initiatives and give everyone a $2,420 pay rise. Sadly, for most people, especially front-line staff, that makes a huge difference to their standard of living and their ability to support their families. Certainly a lot more difference than a staff newsletter ever will.

Thirdly, make sure your senior people show up and demonstrate real leadership. That’s what most of your people want really. Of course, they’re not going to turn down a pay rise or some free coffee, but the business I ran got to the Top 100 Places to Work list by very publicly only paying average salaries for our jobs and our geographical area.

We told people this was our approach to setting salaries when they applied to work for us.

We didn’t bribe people into working for us by paying exorbitant salaries. We just showed them what working in a business with proper leadership looked like, and demonstrated we were empathetic to their needs and supportive of their personal and professional development.

Then we delivered on that promise. That’s pretty much all it took to be one of the country’s most admired employers.

And all the research suggests, outside your HR Department, 87% of your staff will be more satisfied with those outcomes than anything an Employee Experience Manager could dream up.

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