The employee experience is increasingly important in the battle for the best talent, and HR needs to focus on core strengths of empowering, developing and engaging people in a hot jobs market, writes Josh Bersin
We are living in interesting times. For the first time in decades the entire global economy is growing. Unemployment rates are almost at a 30 year low, salaries are finally starting to rise, and employers are competing vigorously for a new set of skills (“machine learning skills” are now the hottest according to LinkedIn, a job that has increased in demand by almost 10 times in the last five years.)
But there is a small grey cloud over this horizon. As I remember quite well during the 2000 stock market crash, during very high growth economic times the job market becomes very difficult and employers have to shift their strategies.
Suddenly everyone is competing for the same talent (Conference Board CEO research indicates that “finding and retaining talent” is now the #1 issue on the mind of CEOs), companies start to worry about HR strategies and their leadership pipeline, and job candidates start hopping around quickly. In fact people with in-demand skills suddenly start to behave like movie stars, lobbying for high salaries, comparing employers, and further pushing companies to improve their employment brand.
For HR leaders the whole topic of the “employee experience” suddenly becomes a make or break issue. If your company is not well respected, highly rated on social media websites, and considered a “growing place to work,” you find it harder and harder to attract talent. Sure most people don’t change jobs that often, but people with very unique skills start to move around. Salespeople, engineers, products specialists, and even entry-level employees start to move to the fastest growing companies, leaving the slow growth companies in waves.
“For HR leaders the whole topic of the ’employee experience’ suddenly becomes a make or break issue”
New challenges for HR
The problem with this situation is that it creates a whole new stress on HR. Suddenly companies are focused on the employee experience, productivity, engagement, retention, benefits, rewards, and things like well-being, fringe benefits, the work environment, and all sorts of strange things like free lunch, free dinner, free laundry, and free gym and exercise programs. Here in Silicon Valley, where I live, if you don’t give people a gourmet breakfast, lunch, (and often dinner) you simply cannot attract engineers. This escalating war of benefits keeps going up.
I’ve been through many of these cycles in my career, and my personal experiences shows that many people just plow along and stay where they are, benefiting from the improved economy. But high potentials and leaders can find new jobs easily, so we have to watch them closely. And most companies are re-engineering their programs for succession management, facilitated talent mobility, onboarding, on-demand learning, and career development, so there is a lot to do.
And worst of all, as I remember in the year 2001 and 2008, this all will eventually come to a crashing end. Sometime in the future this global growth will stop, and we will all wonder if these expensive, employee-centric programs are affordable. I remember the theme of our 2008 IMPACT conference was “doing less with less.” We aren’t there now, but it will come eventually.
Refocusing strategies on the employee experience
Is HR ready for this? Absolutely. I have been traveling around meeting with some of the most iconic and important companies in the world, and their HR teams are refocusing on career management, the employee experience, new rewards programs, and all sorts of interesting digital productivity and wellbeing strategies.
Let’s all enjoy the good times while they’re here. Yes, this hot job market creates a lot of stress, but if you focus on your core strengths of empowering, developing, and engaging people – you will thrive. The clouds are out on the horizon for now, let’s enjoy the sun.
“If you don’t give people a gourmet breakfast, lunch, (and often dinner) you simply cannot attract engineers”
5 strategies for maximising the employee experience in the new global economy
- Focus on employment brand. Understand and study how candidates view your company, and bring this information back to your CEO and top business leaders so you can push your management to improve culture, engagement, and the work environment.
- Keep salaries and benefits current. Right now I believe companies have to refresh their rewards programs every six months. Annually is just no fast enough. I’ve talked with companies that give employees reviews and raises semi-annually and even this may not be enough in some cases. A tremendous amount of compensation information is now public – employees can find it so you should get ahead of this.
- Focus on understanding the employee journey, and focus on the end-to-end employee experience. This means everything from candidate to new hire to first day, first month, first quarter, first year, first promotion, and on. The concepts of design thinking are well understood now, so you need to use them to build a digital-enabled experience that helps people thrive throughout their career.
- Re-engineer your L&D strategy. This year, 2018, is the year to adopt a micro-learning strategy, refresh your LMS and tools, and get behind the concepts of “learning in the flow of work.” I’ll be writing a lot more on this soon – but let me remind you, people leave companies when they feel they are “not learning.” You can fix this.
- Keep the CEO and senior leadership informed. Let him or her know your retention rate, how hard it is to hire, and what areas of the business are suffering from talent shortages or skills gaps. You will need their help to mobilise quickly if you need to hire more recruiters, invest in a new development program, or radically change job models to adapt. In times of competitive growth CEOs want to do everything they can to help, so take advantage of the opportunity.
Image source: iStock