2020 was a year where organizations had to seriously relook at employee experience. It was a year that redefined their outlook towards EX in a big way, forcing them to tune up and listen empathetically to employees and act fast. While 2021 brought hope with the authorization and dissemination of the first COVID-19 vaccines, yet it is safe to say we are not going to the old ways of working anytime soon. This means organizations have a chance to seriously relook at the culture they are building and the experience they are going to deliver in the second year of the pandemic.
So what is next for employee experience? How can we redefine it for our new world of work, a big part of which has transitioned to hybrid work? In an exclusive interaction with us, Sarah Derry, the Senior Vice President Talent & Culture Pacific, AccorHotels, shares what does employee experience in the new hybrid reality looks like.
Sarah joined AccorHotels in April 2017 as VP Talent & Culture Australia. She has worked extensively in the hospitality and tourism industry and has significant work experience in the fields of education, marketing and recruitment. Sarah specializes in the areas of culture transformation, strategic business planning, leadership development, employee engagement and organizational behavior.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
How do we reboot Employee Experience and tune-up for success in our changed world of work?
When I look at the regions I handle, we have had a different experience compared to the rest of the world. Obviously, it has been a difficult year particularly wrt the travel and hospitality industry, with borders closed and lots of people in our industry not working. So last year was quite challenging. This year, however in Australia New Zealand, we have started to see a return to business and a greater confidence in the economy. So there’s sort of a rebuild happening. The uncertainty for us as to when will the international borders open but Australia is a large enough market for us. The reality of our industry is that last year, we lost some of our people to other industries.
When it comes to employee experience, and this is just not true of the hospitality industry alone but in general, people are reassessing what’s important to them. And that means, they want more personal choice.
Not just in the way we work but it could be in the hours they work or the location or the type of work. So in Australia what’s going to happen is we are going to take a more tailored approach to an individual. We can’t just have one flexible work policy. We have to have a policy tailored to individuals which says to them we trust them and we want you to work with us. So we are prepared to make it happen. We are facing a talent shortage and so we have to listen to employees what they want in their employee experience.
For instance, in our organization, we launched a program called ‘Work your way’. It’s a very clear message to the team that we love working with you, you are capable and we trust you and you can work the way you want.
Also, even employees have become more adaptable and that has been the biggest shift. Hence employee experience also needs to be more adaptable. The shifts we have seen happen in the last six months would have otherwise taken 10-15 years.
What does employee experience in the new hybrid reality of work look like? What are some of the key defining parameters?
The first thing organizations need to focus on is collaboration. Then follows trust. And third, organizations need to give people a sort of philosophy of what it actually means. Not rules but not guidelines but a philosophy and that relates to the trust part. It means, we tell people that when they work and make decisions, they have to look through the lens of what your customer needs, what your team needs and what do individuals need. It’s not important to have hard and fast rules around this.
Also, organizations need to trust that people will do the job wherever they are working from. When it comes to collaboration, we encourage them to collaborate for a couple of days in a week and catch up with colleagues in office.
Benefits have undergone a major change as work models changed and employees need different benefits in a post-pandemic world of 2020. How will organizations reimagine benefits for a hybrid world and technology’s role in that?
There are two kinds of benefits you can offer-the soft benefits and the hard benefits. A soft benefit is people having more time with their families, people not having to travel on public transport very often, no commute time-these are really valuable benefits to people. Especially in places like Sydney and Auckland where people travel large distances. This way, people also save financially by saving up on transportation and parking.
And of course, we have to think of other benefits as well because we are certainly going to be fighting for talent in Australia. There are things that matter to people more now-for instance private medical insurance. Or it could be saving more money for their retirement. While the financial side of things is important, benefits like more opportunities for training and learning are also things organizations need to think about.
Wellbeing as a focus area for organizations was majorly thrust into prominence for all organizations in 2020. What are the key trends that are emerging in 2021?
Wellness was an important topic before as well but mental health, personal safety and the employer having more responsibility for the whole person, that trend has definitely increased.
People are investing a lot more in their well-being and mental health strategies and providing personal safety is even more of a priority now. Most organizations in Australia are moving to hybrid work and embracing of technology will continue.
Moreover, when it comes to the hospitality industry, human connection is more important than ever. That will not change. Even if hybrid work is rising, people want to connect with each other, know each other, and collaborate with each other. People want to be themselves at work and bring their true, authentic selves to work-and that trend will continue. So even though our industry has leapt forward in terms of flexible work and use of technology, at the heart of it, it is still the human connection piece that’s important.
Employee experience in 2021 requires continuous hearing and feedback from the organization rather than once in a quarter or once in six months surveys. How can organizations build a continuous approach to EX?
During 2020, we continuously needed to talk to our people to understand the impact of the pandemic. We needed to connect with them more-so we did more focused groups, more surveys. We were forced to really listen to people because we knew they were going through hard times. To really care for them, we had to listen carefully to what they were saying.
Prior to 2020, I think organizations made a lot of assumptions about what engagement levels and employee satisfaction was like. The crisis has led to us to realize that somethings may not be that important anymore.
We had to listen to people as we were in unchartered territory. So definitely, the trend of the last few months has been much more listening, more surveys, more communication in general, and much more two way communication, which will continue this year as well. Ultimately an organization needs to understand both the collective and the individual needs.