Mitchell Haney, Director within EY's People Advisory Services, has led the ASEAN HR transformation practice of EY for almost nine years. His experience spans broader organizational transformation and the transformation of the HR function itself, particularly within large, complex, and political organizations.
People Matters asked him for his take on employee experience and how organizational transformation will incorporate, change, and be changed by the direction that work is taking today. Here are the highlights of the conversation.
What would you consider the most definitive characteristics of a positive employee experience?
I don't think there is any one characteristic that you can pinpoint and say, "If I fix this then everyone's going to have an exceptional experience". It is very personal to the individual. And if you start from that, you can narrow it down to a few factors.
It is purposeful. We all have a basic human need to be part of something bigger, to feel connected, to be part of something. People want to know that their organization has a clear purpose, and if you want to create an experience that is positive, that engages and delights them, you need to be clear on that purpose.
It is personalized to the individual. This is where it becomes really challenging for organizations, because there are so many differences—different backgrounds, different experiences, different values. Organizations will need to put in a lot of effort to understand the needs and behaviors and preferences of each individual, which is where success will come from.
What are some trends you’re seeing in organizational transformation that relate to employee experience?
First of all, there's been a realization that it's no longer about what we do at work. It's about how we feel at work. That's not surprising, when you think that as individuals, we spend about 90,000 hours of our lives at work. That's a lot of time. And within that time, there are a lot of opportunities that can either enhance our experience at work, or erode that experience. Most organizations only manage to enhance a fraction of those 90,000 hours.
When it comes to transformation, technology plays a critical role in realizing how to remove pain points or improve productivity. It's shaped our expectations and interactions as consumers and individuals, created opportunities for engagement that weren't there previously, allowed for new approaches to how we talk to our people. But, technology has also created trends of its own.
One is the always-on workday. In the past, we talked about work-life balance, but it's now about work-life integration. The other is about variable work location. We've invested heavily in office environments, but that means organizations miss a large contingent of their people's experiences which are shaped well outside of their direct control.
Doesn't that imply that employee experience is becoming heavily oriented towards the social aspect?
Most certainly, and this is one of the biggest challenges the current environment faces. With people working from home, or with variable locations, how are you going to keep that human connection? How do you keep people from operating in silos or becoming isolated? Communication becomes the important thing. If you can't address this quickly enough, if you can't implement the technology that allows people to connect, it is going to be a problem.
We're seeing changes in behavior, in the ways of working, and simple things are assuming much greater importance: things like making sure you schedule a time to check in with the team, giving everybody an opportunity to talk on calls. Things that we previously used in global transformation, like video conferencing, suddenly become critical to building and maintaining trust within a team—video conferencing in particular, because it caters to the need for body language and non-verbal communication, the things we miss in teleconferencing and that can be a key indicator to whether someone is engaged or disengaged.
Do you see any other major pain points with remote work, such as problems with creating boundaries between work and home life?
I think it comes down to awareness and equipping people with the tools and techniques to draw their own lines. For example, the time travelling to and from work—I personally use that as a way to separate work from home, to make sure that I'm not bringing the stresses or other issues of the workplace into the home. And one of the major challenges of working from home is that people don't get that time to decompress or put themselves in the right mindset for either work or home. You miss out on that time, to reflect on the day and consider what was positive or how to prepare for tomorrow.
The solution for this comes down to communication—reaching out and talking to people who are struggling with it, providing them with practical tips for how to recognize the problem.
I think that now, when you get employee experience wrong, the problems come to the forefront quicker. Whether the impact is on productivity, or morale, or other aspects, you see the results almost immediately. It's not that working from home is changing employee experience: it's simply that it's accelerating the need to get it right.
For organizations that are just beginning to embrace the idea of employee experience as being on par with customer experience, where’s a good place to begin?
It starts with understanding the individual experience in the workplace. There are certain key questions like "Where does work fit in my life?" and "As an individual, what are my personal needs and aspirations?"
Once you can answer these questions, you will have a solid understanding of what is important from an experience perspective, and from there, you can begin looking outwards. By looking outwards, I don't mean jumping straight to the enterprise level, but instead the individual's immediate work environment—what are their relationships with managers, how do they habitually interact with colleagues and customers? How do they collaborate and get things done?
Only then will you be in a position to move into the questions around the organization—the physical, social, technological, and organizational aspects, how you operate, how you use technology, how the organization is structured. These are critical questions, but you can't address them directly.
At the end of the day, organizations are built on purpose, powered by people, and augmented by technology. Understanding and working with that is what will make the difference in creating an extraordinary employee experience.