Employers today must pay special attention to designing welcoming workplace experiences to ensure employee well-being, retention and productivity in an ever-evolving world of work. Managers play a pivotal role in the employee experience and influence almost every key driver of employee engagement. In an ever-evolving world of work where employees are expected to do more with less, how can HR empower managers to proactively intervene with data-driven decisions in the moments that matter? In this exclusive People Matters webcast, Lauren Huntington, Head of Solution Strategy, Asia, Qualtrics, shared findings from the company’s latest 2023 Employee Experience Trends Report. She, along with Liching Yew, Principal Solutions Engineer Employee Experience, Qualtrics, discussed practical tools, local research, and frameworks that organisations in the region can leverage to empower managers to close experience gaps by acting on employee experience insights at scale.
Role of Managers in employee experience
The rapid evolution of employee experience over the past three years demands an urgent response and effective strategy to align personal, managerial, and team goals with organisational objectives. Companies have experienced radical changes in the past few years, with more remote work models being adopted, flatter organisational structures used, and a growing number of gig workers.
While the macro shifts in the labour market are disruptive and unpredictable, it’s important to remember that many of these are experimental and emerging. During this time of change, it is critical for organisations to think carefully about the long-term consequences of these changes. To comprehend these changes better, Qualtrics conducted the 2023 Employee Experience Trends survey comprising over 28,000 employees from 27 countries - including 11,000 from the APAC region. Here are some key findings :
The rise of experience data
When businesses face multiple crises, both internal and external, it becomes even more important to focus on employee experience and engagement to build resilience, enhance trust, strengthen loyalty, and ensure workforce well-being. The Qualtrics research shows companies that intentionally focus on employee experience get returns in many ways, including economic growth, higher retention, and increased productivity. These organisations also consistently achieve customer satisfaction, innovation, and business reputation goals.
Two-thirds of (64%) of employers surveyed state that they are listening to the voices of their employees, using structured and unstructured systems. They do this to measure engagement levels and review whether the company’s communication resonates with the workforce. This has created a new set of data points for employers and HR, which focus significantly on measuring the experience of the workforce. This is a marked shift as HR has traditionally been comfortable with operational data. For instance, the HR team has been aware of its recruitment requirements, attrition rate, and overall performance of a team. What has been missing from this data has been what drives the trends and, more importantly, why certain things are happening. Now, organisations not only know how many employees are leaving the company regularly but also understand why they are leaving.
Increasing experience gap between executive leaders and frontline employees
Over the past year, the gap in engagement between senior leaders and frontline workers has widened to 32%. Individual and entry-level employees have the lowest engagement, whereas C-suite executives are witnessing record-high levels of engagement. This has created an unforeseen challenge for middle management in mobilising funds and resources for engagement. This is because senior leadership cannot measure the lack of engagement effectively, as they have minimal interaction with frontline workers.
Competing leadership and employee expectations
What the company’s leadership and the team members expect from a manager are often at odds with each other. While leaders want managers to maximise team performance, increase efficiency, and reduce costs at the cost of stretching existing resources, employees expect better work-life balance. This is causing an increased sense of disenchantment and burnout in the workforce.
The role of managers in solving EX challenges
Qualtrics has devised a well-researched and validated framework that details 25 key drivers of employee experience in the workplace. This framework comprehensively measures factors like well-being, burnout, and inclusion. Of these 25 drivers, a majority of the drivers are either strongly or very strongly influenced by the immediate manager. Due to the virtue of their role, managers control what gets communicated to employees, ascertain whether there is clarity regarding responsibilities and determine if there is sufficient autonomy to voice opinions without fear of retribution. Managers also play an integral role in facilitating collaboration and sharing resources across teams to prevent siloed functioning.
Repositioning HR to empower managers
Organisations need a well-planned strategy to ensure managers play a vital role in supporting employees in these areas. They need to be trained to support employee expectations and craft inclusive workplace practices that elevate the experience of working for everyone.
Repositioning the role of HR to enable managers to elevate employee experience is the way ahead, as HR is not equipped to close these gaps on its own. When managers assume the role of experience curators in the team, HR can focus on other EX drivers in the framework, such as trust in the executive team, CSR activities, or pay and benefits to support a higher level of engagement.
How to get started
The first step in building an army of managers that enable experience is to train them and help them understand that engagement does not equal experience. Helping them recognise the different touchpoints that constitute employee experience can equip them to control and measure these parameters effectively. If we want managers to emerge as the champions of employee experiences, we must provide them with the right tools, knowledge, and frameworks to execute changes at all levels.
As we design these new frameworks, it is also important to be mindful of establishing shared accountability and goals. The goal is not to make an added checklist for managers to complete but equip them with the right resources and give them the autonomy to close experience gaps. Managers, like everyone else, are also navigating these changes, and they require the support of both the senior leadership and their teams to take meaningful action in designing a positive employee experience.