Everyone has an experience at work. The difference is whether it’s been designed or not. Before we look to improve our employee experiences, we must understand that they don’t happen by accident; we are purposefully designing an experience. This means our focus needs to be on the quality of that experience.
What makes good design?
Experiences are critical to how we view work because they determine how fondly we recall things. For example, was my time at work positive or frustrating? Did the technology I use work in the way I expected it to? As we know from the work of Jacob Morgan, the technology employees use at work form a large part of our experience. When employers use technology to aid a positive experience, they must ensure that they know how the interplay of technology and psychology works. Think about the technology you use at home and how easily frustrated you get when it doesn’t work the way you expect it to. We can develop negative emotions towards technology very easily and this harms our future relationship with it. This happens most frequently when providers try to unnecessarily add lots and lots of features to it. Known as the ‘Paradox of Technology’, the technology that simplified our working lives can also complicate our experience by being hard to use. More functionality does not always make the product better. We see this when multiple technologies are used alongside each other at work – we’ll come back to this point shortly.
Ultimately, when designing an experience or using technology as part of it, we are leveraging two basic pulleys of human behaviour to increase the likelihood of employee engagement; the ease of the experience, and the motivation to return. We know that when an experience alleviates pain or frustration, we form strong and more positive associations with it over time. This is incredibly important at work. We want our employees to think positively about their experiences at work. But that is an incredibly difficult thing to do when our employees’ attention is being taken up by so much other ‘noise’.
Grabbing employee attention
Your employees are living in an age of overload. So much so that the creators of the technology that dominates our lives are restricting their own use through ‘screen time’ and ‘do not disturb’ features. The modern technology most employees now use at home was designed to grab their attention. When we received a ‘like’ or a ‘share’ on our social media posts, it releases dopamine. We will scroll through hundreds of tweets just to find the one that makes us laugh. So, your challenge as employers is to ensure you don’t add to that technology overload. Unfortunately, HR has become guilty of exactly that.
We have met clients using one email system, four collaboration systems and three chat platforms. So immediately, just to do their job, employees have to access 7 different platforms. As we start to dig deeper - incorporating separate systems for reward, recognition, benefits, share plans, holiday and absence - we start to see that the situation is much worse. We must find a better way to reach employees and grab their attention. We also need to get much better at how we surface information to employees. The old ways of libraries and search functionality isn’t going to cut through the limited attention span of the modern employee. No longer are employees prepared to wade through pages and pages of a PDF just to find the answer to a benefit or process question. They expect to find a specific answer very quickly; AI is being used by HR to help employees sift through large volumes of data to simplify the experience.
How do you cut through all the noise and start to engage employees at work? The key is ensuring we are designing for humans.
Designing for humans
Good design is generally brilliant in its simplicity. As humans, we shy away from complex design; we don’t like to have to think too much when using a product. This is called ‘Natural Mapping’. It’s about alleviating the cognitive load on someone when they use technology. For example, we expect a green button to symbolise ‘enter’ or ‘go’ and red to indicate ‘stop’ or ‘cancel’. So, as well as ensuring we understand there is a human at the end of the experience, we also need to ensure our experiences at work are meaningful. Sometimes this means we need to find out what frustrations our employees are facing, and get the bottom of what they really want.
Harvard Professor, Theodore Levitt, famously said “people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole”. But in reality, we can probably dig a bit deeper. If the hole in the wall is required for a shelf to hold books, the real problem is that (in this example) we have nowhere to put our books. Good designers don’t try to solve the problem given to them, they start by trying to understand what the real issues are. This is called ‘Design Thinking’, and an easy way for HR to apply it to developing the employee experience is to simply ask lots of questions. Generally known as the ‘5 Whys’, asking yourself multiple questions about your employees’ motivations can lead you to the root of the problem you’re facing. You can do this using the ‘loops’ method design by Benefex CEO, Matt Macri-Waller. We must think about the employee experience in the context of a specific set of loops that you design for and build on. These loops can be small or big problems, they can be complex or simple, but the key overriding criteria is that they must be thoughtfully and meaningfully designed. We’ve spoken before about how Disney is a great example of finding a seemingly insignificant issue and fixing it to improve the employee experience.
Empathy is the first foundational step in Design Thinking; an approach to problem-solving that has been behind successful technologies like Uber, Apple and our own OneHub. Being able to empathise with your end user (in this case, your employees) helps you to understand the frustration or disappointment they might be facing.
Personalise the experience
Those of you who have ever designed a product or a customer journey or experience will be familiar with the idea of designing for a target audience. This is easy when you are building a product aimed at a specific demographic, such as teenagers or new parents. It’s much more difficult when designing experiences for a diverse workforce full of different genders, ages and cultural backgrounds, education, motivations etc. As we don’t have a ‘target customer’ within our workforce, the experiences we deliver should be inherently personalised to the individual. After all, there is no such thing as an ‘average employee’.
For a long time in employee benefits, we made sweeping assumptions about what the different generations wanted from a benefits scheme. We assumed employees’ lives followed a set cycle: marriage, starting a family, retirement etc. When, in reality, there are fewer marriages and births than ever before; people are working for longer, starting families later in life; and many are delaying house buying etc. Demographics and ‘personas’ are out of the window. We can’t design workplace experiences for groups of people anymore, we have to view our audience as one person.
It has become incredibly useful to design employee experiences with design thinking in mind. It enables us to embrace our employees’ beliefs, trust and belonging in their work. Design thinking helps us to identify small loops of frustration and annoyances that can be quickly resolved to create a more positive experience. This thinking also helps us to make sure the technology we are purchasing is going to achieve what we want it to, and ultimately, deliver meaningful experiences for our employees. If you’d like to know more about personalising the employee experience, please get in touch.