Shaping Employees’ Experience

Use technology to create a better, holistic employee experience

By Nicole Lewis June 18, 2020
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​Human resource managers, beware: Before you decide to invest more in HR activities that you think will raise employee satisfaction, you might want to consider the "shaping" approach to design compelling experiences at the workplace.

Shaping the work experience occurs when elements of the work environment are manipulated by leveraging new technology, for example, or by implementing new programs and initiatives that create an ongoing dialogue and alignment between the organization and its employees.

Analysts at Gartner believe organizations should place more focus and investment on a shaping approach that the research firm describes as influencing and improving employees' feelings about their overall experience through the use of psychological, motivational and social principles.

Technologies like Workgrid, a digital assistant tool that helps employees view work information, collaborate with co-workers, and personalize their day-to-day experience, is one example of how technology can be used to advance a shaping approach that keeps workers engaged and connected with their co-workers and, by extension, to the organization, said Caroline Walsh, a director in Gartner's HR practice.

Walsh added that there are three core areas of shaping:

  • Employees' expectations for the experience.
  • The day-to-day experience.
  • The memory of the experience.

Other platforms such as Slack, Trello and Microsoft Teams are additional examples of tools that help teams work together and help individual workers streamline their workflow and drive a more positive work experience.  

Dan Staley, partner, U.S. HR transformation and technology leader at PwC, points to technologies that drive information sharing and encourage feedback from employees as good examples of tools that promote the shaping experience. Gamification technology or employee recognition software can help promote behavioral change in a way that makes employees feel better about their work experience while motivating them on the job.

Shared Responsibility

Implementing a shaping approach can't be the responsibility of just HR or the technology department.

"For HR executives, implementing a shaping approach is a heavy lift," Staley said. "It's multilayered and is shaped by the organizational experience, the culture and the technology."  

It's difficult for the chief human resources officer to implement a shaping experience when no single executive oversees all the dimensions that impact workers' experiences on a daily basis.

"Who in the organization owns culture?" Staley asked. "The workplace environment is owned by different groups. You might look to HR and say: 'Our employees aren't happier; their experience at work is not as good as it needs to be, so do something.' However, if you look at the different elements around how they experience the organization's structure, how they experience culture, how they experience the places they work or the work that they are given, that is not all in HR's domain."

Technology can't do the job alone, either. According to data from PwC, only 27 percent of 600 global HR and HR information technology leaders rated HR technology as very effective in changing behaviors at work.

Using technology to bolster the shaping experience has also not been fully explored. In the PwC poll, only 30 percent of companies use technology that drives incentives and only 20 percent use gamification technology.

Boosting Workplace Satisfaction

The problem needs to be addressed. Many employees aren't satisfied with their work experience, and HR managers struggle to find ways to sculpt a more cohesive, engaging and happy work environment.

A recent Gartner study that polled 2,800 employees found that only 13 percent said they are fully satisfied with their work experience. By contrast, more than triple that number, 46 percent, said they are largely dissatisfied with their overall work experience. Yet companies are spending on average $2,420 per employee to improve employees' work experience.

Gartner's analysis shows investments by the HR divisions are to support benefits plans and to staff the HR department.

As Gartner analysts comb through the data, the conclusion is that current investments being made to improve employees' engagement, experience and satisfaction at work are not yielding the best return on investment.

"You can see that companies have just gotten themselves into a bind where they are investing a lot on the experience, they are driving up the expectations for a good experience and yet employees are still not satisfied with that experience," Walsh said. "What we found was that it's actually not a question of improving those investments. We found that this investment strategy in fact does not work and will not pay off. It is not sustainable."

Currently, only 24 percent of organizations today are incorporating shaping into their overall employee experience approach, Gartner's research showed.

However, organizations that have strategically applied the shaping approach have workers who are 38 percent more likely to report high intent to stay, 33 percent more likely to report high discretionary efforts and 44 percent more likely to be high-performers.  

As employees and managers perform their daily tasks, HR leaders will have to better understand the experience that others are having and then begin to shape it as employees are living it.

"That does not mean that the company should lay out the desired experience and employees should blindly embrace it," Walsh said. "We have actually seen some great examples of co-creating experiences and of employees and managers and HR leaders working together to identify what kind of experience is right for them personally and then for the company as a whole."

Additionally, HR managers will have to participate in shaping the memory of the experience.   

"Many companies respond quickly by either giving a reward when something good happens or correcting a negative situation and sometimes that's important to do," Walsh said. "However, over time, companies can delay responses, or, if they have second responses later on, they can help shape how an employee remembers their experience, which can actually change their whole perception of the experience moving forward."

In fact, much of the success of a shaping experience hinges on how teams collaborate; whether hierarchical barriers between workers and their superiors can be eliminated; and whether HR leaders create a vision that includes employees' priorities such as growth, opportunities and work/life balance.

The hope is that, with a shaping approach, HR leaders will help empower employees as they use available information to personalize their day-to-day experience and provide support and guidance to manage their individual tasks that align with company goals.

"This is a shift in perspective to help employees understand what they should expect from their experience and then helping them have the tools to manage that experience every day," Walsh said.

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami. She covers business, technology and public policy.

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