Top 10 Employee Experience Trends for 2017

December 17, 2016by Jason TurnerLeadership and StrategyEmployee Engagement

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If there’s one thing 2016 has made clear, it’s that we’re experiencing change in our personal and professional lives more rapidly now than we ever have in our lifetime. From recent election results to our full tilt economy, things are moving very fast. For many employees, it feels like an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. One place they might look to for some stability is their work life.

This is where you come in. Being sensitive to the current conditions and proactive about what’s coming in workplace culture will make you the hero your employees need you to be. Our list of Top 10 Employee Experience Trends for 2017 will help you elevate your employee experience values, making you an employer of choice, and a stabilizing force in the ongoing global sea of change.

1. The Growth of the Gig Economy

The trend toward a gig economy—an employment environment where temporary positions are common, and companies contract with independent workers for short-term engagements—is now in full swing and rapidly picking up momentum. More than a third of the American workforce is currently participating in some form of independent work. Within the next five years, that number will increase to half of us. The implications of personal entrepreneurship are now large enough that they are no longer confined to people who make money in their pajamas at home.

To take advantage of this trend in 2017, there are a few things you need to focus on: reputable and relevant sources (e.g. www.freelancer.com, www.upwork.com, www.99designs.com), simplifying your freelancer contract and remuneration policies, deploying open source project management platforms (e.g. www.basecamp.com) and training your managers to make your freelancers feel like they are a valued part of the core team. If you’re going to benefit from the rich source of talent that is the gig economy, you can’t let its participants feel like you see them as second-class citizens.

2. Employer Branding

About 15 years ago, consumer marketers realized they were no longer in complete control of their brands. Why? Because the digital revolution gave consumers direct access and visibility into all aspects of the business, not just the parts that marketing wanted them to see. This ability for customers to see deep into the business has now completely solidified. So what does this mean to HR and communications departments? Well, if consumers can now see deep into your company, guess who they are seeing—your employees! If your employees don’t have a deep personal connection to your company brand, they won’t properly represent the brand to consumers.  Employees need a brand they can have a relationship with, a brand that is akin to the consumer brand but uniquely contextualized for them.

In 2017 you, HR and communications professionals, have to get on your brand game and manage, or create your “employer brand.” If you don’t have a defined idea of what it means to work for your company, then your employees will create it for you. If you think employer branding is not a high priority, look at the explosion of employer review sites like Glassdoor (30 million users). This clearly shows a trend toward the “Yelpification” of the workplace, and it’s something every company needs to get ahead of. Make your employees live and love your brand, and you’ll be much more competitive with other companies when it comes to hiring and motivating top talent.

3. Leadership Support and Budget for the Employee Experience

If it’s not already apparent that employee experience (EX) is as important as consumer experience (CX), it will be painfully clear in 2017. Creating those vital employee experiences takes resources and budget, both of which most HR and communications departments are in short supply of. By and large, EX budgets are still only a fraction of marketing budgets, though they’re equally crucial in impacting success and having a definitive ROI. In 2017, the strong economy is going to make those already-tight hiring pools even tighter. In response, we see HR and communications leaders taking a more proactive stance. They are dusting off those business-case skills they learned in college and giving their senior leadership a clear reason to allocate the resources and budget needed to hire and retain the best talent.

4. Culture Transformation

Business leaders often take a “set it and forget it” attitude toward company culture, but this is an unwise tactic that will soon be completely outdated. Demographic and attitudinal shifts will be felt more this year than in any previous year. New political conditions and the flood of young people entering the workforce will put significant pressures on companies to change archaic workplace culture.

You can either make the investment and redefine your culture according to new norms or, make no mistake; it will be defined for you. Keep in mind, like any other element in business; the longer culture goes unattended, the more expensive it will be to address. You will likely need a 24-month commitment from your leadership team to fund, implement and internalize your redefined company culture. This isn’t a marketing program—it’s the essence of who you are as a company.

5. Total Rewards Communications  

To attract or retain anyone into any type of relationship, you have to possess something they find more special about you than anyone else. In technical terms it’s called your USP (unique selling proposition). Your total rewards (compensation, benefits, work environment, flexible policies, etc.) are your unique selling propositions and, when presented properly, are highly valued by employees. However, most organizations present theirs as an add-on at best (a given at worst). In 2017, senior company leadership is going to hit a ceiling on employee compensation and will be looking for alternative ways to attract and retain talent. Meanwhile, candidates will hit an all-time high of pickiness about where they work and what they get beyond a salary.

How you present your total rewards—the non-cash portion in particular—will make all difference, whether it’s a recruiting tool for finding new talent, or a way to retain current employees as annual enrollment opportunities approach. Communicating non-salary benefits clearly, in an exciting way, will make your company unique and special to your employees, differentiating you from those who will try to steal away the talented people you’ve worked so hard to attract. It will also give your company leadership some relief from escalating salary costs.

6. Diversity and Inclusion

The election has put a giant spotlight on this issue, which will continue to shine into 2017, and the implications go far beyond arguing about political correctness. Having all kinds of people work for you is good for business, and there is data to prove it. PWC recently reported that 85 percent of the CEOs whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy said it has improved their bottom line. And companies that embrace diversity gain higher market share and a competitive edge in accessing new markets. This isn’t only true in America—a study out of the U.K. noted that companies experienced a 3.5 percent increase in earnings with every 10 percent increase in gender diversity. In 2017, diversity and inclusion is not an option, it’s an expectation, and it’s good for business.

7. Life Beyond Email and Intranet

Email missives and Intranet systems have tied companies and employees together for over a decade, but now we’re well into the omnichannel age. We still see HR and communications departments sticking with the old way because “it works the best.” But it only appears to work because new channels haven’t been developed, even though a lot of employees are already using them without you. This is the year you will have to push yourself to take advantage of new communications channels. Just like when you market to customers, you’ll need to meet employees where they already are to fully engage them. As we move into the latter part of the 2010s, we’re going to see more lines opening up, including mobile, texting, video and late-breaking social platforms.

8. Mobile-First Thinking

The last of the millennials are about to enter the workforce. These people have known nothing but mobile devices all their lives. Overall, according to the Pew Research Center, 52.7 percent of global Internet users get access via mobile. In the U.S., it’s 75.1 percent. Our clients sometimes say they can’t use mobile to connect with employees because they can’t force them to use their phones (due to BYOD policies). But they don’t really have to force anything because the employees are already there.

In 2015, 40 percent of those who worked for large enterprises reported that they use their personal smartphones for work, many of them without their employer’s knowledge. And mobile’s deep impact isn’t limited to “at work” employees—43 percent of smartphone users looked up information about a job, and 18 percent submitted a job application using their mobile device. These trends will continue to increase as we welcome Generation Z to the workforce. There’s never been a better time to adopt strong mobile strategies that engage employees where they are, on their phones. 

9. Measuring the Employee Experience

One reason why a lot of companies are in the dark about how to engage their employees is they don’t dedicate budget and resources to getting the proper metrics. Newsweaver reports that 95 percent of you feel measurement is important, but 50 percent of you spend the least amount of time on it each week. In the year ahead more companies are going to be taking cues from consumer marketing to get accurate employee experience data. HR and communications leaders are going to piggyback off of their company marketing teams and use some of the measurement tools and platforms already in-house. We are going to see more HR and communications team members being trained on these systems and discovering a whole new world of measurement. Executives who invest in augmenting current in-house marketing tools for employee measurement purposes are going to be the business stars of 2017, especially if they really listen to the feedback and implement action plans to address it thoroughly and expeditiously.

10. Insight Driven Creative

Great creative comes from deep and intimate insights about the audience you are trying to activate, and these insights come from asking the right questions and then translating the answers into actionable tactics. You don’t have to be a data scientist or anthropologist to gain valuable insights. What you do need is a clear plan to ask the right questions, the proper tools to collect the responses and a clear strategy to address them.

In the year ahead, companies will be using the insights they get from experience metrics to inform the creative they use to ignite the employee experience. Elements like color choice, design aesthetic, channels and UX considerations won’t be based on subjective decision making but on measured employee response. To get there, we are going to see techniques such as frequent pulse surveys, A/B testing, click pathing, journey mapping, and multivariate testing brought over from consumer research practices and applied to creating experiences for employees.

Bonus: Communicating Purpose

Nine in ten millennials believe that a company’s success is measured by more than financial performance. Employees from this generation don’t just want to do a job; they want to live it. Being overt with your company purpose will attract and retain those members of the workforce who would be personally fulfilled at your company and filter out those who aren’t motivated to contribute to your reason for being.

Beginning in mid-2016, we began to see clients coming to the realization that being clear about their purpose was important and having a palpable positive impact on their employee attitudes. We were able to measure and correlate this direct relationship to the theme of purpose. Celebrating your company’s purpose will be one of the best (and least expensive) ways to achieve greater alignment between your company, customers, and employees in 2017. It will be rightfully viewed as the foundational element from which all communications will sprout.

Conclusion

The labor market is hot. Employees are more empowered than ever before. They have clear ideas about what they want work to look like, and each individual worker has more options to explore in his or her quest for a dream gig. We are poised for large changes in our country in 2017. While this is an exciting development for many reasons, it also presents a gauntlet of new challenges for businesses. In 2017, companies will find they are faced with a workforce that is decreasingly willing to accept anything less than a deeply satisfying and stable work experience. Capitalizing on these trends in 2017 will enable us to deepen relationships with employees and engage them in innovative ways—a welcome stabilizing factor in their rapidly changing world.

Cheers to a great year ahead

We’re looking forward to an exciting year ahead. The employee experience as a concept is still fairly new, yet so critical to your company’s success. Let 2017 be a year of learning and exploration.

Want to learn more about how to improve your employee experience to become an employer of choice? Reach out to us and let’s discuss.

Jason Turner

Jason is responsible for leading Vignette’s strategy practice, helping clients determine clear objectives, measures of success, and strategic plans that drive employee engagement, activation and deliver results. Over his 20 year career Jason has built and led both online and offline business—some from 0 to over 200 people. From packaged goods marketing; to spearheading global strategies for HP and Nissan; to leading a fast-fashion start-up and industry-wide innovations such as the first, and largest, HD music library by a major label. Jason brings the ability to work at all company scales and in a multitude of cultures. His skills as a strategist have guided brands like Nissan, HP, Walmart, SONY, Target, CVS and many others to growth and produce positive business results.