Business Plan

Your HR Playbook: Rebuilding the Employee Experience

June 7, 2023

By Kelley Briggs
There is no one way to “do HR” right — but many of the traditional models and practices in the HR scope are quickly becoming outdated, so there are lots of ways to get it wrong. Today’s HR leaders are expected to be in tune with the needs and expectations of employees and job seekers. In broad strokes, those include the desire to feel supported and included at work, to have access to real career opportunities and to have the flexibility and freedom to fit work into their lives, rather than the other way around. HR leaders and C-suite executives are at a crossroads: they must identify outdated practices and craft a new HR playbook, or risk falling behind and losing employees to organizations who have already redefined the strategic role of HR. 

Here are a few ways to evolve the traditional HR approach so that you meet the challenges of today's modern workforce.

Uplevel Benefits

Employee benefits have been in the headlines for a while now, amplified first during the global health crisis and now with an increased focus on mental health, family benefits and employee engagement. Offerings personalize benefits to employees’ needs and desires and finding ways to offer benefits that enhance their lives is HR's new normal. 

Some of today’s most attractive benefits include tuition and student loan repayments and expanded healthcare coverage for aging parents. In the realm of “transactional” benefits, some organizations are holding off on increasing medical benefit premiums to help employees with the stress of inflation. Inspirus did this, and employers in various industries are taking a similar approach. But experiential benefits are also in the spotlight, as part of a total rewards package. Personalized, meaningful benefits make employees happy. And, happy employees are engaged employees who are more productive.

Recognize Talent

Many HR leaders are asking questions like these: How is the new talent landscape affecting compensation, benefits and workplace norms? What can I do to attract and retain employees in today’s shifting labor market? How can my organization compete for top talent?

Most great managers understand the importance of employee recognition. Putting it into practice can be challenging, though, especially in our new normal of remote and hybrid work. A traditional approach to employee recognition is to praise only what we see and what is out of sight tends to be out of mind. Managers can recognize employees for behaviors they observe or outcomes they appreciate, but that doesn’t always align with what employees want to be recognized for.

To resolve this mismatch, leaders need a new approach. This is what Christopher Littlefield, in this article for Harvard Business Review, calls reflective recognition, “an inquiry-based approach where an individual or group is invited to reflect on and share what they are proud of and why.” By learning what matters most to employees, leaders can ensure they give meaningful recognition, which can lead to better engagement.

Embrace Remote Work

In order to attract and retain top talent, many employers are finally coming to grips with the reality that employees are just as productive — and often more — when working from remote locations, compared with those who work exclusively at a company office. According to the 2021 State of Remote Work Report from Owl Labs, 2021 was the year the world stayed remote, and 90% of the 2,050 full-time remote workers surveyed said they were as productive or more productive working remotely, compared to when they toiled in the office. 74% reported that working from home was better for their mental health. Forbes backs up this trend, reporting that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022 and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023. Remote work is here to stay and must be top of mind when filling roles.

Productivity is far from the only consideration in committing to remote and hybrid work. Leaders also need to understand how to keep a remote workforce connected with those still working on-site. Employers that are the most successful at retaining employees know this must happen digitally. The Inspirus Connects employee recognition platform offers a number of tools to facilitate a sense of community among employees, regardless of where they are located. The platform provides a central hub where employees can learn the latest company news, receive and share recognition, celebrate milestones and accomplishments, and connect with team members near and far.

Identify Employee Engagement Drivers

What does it take to get (and keep) employees engaged? The short answer is “it depends” because it varies from one role to the next, from one generation to another, and from one individual to their colleagues. The longer answer requires leaders to get to know employees on a deeper level while paying attention to broader talent trends and attitudes.

“[Compensation] isn’t enough to keep frontline employees,” said McKinsey associate partner Annie Valkova. “They have more options. If compensation becomes table stakes, employees look for all these additional pieces — like well-being and flexibility — to stay at a job versus go look for a new one.”

Smart leaders are incorproating those “additional pieces” and finding that many employees now seek personal meaning and purpose in work as well as other parts of their lives. HR leaders and managers must move past a “one size fits all” approach and get to know their people and what drives them in order to keep them happy and loyal. Short-term tactics – the ping pong table, the yummy snacks – are not enough to move the needle. Employees want to be treated as humans, to have a sense of belonging and to follow a vision that mirrors their values.

Employers that provide tools to connect employees digitally, like on the Connects employee engagement platform, create a community where employees feel validated and feel a sense of purpose and belonging. Organizational leaders who are enlightened about what motivates their employees are seeing the lowest turnover rates.

Strengthen Strategic Thinking

In recent years, the HR function has steadily grown more strategic, evolving beyond its initial focus of a more transactional or administrative role to provide strategic thinking across the entire organization. With that new mindset comes increased need to teach employees the skills needed to cross functions, and provide opportunities to put those skills to work. Thinking strategically, for the benefit of the entire enterprise, can bolster the health and success of the organization as a whole, while also developing leaders of the future.

Consider how this type of initiative fits into your organizational culture and structure. You could simply add strategic planning to your skill development programs — or you could take it a step further. Forbes contributor Bill Hall invites leaders to entertain a ‘strategic thinking boot camp’ for teams. We all learn how to flex our physical muscles in fitness boot camps, so why not one to strengthen the brain?

Address Quiet Quitting

“Quiet quitting” is another buzzword for a longtime challenge in the employer-employee relationship. Referring to the employees who put no more effort into their jobs than the job description requires, a 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters. While some news reports frame “quiet quitting” as an employee-driven trend that employers cannot control, most HR experts agree that “quiet quitting” is a key indicator of low employee engagement and problems with work culture, which leaders can absolutely address.

Before you can do that, you have to define what “quiet quitting” means for your organization and that likely will involve flexibility to:

  • adopt an employee-centric approach
  • change schedules and work arrangements
  • provide a place where employees can support one another

Address Culture

Unhealthy or toxic work culture is at the root of many of today’s talent-related challenges. HR leaders are looking at culture holistically and approaching change in a strategic way. This means first getting clear about what kind of culture you want for your organization and taking an honest look at where you’re starting. Among the most desirable cultural components today are: a workplace environment where employees feel they belong, are accepted and valued for who they are, have the resources and support they need to be engaged, feel acknowledged for their contributions and accomplishments, and can access opportunities for career advancement.

Gallup research confirms these priorities, identifying the top three cultural elements linked with employee engagement: a manager who understands and motivates employees, employees having a sense of purpose and the opportunity for growth. These things do not happen by accident and improving culture like this relies on top leadership to develop clear expectations for managers — and then holding them accountable for their impacts on company culture.

A positive, inclusive work culture is the key to maintaining high levels of employee enaggement — but it’s also a driving factor in talent acquisition. A recent survey of nurses by McKinsey found that those who are considering changing positions prioritized these five things:

  • safety at work
  • work/life balance
  • caring colleagues
  • meaningful work
  • a flexible work schedule

These same priorities are also sought in other roles and industries, so these should be key areas of focus for all leaders.

Prepare for the Future

As long as there are more open jobs than people to fill them, job seekers will drive the talent market, requiring employers to be more creative and flexible. A majority (81%) of recruiters say attracting top talent was challenging last year, and still is today. By aligning policies, programs, and perspectives with the things that matter most to today’s job seekers and employees, organizations will have a much easier time attracting and retaining top talent.