Julia Christenson is the U.S. Chair of Employee Experience, where she helps organizations engage and connect with employees in a modern, employee-centric way to advance culture, navigate change, and shift mindsets and behaviors to drive long-term impact.
As we emerge from the pandemic, a critical brand reputation driver has been reconfirmed: the employee experience.
Many anticipated that, post-pandemic, the role of the Chief Communications Officer (CCO) would slowly shift away from the workplace, which had become a focal point of urgency over the past three years, and return to the marketplace, the bread and butter of heritage communications and public relations work. However, the opposite has proven true. In fact, the marketplace thrives when the workplace does, as employees continue to shape reputation within.
This year has brought new insights into why the employee experience matters, even as the global pandemic has receded. Today, a new generation of employees not only speaks out to hold companies accountable but possesses the motivation and tools to drive real change. With one in two Gen Z employees saying they are willing to publicly advocate for change at work, the workplace has become an increasingly public experience. This emerging generation and cohort of future leaders is redefining what it means to “have a voice” at work and in the world around them.
In my role, I’m often asked how other companies tackle employee feedback and tap into employee insights, recognizing that many changes require systemic shifts. Most employees are realistic; they understand that not everything can be prioritized, and fundamental change takes time. However, they do expect to be heard and witness true action.
In advising clients, it’s clear that successful companies are those where CCOs have nurtured close partnerships with their Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) and CEOs. Our 2023 Future of Corporate Communications study revealed that a third (33%) of CCOs closely collaborate with Human Resources, second only to their General Counsel or legal teams and the CEO. These CCOs, and by extension the trifecta they form with HR and the Chief Executive, are relentless in advocating to have data and feedback as a foundational benchmark for employee experience to ensure they’re improving, adding value, and advancing key initiatives.
Gathering employee feedback is nothing new, as companies have sought employee opinions for years. The pandemic highlighted that employees now desire more than mere input opportunities. At some point during the pandemic, amidst the scramble to stabilize the workforce and preserve productivity, a shift occurred: soliciting employee input, ideas or feedback became the expected norm. What was once a differentiator has become table stakes for any company. Today’s employees want to be heard, and they expect their input to influence decisions. In cases where their employer falls short on either count, they may seek sympathetic ears and levers for action outside of the company. This externally-directed feedback from employees is making change happen – from customer decisions or product innovation to leadership changes and lawsuits – that reshape operations.
Here are a few examples of how companies can solicit feedback from employees and use it to drive visible action and meaningful two-way communication:
- Host company-wide, action-orientated ideas jams that provide opportunities for all employees to weigh in on important topics and decisions. Share a summary of the key findings and identify one to two ideas that can be implemented.
- Create a collective employee council for frontline employees, where they can meet regularly with senior leadership to share ideas and feedback relevant to their unique experiences in the field. Rotate the collective employee council participants annually and share insights in action with all employees across the business.
- Conduct level meetings with employees to communicate important updates. Instead of disseminating critical operational announcements organization-wide, have leadership share updates through group meetings that allow employees to contribute to next steps based on their role or position within the organization.
While our 2023 Future of Corporate Communications study affirmed that communications leaders recognize the fundamental importance of employee experience to business success – 60% identified it as the most critical area to focus on in the next two years – many companies still struggle to create a meaningful voice for employees. Like customers, employees want a seat at the table in decision-making, strategy development, priority planning and customer delivery. They want ongoing conversations about what they observe, learn and experience daily.
The next wave of companies and senior communicators to watch will be those that actively listen to their employees, harness the power of their sentiments and insights, transparently communicate next steps, and drive meaningful change while involving others in the journey.