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X or exit: Three radical theses on the employee experience – and how it can be done differently and better

Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”, was the title of a successful guidebook published in the year 1998. And even today, people from the entertainment industry fill huge venues with their stories about shoe-buying women and taciturn men. How simple would the world be if we could just label and categorize everyone. But let’s be honest: it would also be a  pretty boring world. 

Hence: Cheers to diversity! – Many companies would even sign on to that now – at least if a press representative is nearby.  The topic of “diversity” clearly shows the difference between employer branding – meaning how companies would like it to be – and the employee experience – meaning how employees actually experience their work environment. Designing a good employee experience (unlike branding) requires that companies, and especially the people in talent management, really know and understand the individual skills, wishes and needs of their colleagues. Making new experiences and encounters possible, when they are needed and desired, replaces classic career development based on the “Design & Deliver” principle.

But how do companies – especially if they employ several hundred or even thousands of employees – manage to meet the various needs? Which standardized building blocks in the professional development catalogue make sense, where are fixed points in the course of a professional life and where should the employee experience remain open and individually designable? How do companies create employee experiences that span different phases of life? And how do companies ensure, despite all the individualization, that work models and development opportunities are equally accessible to everyone?

Yes, these are the big questions and for those readers who are just becoming aware of them for the first time and are about to bang their heads on the keyboard in panic: there’s no reason for resignation. Every change begins with the first step. And above all: with the departure from old ways of thinking. Therefore we have picked three theses on employee experience in different life phases, that block the heart and the brain, and will attempt to ban them from your minds by the end of this text.

Radical Thesis #1: A good employee experience must be above all: well planned!

No! Free yourself from the thought of trying to predict every process and procedure. Remember those shoe-buying women and taciturn men – the next new hire can already prove you wrong in regards to

  • sex, because he*she does not identify as male or female,
  • culture, because where he*she comes from nobody wore shoes,
  • life phase, because he*she just had a baby and shoes are the last thing on their mind.

Change is what happens while you are making other plans. What employees need, first and foremost, are open structures, a culture of networking and smart tools to drive their own development independently yet with support from the organization. This leaves enough space for individual wishes in relation to your own continuing development within a framework specified by the HRM (or: HXM).

Radical Thesis #2: Above all, employees want to earn more money and will leave the company as soon as they get a better offer – regardless of Employee Experience.

Yes, employees want – as they should – to be paid adequately. But studies repeatedly show, how important it is, especially for young employees, to have a perspective within the company. In a  2019 survey by Compensation Partner and gehalt.de more than a third of those surveyed stated that they switched jobs due to a lack of development opportunities. In the LinkedIn Learning Report 2018  94 percent of people who switched jobs said that they would have stayed with their former employer longer if they had been given development opportunities. And we’re not just talking about formal career steps. We are talking about the chance to contribute, to learn, to broaden one’s own horizon and to work in varying roles and projects – learning on the job! It is no coincidence that so-called “slash careers” are on the rise, these are work models in which young employees reduce their working hours in order to devote themselves to other projects, to work independently or to found their own start-ups. 

Radical Thesis #3: Yes, but….

….doesn’t count…nice try.

Radical Thesis #3a: Yes, and nevertheless companies must treat all employees equally.

Fairness – yes, egalitarianism – no. It is completely normal that needs and interests differ in the different phases of life. Therefore it doesn’t make much sense to feel the need to offer exactly the same thing to all employees at all times. A colleague who is currently taking care of a small child most likely needs a different working model and has different networking interests than a colleague in her mid-50s who wants to take responsibility for a large project and has no children or relatives to care for. However, these needs are never fixed and change over the course of the professional life. Fairness is most likely to develop in a culture where everyone’s personal situation is respected and people have the opportunity to behave accordingly in a professional context. This includes flexible working models as well as the opportunity to gain new knowledge and to prepare for new professional roles.

So what kind of guidebooks do we need 20 years after the Can’t-read-maps-Don’t listen-Oeuvre?

Our Top 3: 

  1. Why happy employees buy less shoes 
  2. Why all people can contribute something – no matter how old they are, whether they identify as male or female or whether they park well or don’t give a hoot.
  3. Employee Experience: Why #goforit is often better than extended planning. 

Life is movement, change is movement, and so organizational work and learning must also keep moving.

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