4 Data-Driven Ways to Deliver a Better Employee Experience

Struggling to find and keep the talent they need, employers know they must deliver an optimal employee experience. In a RedThread Research podcast episode, Workday’s Phil Willburn shares best practices.

Recent societal changes—the pandemic, social justice movements, a tight talent market, and the global slowdown—all present challenges related to people. At the same time, the how, where, and when of work have continued to evolve rapidly. The upshot for employers? They face enormous challenges finding and keeping the talent they need to stay competitive. 

Employers know they have to deliver an employee experience their people want and need. Half of human resources (HR) leaders are focusing on positive employee experiences to accelerate transformation across their business, according to Workday’s global survey “Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation.”

But what exactly do we mean by employee experience? 

“The simplest definition of employee experience is how it feels to work for your company—with an emphasis on ‘feel.’ Why? How a person feels at work has implications for wellbeing, belonging, productivity, motivation, and retention,” Phil Willburn, vice president of people analytics at Workday, said on the RedThread Research podcast episode “If You Don’t Have the Data, You Can’t Do the EX: Workday’s Phil Willburn,” part of the Workplace Stories podcast.

The emotional component doesn’t mean employers can just take a gut check or trust their intuition. Instead, employee experience requires what Willburn describes as “employee-centric problem-solving that’s grounded in data.” This isn’t about providing one-off perks to check the “employee experience” box. It’s about promoting a culture that meets employee needs and expectations.

Willburn shared four best practices for delivering a data-driven experience that helps employees feel better about where they work—and be better at what they do.

1. Start by Listening—and Keep Listening

Listening is the fundamental mechanism of the employee experience. Only by listening to their people can an employer know if workers feel excited and engaged when they come to work—or unmotivated and overtaxed. A company needs an effective employee listening strategy to create positive employee experiences and boost engagement, as well as tools to execute that strategy.

An effective listening strategy, Willburn explains, must be continuous. If an organization disseminates only annual or even quarterly surveys, it depends on outdated data that cannot yield action-ready insights. “We really need to up our survey cadence,” Willburn said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of survey fatigue; we should be afraid of lack-of-action fatigue.”

For example, every Friday, Workday asks Workmates for employee feedback through Workday Peakon Employee Voice. The engagement platform contains a handful of questions that take a few minutes to complete, and people aren’t inundated with a constant barrage of surveys for every occasion and topic. The response has been decidedly positive: 70% of Workday employees answer the survey, and they comment on about a third of the questions, providing rich contextual data for the ratings they provide.

2. Take the Right Actions at the Right Times

Listening alone won’t improve the employee experience. Enabling employees to express their views only matters if employers act on what they hear. “People will give you feedback if you take action from it,” Willburn said.

With an intelligent, continuous listening platform, employees have the opportunity to express their views and concerns at every employment milestone—whether it’s taking on a new role, becoming a manager, returning from leave, or any other experience. And at each moment, their employer has the opportunity to listen and act. 

Through Workday Peakon Employee Voice, employees can submit comments, and managers can translate comments into priorities—listening closer and acting faster. In addition, managers can acknowledge and respond to the employee’s comment in the platform, all while the identity of the employee remains protected during the conversation.

By enabling collaborative problem-solving, an intelligent listening platform helps managers and employees address issues head-on as they arise, such as employee engagement concerns or other situations that hinder the employee experience. “This gives employees confidence that their voice really matters,” Willburn said.

During the pandemic lockdowns, Workday discovered through its people data that employees were showing signs of burnout. Willburn brought that information to the executive team who, the very next week, created a new policy called “Thank You Fridays”: Each month, every employee got the same Friday off to help them recover and heal. Workday then used its employee listening platform to assess the impact. “We saw that employees felt they could fully decompress with everyone off on the same day,” Willburn said.

Listening alone won’t improve the employee experience. Enabling employees to express their views only matters if employers act on what they hear. 

3. Empower Managers and Their People With Data

People managers need to have oversight on the sentiment their team has toward its work so they can respond effectively. 

“Only when data is in the hands of the people best positioned to take action do you see the system working to support the employee experience,” Willburn said. “This helps managers know where they stand with their team.”

With an intelligent listening platform, data about the level of engagement and overall employee experience doesn’t reside wholly in the hands of company leaders and managers. Employees each have a personal dashboard that shows them meaningful, clear metrics about their experience—such as how they feel about their workloads, pay, belonging, and career paths. What’s more, employees also can see how their experiences compare to those of their colleagues (on an aggregate level to maintain confidentiality). With these data-rich insights, workers become an active part of their own employment journeys. 

For example, Workday recently looked at data about our people’s perceptions of meeting effectiveness and meeting fatigue. “What we found surprised us,” Willburn said. “A distinct pattern emerged: If you are an employee who spent just two more hours a week on Zoom compared to a peer, you said you were unhappy with your meetings and experiencing a sense of fatigue.” Willburn’s team not only presented this information to people leaders but also provided everyone a tool to track the time they spent on video calls. The results? Improved sentiment about video meetings and reduced meeting fatigue.

During that time, Willburn benchmarked Workday’s people data and saw that wellbeing scores rose into the top 5% of technology companies globally.

4. Know When to Let Managers Manage

Employers and their HR teams often assume that whenever there’s a people problem, it’s up to HR to come up with a fix. That’s not always the best approach. It can be more effective to let managers and their teams resolve issues themselves, while HR actively monitors the situation by tracking engagement data.

In late 2021, Workmates were indicating they had heavy meeting schedules and a less-than-optimal sense of accomplishment. Instead of implementing a new HR policy or program, the employee listening platform enabled managers to have collaborative, confidential conversations to resolve their people’s challenges. As a result of these bottom-up actions, the number of employees struggling with workload fell by about 50%, while their sense of accomplishment significantly improved.

How can employers create an employee experience that boosts satisfaction, productivity, and engagement? The answer, Willburn said, is both simple and powerful: “Involve the employee in the employee experience.” 

To listen to the full podcast series on the Employee Experience (R)evolution, sponsored by Workday, head to RedThread Research.

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