In this episode of How People Work, Jordan and Jason define a holistic view of the employee experience. They discuss what the ideal employee experience looks like and how it has evolved over time with market changes and new generations entering the workforce.
Jason and Jordan also examine what means to intrinsically belong somewhere, especially in the context of work which is traditionally a merit-based belonging.
Key ideas and highlights
- Employee experience is holistic and revolves around this idea of belonging.
- People seek belonging at work more than they ever have before.
- Employers need to have both entitlement-oriented and merit-based belonging in order to promote belonging and self-actualization.
- The employee experience has evolved over time, and it’s up to both employers and employees to have the ideal employee experience.
Word of the day
- Obstinate - said @ 6:29 ✅
- 0:00 Intro
- 2:04 Here are the greatest challenges HR professionals face today
- 3:24 What do we mean when we talk about the employee experience?
- 5:39 Does employee experience only matter in an employees’ market?
- 8:42 Why our product flopped with some of our customers
- 10:18 What human beings need universally in order to have a positive employee experience
- 12:08 What it means to belong somewhere
- 13:48 Entitlement-oriented vs. merit-based belonging - which is better in the workplace
- 19:20 Can we really do anything we put our minds to?
- 20:06 People seek belonging at work more than they ever have before
- 25:11 It’s not just on the employer to create a satisfying employee experience
- 25:40 Our advice to HR leaders
How many hours and years of our lives do we spend on work? For nearly all of us, we spend 30 plus years and one third of our days in our vocation, more time perhaps, than we spend at rest or at play. But this isn't a problem. Why? Because work is good. Work needs to be integrated deeply into our lives and must be in line with our most important goals and values. And if it is, we have a far more complete and fulfilling life experience. Welcome to the How People Work podcast, where we explore the intersection of how humans think and act and how they apply themselves to their work. When you understand both of these things, you'll be equipped to be insightful, compassionate, and compelling leaders. Welcome back to How People Work. This is your host, Jordan Pease, here with my co-host Jason Murray. I promise next time I'll call you the host and I'll call me the co-host so that you feel better.
Yeah, you don't care.
I don't care.
We set up in our last episode the fact that we were going to get into our survey, our data, and I say our, even though you, we did, and the aforementioned Kip Hart did all of the work, but I own part of the company, so I get to claim it. We're going to get into how that works. Some of this data works. We talked about how it's easy for us as you get into this industry to form an opinion to, I don't know, you can be a little stubborn. You can kind of go like, you know what? This is the way that things are, the way things should be, and we operate and we make business decisions out of our own opinion. But you decided, Hey, let's go survey over 500 HR professionals and let's find out what they're saying, what they're feeling about their own profession and how it's evolving over the course of time. And so we're going to jump right back into the survey and find out what people are saying out there.
I mean, we'll kind of end up in a bunch of different places with this. I think as we typically do, we sort of go down a bunch of different rabbit trails.
We like to meander.
But that's part of what I think is fun about this. So one of the things that we touched on though, and I think is a good starting place for the conversation today is what are the greatest challenges you face in your role? And so I think I covered these just really briefly in passing, but we really didn't take any time to unpack it in any great detail. And so one of the questions we asked, the respondents that we surveyed were, what are the greatest challenges you face in your role? We gave them 10 options to rank order, and then we looked at which things appeared most frequently in the top five. And so the top three that ranked were one, creating a positive and satisfying employee experience. Two, communicating the value of people programs, and then three tools and budget to support employee wellbeing. And so I think we'll actually talk about all those different things, but I think one thing that's probably worth pausing on is the first one, because I think for you and I being millennials coming into this space, from the outside, we see something like creating a positive and satisfying employee experience and say, duh, what else would there be?
But as we talked about in some previous episodes, that's not been traditionally the function of HR. It's been more compliance-oriented, protecting the company. It's not necessarily been as employee-centric as it’s been trending towards. And we're in a time where there's still significant tension between those roles. So I wouldn't say that we've arrived at this new destination of here's what the HR profession is now, but no, it's definitely going that way. Yeah, I think for the positive, there's the probably best companies out there are the ones that are adopting a different mindset that's prioritizing that. But for me, it brings up this question that's a really central one. And so I'll pose that to you is what do we mean when we talk about the employee experience? Cause I think if we're saying, Hey, the job is creating a positive and satisfying employee experience, what are we aiming for? What is the ideal employee experience? What does that look like?
Yeah, I think it's similar to if you had to, I don't know, maybe this is accurate, but with first thing that came to mind is if you had to break it down to a single question, it'd be kind of a net promoter score. Would you recommend this product, this service, this whatever, to your friends and family? I feel like the outcome of the employee experience is the employee net promoter score. It's the feeling. It is what it feels like to work at a place from the standpoint of what it was like to be recruited in, what it was like to be onboarded, what it was like to get clarity or lack thereof around your job, and then what it felt like to do that job, but to be managed by the people you're managed by. And then even into leaving a company either voluntarily or involuntarily. Yes. What is the message that's going to be said at the end of all about that experience? So I think it's actually, it's a very kind of holistic question of employee experience. It's not, did you have fun parties? You should have fun parties.
Like a pizza party.
Pizza parties should not be fun. That's a really lame, it's better to not have a party than a not fun party. True. So I'm not saying that's not important. And it's not only how your manager treated you, or it's not only the clarity with which you were given your role or job description. It's the whole thing. It's the feeling. I think one thing that's really disappointing to me in this period where the market is down and the economy is down, and we're kind of at a low point is that you see these, I don't want to call anybody out, but what are we calling them? Digital analog, maybe a little bit more Gen X, Boomer leaders, these obstinate folks that are like, Hey, this whole employee experience thing, I don't have to do it anymore.
Doesn't matter anymore.
I don’t have to do it anymore. Yay. I have all the power again. You need me more than I need you. Right? And you see it kind of going in the other direction, because they didn't learn when there was this period where there was social pressure to drive the employee experience, and they didn't see what happened in this Great Resignation and all of this social change that's taken place over the past few years. They didn't notice that they lost bigger than other people lost when the chips were down and all of their best people left. And that's really annoying and frustrating to me. And so when I hear from these HR leaders that creating a positive and satisfying employee experience is number one, most mentioned struggle that they have, that just got harder with the economy the way it is.
And that - that's annoying.
Or harder to get executive buy-in, which is one of the things that was kind of a constant right trend in the research that we did.
Because you need money and authority to do this. You know, you don't need a ton of money all the time to do it, but you definitely need authority to make decisions, to do things that aren't directly about the bottom line or aren't directly about productivity, but that are, if you have the vision for it, indirectly oriented towards those things, but more directly oriented towards people and the benefit of people.
Right. Yeah, totally. And we touched on this in the previous episode or two episodes ago, where there's companies that just get it or don’t. I mean, that was something else that came out of the research that we did, is there's just sort of a get it factor that's like, yes, hey, you either believe a certain way about people or you don't. And there's kind of a really clear dividing line. And that influences the autonomy that an HR team has even to focus on something like employee experience. And do executives believe that it's just a zero sum game? Or do they believe that while making investments in people and focusing on human flourishing as we talk about a lot, is something that actually expands the pie? Makes it something that's more exponentially -
I realized that one of the things that we said in the last episode, or actually two episodes ago now, was probably discouraging to HR leaders, which was that when we were able to, as Fringe, as a company, we were able to get those that don't get it to buy our product and temporarily adopt our philosophy. It flopped. Our experience with them, their experience with us flopped because they didn't actually get it. They didn't actually invest in the ways that we recommended that they invest. They just sort of checked a box to roll out a product to get that quick win or appease people, or, Hey, look, maybe we'll get on the best places to work list now because we did this thing. But it wasn't really genuine. They weren't really bought in. And the reason why I say they could be discouraging is because if you're working in HR and you're working for leaders that don't get it, it's probably going to be the same outcome. You're probably going to hustle and try and strive, and it's probably going to flop. And I don't want to be discouraging, but the truth is, you got to choose your employer very carefully. I said this before, you shouldn't always choose the highest salary. You know, you should choose a place where your values align with the values of the organization.
So I think what you're starting to get to is something that I'd like to talk about, which is, and this ties into something that you said a few minutes ago that I want to push on a little bit. Cause I think -
I said obstinate a few minutes ago, did you catch that?
I didn't catch that.
Yeah, just checking.
So you phrased the way that you talked about employee experience could maybe lead some people to feel like, well, the way in which you assess good employee experiences on the basis of employee sentiment. How do they feel about your company, NPS scores, so on and so forth. But what you also just said is, when you're assessing a company, you're looking for things that are maybe more fundamental like values, values alignment, and what does this company stand for and represent? And so I think the question that I want to dig into a little bit more with you is, are there things that are just sort of fundamental or maybe universally true about human beings that we could say, Hey, all human beings need this in order to have a positive employee experience?
Yeah, there definitely are things. One of the words that we talked about, Cassandra, before, she's hosted this podcast back when it was by a different name a few times, and she really introduced me to the concept of belonging in a really deep and meaningful way. I interviewed her initially, and I was talking to her about DEI and she said, Hey, actually there's one more letter I'd like to add, and it's B, it's belonging. And it was kind of a light bulb moment for me, and I really kind of attached myself to that word because that felt like something that was very, very universal. And of course, you have to unpack what we mean by that. What does it mean? I think, what I mean, at least when I think about belonging, is that I can bring who I actually am, kind of warts and all, if you will, to a community, to a job, to a family, to a what?
An employer in this case, and I'm accepted, right? There's a baseline of acceptance of just like you're in. You're in the group, we're with you, you're with us, and here are the things that are true about belonging here. You're going to be paid well, you're going to be respected, I mean, if you're at Fringe, you're going to be respected. You're going to be given over trust even before you earn it. We're going to assume that you're trustworthy until you show that you're not trustworthy. Whatever the things are. Those are just, I've heard people call 'em entitlements, which is a very negative connotation, but there are certain things that I think are good entitlements, right? In the beginning of American history. Yeah, it was, right. You think,
Your status, your status bestows upon you these things.
Exactly. It's like the whole life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, those sorts of things. It's it, it's, it's a status thing. And it's just like you just walk in the door. Here it is. But I think one of the things that we've realized over the course of time is that we as leaders in this company, and I have to go and check and see if I'm doing the same thing in my household, is that I'm actually leaning too hard in the direction of, Hey, because you're here and you exist and you have a pulse, here's everything and the entitlements are too much. And actually, I think strips away a certain amount of, what's the word I'm looking for?
It's like your autonomy. Your self-actualization.
Yeah. I think it actually robs people from the other side of the coin, which is a merit-based situation where they actually earn things. Hey, you got a promotion, not because you're breathing, but because you did a wonderful job with the task that you were given or with the team that you were given the lead or whatever. You earned this. And that's important too. And so it is just funny, I think in a couple of generations, we went from the workplace being all merit-oriented to all entitlement-oriented. And of course, duh. That's what society does. The pendulum swings and it swings back and it doesn’t stay in the middle very long. It's like a nanosecond.
Yeah. Well, yeah, I feel like we're always kind of throwing shade on the native analogs and Gen X and boomers and so forth. But I will say that if there's a criticism of the younger generation, millennials and Gen Z, maybe we can blame it on our parents who are the Gen X and Boomers.
No, I think we should own this one just for the sake of balance.
But there is that sense. But where does it come from? And there's actually a bunch of research. I mean, I'm not an expert in this stuff. I've listened to some audio books, but they talk about what did parents do? What did Gen X and Boomer parents do in the ways that they raise their kids? Right? Well, what's the term that you hear that now has a very negative connotation? You're a helicopter parent, right? But what does it mean to be a helicopter parent? It means you did everything for your child. Yes. They lived in a bubble where they didn't self-actualize, so what did those kids learn? Those kids learn nothing. That the world is made safe by other people.
By others. Yes. And I have no responsibility essentially at all my own.
So everything's an entitlement.
Or my own happiness, or everything's somebody else's responsibility to provide for me.
Exactly. Exactly. And so we were talking about this a little bit earlier today, but I would call it unconditional unmerited acceptance, which is a good thing, right?
To an extent, right?
So I mean, coming back to our family example is like, I will love my kids no matter what. Right? They're valuable to me beyond measure, no matter what actions they take. But there are still conditions in the relationship because I won't continue to provide support perhaps in the same way that I do today when they're at a stage in their life when they ought to be responsible and able to demonstrate their merit in ways of operating in the world according to their ability. And I think that's the thing with merit is like we've talked about this on previous episodes, the danger with having an ideal is it judges you. Yes. Right. So as soon as you say, Hey, something is good, it means that there is a not good way to evaluate the world. And so if we're striving for something that's good, it also means that we're going to fall short at times. And so as a result, we kind of recoil in our culture today against the idea of merit. Because merit means there's something better than what I do currently. It also means other people -
It means I'm flawed.
It means I'm flawed. It also means other people may be better than me at something.
Or at least in particular ways or traits.
And I think that's the tension that we haven't done well in our culture, is how do we hold those two things together? That you can be intrinsically valued, you can have unconditional unmerited acceptance, but it's also just as important to have this conditional merited reward. And I think for those of us in sport that have maybe played sports or have kids in sports, it's kind of obvious that some kids are better than other kids. We're not all equal when it comes to these things.
My kid was roughly the fourth or fifth best baseball player on his team. He was the worst basketball player at this point to, and I know he is going to listen to this someday and be upset about that, but he was, it's true, notably the worst kid. But he had a great time, and I praised all the things he did well, but I also coached him on some stuff and helped him improve. But you can't just live in a dream world where everything you do ought to be praised or that you are somehow automatically as good as somebody else because you just showed up. We were watching, speaking of baseball, we were watching the Braves the other day, Acuña hits. I know I'm bringing up the Braves on the podcast again. Hits somewhere, 465 foot home run. My son Jackson. He's like, I could have done that.
He's seven. I'm like, alright. Right. I had to pull him aside and be like, son, you could not have done that. There is a slim chance that if you devote everything that you are to this game, that you might approach his level someday in your twenties, but you cannot right now. Because you don't want your kids to think, yeah, if you believe it, you can do it. It's like, no, if you believe it and you work really hard and a lot of people help you and you're capable and you hustle and you're lucky, then you can do it. And I don't know, I think it sets everybody up for such disappointment in life when you don't have any notion of I need to earn stuff.
Right. Yeah. Which is funny. I think about my own childhood, and I recall my mom very distinctly saying, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything that you want. And sorry, mom, I don't think that’s actu-
Well, it depends on what she meant by mind. That's true. Mind, body, spirit, effort, years, struggle.
And I think I mean, the sentiment behind it was like, yeah, work hard.
Hard. Don't limit yourself.
Don't limit yourself. Which is good, which is great, but it's also not true that I'm capable of doing of anything that I would want to do. There's just limitations to my ability.
I’m not going to beat Michael Phelps in a race, in a pool. Not happening. No matter what I do.
Probably not going to be a rocket scientist that ship sailed. I'm not going back to school. All of that stuff. Right. But I think what's interesting then kind of tying it back into employee experience, I think at the bottom of employee experience is a human being and a human being with fundamental needs. And some of what's happened in our culture, and you've talked about this too, is the dissolution of community that ties for individuals that have become fragmented. So when we talk about belonging, I think people seek belonging more at work than they ever have before, more than ever before because community organizations and things that people might have been a part of in the past, family units and things like that, it just looks a lot different than it did 40 and 50 years ago. And so as a result, I think there's just different felt needs that are actually core human needs that are coming into the workplace.
And as a result, I think companies previously could lean on conditional merited reward because the other needs were being fulfilled elsewhere. But nowadays that may not be true. Your core relationships, the people that you spend the most time with, maybe even people that become your best friend, may be people that you work with. Totally. I mean, you and I even, we met at work over 10 years ago, and that was like what began the relationship because of the time that we spent together in the workplace. And so now all of a sudden, I think you have these two human needs that are kind of in conflict, but need to be held in tandem. That's this unconditional unmerited acceptance. I just want to know, I'm accepted here. And also the conditional merited reward, but it's hard to hold those two things together.
So stereotypically speaking, then, if you're working for me, Millennial CEO, 37 years old, I'll say that while I still can, I'm almost 38, you're probably going to experience that unmerited unconditional favor if you will, far more than you're going to experience some sort of merit-based reward. Or worse yet, you're only going to experience one and not the other. And I think we were talking about it earlier today, sitting in a Starbucks, I think what we arrived at is if you have number one, that unmerited favor without number two, that sort of merit-based reward, and you end up entitled, right, which well covered, but I think if you flip it, what do you end up with? I think that's an important thing to cover too, is if, whether it's your childhood or whether it's your work experience or whatever, what if all you get is try harder, do better, right? Here's a carrot, here's a carrot, right? Here's a carrot or a stick or both. What do you get then?
Anxiety, fear, stress. I mean, not that I experienced this totally because I think I had a good childhood, but we all have things and I'm unpacking things as I go through therapy and so forth, myself and my dad having been a marine. There's definitely that shape-up merit. Prove yourself kind of mentality.
You're not getting medals in the military for showing up.
You earn them.
Yeah. I mean, the military is the epitome of a merit based organization, as it should be. And so there's a lot of that kind of instilled in me from saying, you don't get anything unless you earn it. Right. That I've kind of carried with me. Yes. But I've also seen, as I've gotten older, the stress and anxiety I can put upon myself even. Even if it's not someone externally or a boss that's put imposing that upon me, I can do it to myself. Even where that desire to prove myself from a merit-based standpoint without the unconditional acceptance is not healthy.
Yeah. Well, thank goodness you had two parents, because it sounds like you had one that everything you did was wonderful and you had another one that was like, Hey, go earn it. And I think I had a similar experience, but I think it, to bring it back to the survey that we've mostly ignored for this episode, which is just classic us. I'm just realiz, we covered one box on a matrix, and you guys can't see it. Our listeners, we covered one box on a matrix of an 11 page document, but creating a positive and satisfying employee experience. So there's so many layers to this. One, you may or may not have executive and even creating a good employee experience to begin with. And if you do, you've got to consider two basic human needs, one to be accepted and to have a sense of belonging because you exist and you're here, right?
And you're on the team. And then two, to have a merit-based reward system where people feel like they're, to use your words and improving and earning things and getting that, the sense of dignity from doing that. But then you also have to, and we talked about this in the last episode, I think, is that employees have to create a satisfying employee experience as well. You, you've got to show up and want it to be a great experience. You got to show up and own it and say, I'm going to make this a great place to work. I'm going to be the one, the bastion of the culture and the values, and I'm going to exhibit those things. I'm going to bring other people into those things. And so employees have to take responsibility as well. And so I think that if I were to give any advice from HR folks, if you don't have a leader that gets it, you should quit.
And number two, don't do it alone. You're not, you are maybe the one that sees most clearly what the workplace needs to be and what the employee experience needs to be. But you're not the only person that has a horse in the race. Every employee at the organization wants what you want, but you've got to unlock them and have them help you and become champions of this thing and do that together. And I think sadly, most leaders, most HR leaders are going to find more support in the employee base than they're likely to find at the executive level. But there are some great companies out there that are not that way.
Well, and we talk about often is I think whether it's fast or a little slow, the market's going to force those changes, I think, because human needs are what they are. And so I think you'll end up with companies dying simply because people aren't going to work there because it's a terrible experience and it sucks their soul out, and they'd rather go take less pay somewhere else than slowly die on the inside working for a company that is really unsatisfying.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you’re definitely seeing that, you're seeing people have second and third careers, and the progression of those careers is they're getting further from corporate culture as they go. They go from, I'm going to work at this big Fortune 500, and then I'm going to go find a small business that's a little bit more personal and we know each other. Yeah. It's good experience. And then I'm going to go even further and just kind of go do my own consulting thing, and that's like my third act so that I don't have to deal with any of that corporate BS at all.
Right. It's funny to even think about that. What is corporate culture? Is corporate culture, just the residual effect of this singularly merit-based society where people are just kind of climbing up on top of each other, over each other to go up the corporate ladder, so to speak. And I don't know, I just wonder if that's like, it's interesting that we describe something as corporate culture, and it makes me wonder what do we mean by it? What is it? Yeah. What is corporate culture?
Yeah. I'd hate to try to summarize that in a few seconds before we end the episode. But we're coming up on time. I hope you guys have enjoyed this episode where we just dove deep into the survey that we told you we were going to dive deep into. But no, great discussion, Jason. I appreciate you bringing that to bear. Give us the word of the day for next week and I'll close the episode here.
Right. Word of the day for next week is sashay.
Sashay. Yeah. Is that a dance?
Well, I can't tell you.
Alright. I'm going to have to Google that. Well, I'm going to have to, so I got to look up pronunciation and the meaning. All right. Great. Well, thank you for listening to How People Work. We'll see you next time.