Employee Experience… from the desk of our Director
2021-03-24 | By Deborah Valentine
Employee experience is a fascinating topic, with a long history of changing norms. What was once a measure of output: ‘how much can a man lift’ (in the industrial age of production) moved through to production: ‘how can we keep/retain this employee’ and beyond. While before Covid-19 there was already some shifts taking place, the pandemic period has accelerated the move towards a far more humanistic, empathetic and broader paradigm. Today, companies are being asked to consider the people who work for them, and ensuring they are doing well. Why? The positive experiences of employees are, in and of itself, something all managers should strive for – not only from a point of empathy, but from a point of good business.
Working from home (WFH)
In pre-pandemic times, around the world there were differing views on the concept of employees working from home. Affecting the discussion were, of course, not only cultural norms and values, but also a business’s norms and values. Questions were raised, eyebrows too – in some cultures. Would people actually ‘work’? How would this affect teams, production and planning processes, and the ‘image’ of the employer? Why did people want to do this? I, personally, can still remember a time not so long ago that this was not the norm, and yet, over the past few years, in the Netherlands, I have seen this changing. More and more people were in fact taking at least one of their working days – and working from their spaces at home. In truth, this did not make too much of a difference, and we carried on. Then, COVID hit – and in record time everyone was working from home, all days.
In some cases this happened fairly seamlessly, others took some time to adjust, but, in truth the adjustments for many were in record time.
What have employers learnt from this process? Well, people can, and do, work from home, and we can continue, and our businesses in some cases are thriving. The ones who are ‘ahead’ of things on this new WFH spectrum are those which have quickly identified, and invested in, their people. Those which realised before many others, that working from home meant discussions about work/life balance were fundamentally changing and becoming a discussion of work/life integration. Because, while we were all working from home, so too were spouses/partners/children/those we cared for. And, not everyone has had the ‘space’ to do so.
And this is where employee experience is facing a fundamental shift. Surveys and studies are confirming that, among the most immediate effects of the pandemic on populations, around the world, is the mental well-being of people which we need to be paying attention to. It is a broad term of course – and within it fall people with different priorities and areas of attention. But, looked at simply: people need attention. They need comfort, they need connection with others, they need to feel seen, and heard. This is what is taking centre stage in the discussions, and often, debates.
Global workplaces & workforces
What struck me while reading, listening and absorbing all of the above, is that what has been, quietly, part of the global mobility, expatriation, and international assignment process now has the opportunity to gain further ground. For years we – the partners/spouses/families of international employees have been saying: “…what about us?” In different formats employers have been (trying) to adequately respond to what is now becoming an increasingly important consideration in hiring, employing the talent they need. Namely, what is there for, what can be done, how can they appeal to the ‘other’ equation of an international employee? This is not something new, but, it is something which is growing in relevance and importance. Now, as employees get younger. Now, as the world is taking us into people’s living rooms (or kitchens). Now, as we are debating and discussing the lessons from the present for a future we are still unclear on. More than ever and perhaps than before, an employee is far more than a ‘single talent’. An employee with a spouse/partner/family also has ‘home’ needs – education, career opportunities – which need to be part of the recruitment, hiring, on boarding and working processes of a potential employee.
Questions remain though: what are the best ways forward? Are companies aware of how much more this will become THE critical factor in acquiring the talent they need? Are there lessons in the discussions they can contribute to as well as take away from? How much investment is needed, for an effective employee experience?
ACCESS is only part of a possible solution, but we believe, in putting people first – in putting a face beside the support we offer, we can, and do, help. Having adjusted in our more than 30 year experience to the changing ‘faces’ of global mobility and expatriation, we have seen and adjusted to the changes along the way – and will continue to adjust and adapt to the community we serve. Our volunteers ARE the community we serve after all, so while they work for us in attending to the needs of many others, we also learn from them, every day, and adjust as and when needed.
Personal message from Deborah…
Among the benefits I have experienced, in this ‘pandemic’ period, is being able to attend and listen to a number of seminars, presentations, webinars etc. I would otherwise not have had access to, or time to attend. From them I am learning a lot, and moving into a world in which much is in a process of change. Some of these changes will eventually affect the wider world of global mobility and expatriation, some, have impact now or are missing a few elements of relevance to this world. I hope, in these monthly posts to share some thoughts for discussion and consideration.
Have an event to recommend? Please, do let me know. If there is one thing working from home has meant to me: the world is much bigger than I ever imagined, and there are some wonderful experiences and discussions taking place.
About the author
Deborah Valentine is the ACCESS Executive Director. In keeping with her motivation to help people broaden their horizons, she has been giving leadership and guidance to the many international expatriate volunteers who come through ACCESS’ doors on their way to a more settled life in the Netherlands. She has, simultaneously played an active role in ensuring the financial sustainability of the organisation since 2011.