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As an employee communications platform and SaaS company, research is a critical component of how we understand the pain points, current practices and priorities of HR and internal communications professionals. On top of that, it also gives us valuable insights that we can leverage to improve our product by building new and innovative features that create a positive employee experience for end users.
For that reason, we recently surveyed over 250 HR professionals in the United States and United Kingdom to understand how they use technology to manage, motivate and retain employees, as well as to highlight their key HR challenges and priorities for managing different generations of employees (millennials, Gen Z and baby boomers). The survey was fielded in February 2019 and targeted HR professionals across a variety of business categories, including retail, hospitality, entertainment, construction and consumer goods.
The findings were interesting, surprising and shocking – all rolled into one. To drill deeper into the data findings and insights from the report, I sat down with our Co-Founder, Erwin Van Der Vlist, to find out what he thinks about the findings and what they could mean for businesses employing frontline workers. Here’s what he had to say.
What surprised you most about this report?
Erwin Van Der Vlist: One of the big surprises is that over half (51 percent) of the surveyed HR professionals said they modify their communications based on the age demographics of their employees. This is both surprising and reassuring to me. Here's why.
We already know that each generation – millennials, Gen Z, Gen X and baby boomers – all have different communications styles, expectations and preferences. On top of that, each generation has varying levels of skills and comfort with using technology. Some have higher mobile and social adoption rates than others. This is supported by the data from our study. When we asked further about why HR professionals choose to modify their communications to employees based on their age demographic, 49 percent of the respondents cited "different comfort and skill levels with technology" and 27 percent cited "different mobile adoption levels."
Given these differences, I would recommend that organizations apply a buyer persona approach to their HR communications to better understand where their employees are searching for information online, what content employees are consuming most often and what content has the greatest influence in persuading them to take an action. This will prove tremendously valuable if organizations – and their HR departments – want to make a meaningful connection with these workers and keep them engaged long-term.
Another surprise was just how outdated and inefficient the current employee feedback loop still is among many organizations. Based on our study’s findings, 39 percent of the respondents admitted to using paper surveys and 49 percent said they use the company intranet as a means of collecting employee feedback. In 2019, this seems counterintuitive, especially when you consider how important mobile devices and technology are to being able to perform jobs/tasks on a daily basis.
Why do you think millennials are the hardest group of employees to engage? How can organizations overcome this challenge?
Erwin Van Der Vlist: Millennials are comprised of individuals born from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. This age group has grown up with technology and mobile devices in their hands from an early age. They value meaningful experiences over products. are more idealistic than pragmatic and are continuously in search of personal fulfilment, both in their personal and work lives. Most importantly, millennials have high standards and aren’t tolerant of subpar experiences - whether it’s the customer experience delivered by brands or the employee experience delivered by employers. When you add in all of these preferences and behaviors, it’s no wonder 32 percent of the respondents in our study said that millennials are the hardest group of employees to engage.
One way to communicate with millennial workers on their terms is to encourage them to share, interact and engage with content posted on enterprise social networks by their fellow colleagues, teams, regions, managers and even head office. How can your HR department do this? You can create monthly contests/competitions that encourage your millennial employees to do what they already do in their personal lives - get social and share interesting facts, photos, videos and news. And if your HR department and senior management team join the digital conversation by ‘liking,’ commenting and interacting with their content, this will make millennial workers forge stronger, more meaningful bonds with the company. That’s another step towards reducing the high turnover rate within your organization.
Additionally, companies can take advantage of the socially intuitive experience provided by enterprise social networks and use these platforms to provide ongoing learning and development content. This will help your millennial workforce not only improve their job-related skills, productivity and performance, but it will also make them feel personally fulfilled in their roles and more satisfied with the company.
With record low unemployment, recruitment is already difficult. Plus, this report suggests younger workers are the most difficult to engage and retain. With this in mind, do you think businesses could do more to differentiate themselves with regards to how they create a positive employee experience (i.e. how they enforce a worker's right to disconnect outside of working hours)?
Erwin Van Der Vlist: When you talk about the employee experience, it’s important to remember that an experience encompasses the entire journey – from the time an employee finds information about the company online to the interview process to the on-boarding stage to the long-term process of communicating and engaging with employees. But more often than not, the communications piece is given the least amount of attention and isn't prioritized and executed with nearly enough vigor and investment as it should be. So what ends up happening is that employees don’t know when changes are occurring within the business (i.e. organizational structure, expansion plans, new hires, growth, product launches) and that can lead to confusion, frustration and eventual disillusionment with the employee experience as a whole.
One key differentiator, in my opinion, would be for employers to encourage – and even empower – their workforces to switch off (and not respond to emails and messages) after working hours. When you look at certain countries like the United States, most companies expect employees to be available 24/7 and respond to communications at all hours of the day and night. And even if it hasn’t been written into any rules or specified, the always-on nature of mobile devices has made that a common reality. So by using the same dedicated employee communications tool/app – whether you’re a part-time associate or part of the management team from the head office – where everyone, regardless of seniority level, can use the built-in Do Not Disturb feature to mute all alerts to give themselves the quiet time and space to do whatever makes them happy outside of work.
47 percent of the respondents in the study noted that millennial and Gen Z employees prefer feedback in real-time. Is today's workforce becoming too impatient?
Erwin Van Der Vlist: There are two ways to look at that finding. On the one hand, it’s a product of the way Gen Z and millennials have grown up. Since a very early age, they’ve had smartphones embedded in their hands (and into their lives) and tend to use multiple mobile/social communications tools and apps simultaneously. But that doesn’t and shouldn’t necessarily equate to them being impatient. I would characterize them more in terms of being multi-taskers.
Wanting to get real-time feedback has very little to do with patience, in my opinion. It’s actually more about wanting to understand how they are performing on the job and to use constructive feedback to optimize and maximize the performance of every tactic, decision and project. If companies wait too long to provide feedback, or use outdated and ineffective methods and tools to collect feedback, it will inevitably hurt the employees. Without feedback, employees are basically working in a vacuum and doing ‘stuff’ for the sake of ‘stuff.’
How do you think technology can help reduce employee turnover?
Erwin Van Der Vlist: People leave jobs for a variety of reasons. But if you don’t know why something is happening, how can you ever expect to fix the problem? For companies with turnover problems, people analytics and data can be a vital way to get those insights into employees’ engagement patterns and communications behaviors.
HR teams can also integrate survey tools, such as Hyphen, SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics, into their employee communications platform to make it easier, quicker and more efficient to survey employees in real-time about their job satisfaction, culture alignment and overall employee experiences. This will surely speed up the feedback loop between employees and management and potentially improve the relationship between hourly/non-desk workers and management. On top of that, HR teams can also use the data to understand key HR/employee experience challenges, trends and areas for improvement, both for individual workers and the entire staff as a collective group.
Another way technology can convert poorly engaged employees into loyal brand advocates is to use an employee communications platform as a rewards/recognition channel whenever employees achieve milestones, exceed goals and improve their own productivity levels. This not only increases employee morale, but it also makes them feel more valued, supported and appreciated. All of these result in happier and more engaged employees in the long-term – and that means they will be less likely to hand in their notice.
Written by Ragini Bhalla
A veteran in B2B content and communications, Ragini lives and breathes for storytelling, traveling (up to over 50 countries and still so many more to explore) and trying out new foods.