The Dangers of a Singular Approach to “Employee Experience”
A Cautionary note for HR Professionals…
The HR and People field is fad-heavy. It is always about the next big “thing” or trend. From blended learning, digitization and gamification to Millennial, Gen-Z, agility and Organisational Culture. These People trends inform much of what HR invest their time and money in. Wholly characteristic of trend mentality, as soon as the next trend lands, the old one is forgotten without taking into account the relative impact it actually created.
The new trend: Employee Experience
As Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) specialists, we note with concern how Inclusion has been grouped into the “trend” category. Considered “in” till recently, EDI is now treated as passé. As “been done” and no longer a priority. The new trend is “Employee Experience!” (read more about Employee Experience).
What concerns me is that the discussion around Employee Experience (along with many other people trends) is largely being had outside of an EDI lens. In effect, seeing Employee Experience as something separate to, or rather disentangled from Inclusion (Shoo! That Inclusion stuff was uncomfortable, right?!)
Concerns about leaving Inclusion out of the Employee Experience Discussion:
We cannot meaningfully discuss, nor achieve our Employee Experience goals outside of the uncomfortable fact that one’s diversity dimensions materially affect one’s experiences in the workplace. We have to acknowledge that there is no equality in the employee experience to start with; and that those with privileged diversity dimensions already enjoy a greater experience of comfort, access and upward mobility when compared to those who do not have the same privileges. If we take note of this, we will understand that we need to first heavily invest in equalizing or seeking to equalize the employee experience before investing in the “rising tide” to raise all ships. As such, inclusion is in fact central to any Employee Experience programme and needs to be positioned as such.
If we do not first equalize or seek to equalize the general employee experience (across diversity dimensions), and we instead focus on improving the “general experience of employees”, our programmes will most likely enhance the experience for employees who already feel more comfortable, have more access and have greater privilege within the space. This may undo much of the important inclusion work done, further widening the gap between those who feel included and those who feel excluded. Increasing exclusion would in effect undo much of what Employee Experience (and other people trends) aims to achieve.
I have continued to advocate for the re-centralisation of EDI in ALL people projects (read more here). We must acknowledge that one cannot, in any meaningful way, discuss people and talent without fully understanding and considering inclusion (read more about the difficulty associated with discussing EDI in the workplace). We would even go as far as saying that Inclusion is actually the only People goal; that once we have achieved greater inclusion, access and comfort for more employees, many of the benefits and outcomes that people trends aims to achieve will be achieved!
People issues are complex and nuanced! In no way am I advocating for a singular approach to solving any problem, and I do not seek to privilege one approach over another. I am hoping to shed light on our panicked need to invest in the “next big thing” for fear of becoming redundant. We seem to have FOMO in relation to people trends, a fear that if we are not “ahead of the curve” we will lose the war for talent.
We need to slow down and get back to basics! Both our systems and behaviours tend to privilege and disadvantage certain employees within our organisations. The outcome of privileging or disadvantaging some, is exclusion. Exclusion discourages engagement and participation. It thwarts retention strategies, breeds mistrust and unhappiness, and results in a loss of productivity. These elements are the age-old People goals that HR strives to achieve! The philosophy and practice of EDI is central to supporting the achievement thereof, not ancillary, never a fad.