Employee Experience

Employee Experience in Uncertainty

4 Mins read

Where we find ourselves at the end of 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, it feels barely recognisable from the beginning of the year. Then, the economy felt like booming, interest rates were low, energy prices were half of what they are now. In addition, there was no war in Europe, and Elon Musk hadn’t put in an offer for Twitter. 

What has happened since has taken us all through several cycles of grief, surprise, concern, and grim resignation. It was a very difficult year, and it was hard to find nuggets of positivity amongst the bad news. 

It also feels different from a job market perspective. A year ago, love or hate the term, we were all commenting on the Great Resignation. Companies were paying over the odds for talent that finally had the post-COVID opportunity to make new career moves. 

Employees very much had the power, and to win talent, organisations were bending over backwards demonstrating how progressive they were. They accommodated flexible working and promoting health and well-being at work due to high-intensity work. 

Now, things look different. Cost of living has increased more than we could have imagined. The recent wave of layoffs in the technology industry has reminded us all of the very real consequences of recession. The display of capitalism from Elon Musk (in his view to save the wildly unprofitable Twitter) has reminded us that corporations are just that, corporate. They are friendly and kind in the good times, but can be ruthless when they need to be. It seems to indicate that after all at its core, an employment contract is a financial relationship. 

So where does this leave the Employee Experience (EX)? For those of us who have built a career on (and believe in) the positive impact a healthy employee experience can have on people, companies and society, does this mean that all of those sceptical executives are correct, and it is in fact just a nice to have? 

Recent data from a comprehensive EX study my team ran may help to answer this. We asked 28,000 people across 27 countries about their employee experiences. Responses were gathered earlier in the year when signs of the recession were looming. 

Firstly, there’s no doubt that the financial relationship is a core part of the employment contract for employees as well as their employers. In fact, we found that it was a top driver of intent to stay and experience vs expectations, and the top cited suggestion for what employers could do better. Our data shows that people have not only become more dissatisfied with their pay, but that pay has become more important to them in their employee experience. This is perhaps not surprising, given the concerning rises in cost of living and financial pressures.  

But there are other core aspects of the employment relationship, for example, autonomy over flexibility and the ability to set work boundaries. During the pandemic, society learned how to blend work and personal life in a way that worked for them and set the work boundaries that worked for them. Having that autonomy has become incredibly important in 2022 – our research showed that when employees don’t feel they have autonomy over their boundaries, they will detach (a phenomenon recently described as “quiet quitting”). 

Detachment or quiet quitting is interesting because it is the employee engaging in a purely transactional relationship with the employer. It is a natural human reaction people resort to when they feel they have no control (the subreddit r/MaliciousCompliance has some great example stories of this). The problem with it is, employees engaging in a purely transactional relationship can drive poor customer and product experiences, because they regress to just following process or following the rules, which can’t cover every work need in a highly agile and changing world. We’ve all interacted with an employee who just didn’t care and told us “computer says no”. 

And that part relates to another element our study found was still incredibly important. In fact our top driver of employees’ intent to stay – values. We are in the midst of a social upheaval, and people have done a lot of reflecting on personal values. There is a shift now around belief in values to the courage or desire to demonstrate them – people are more willing to speak up, and perhaps even prepared to put their values higher than their personal financial gain. This is a key difference to a decade ago when employees accepted poor behaviour or workplace policy. Now, values are simply more important to them and their desire to be part of a company. 

So where do we find ourselves at the end of 2022? Is the human-centric employee experience going to fall away in the face of “hard” financial needs? In my opinion, it depends whether you think short or long-term. What is certain is that people are humans – they don’t respond well to perceived poor treatment. Even if short-term options limit their behaviour, they rarely forget a breach of trust. Once trust is breached, it narrows the work relationship to that purely financial and transactional one – which will struggle to cover the needs of a fast-changing globally de-centralised world.

Employee Experience

It therefore comes as no surprise that I believe a mutually successful employment relationship is more than just financial. I have seen many times that loyalty, trust and appreciation pay back dividends for team results and performance. They also pay back exponentially, causing positive ripples. 

The problem is, this positive payback is hard to quantify.  It’s near impossible for HR and EX professionals to make “hard” argument as we lack the data to prove it. The onus is on us to find better ways of proving this to our executives beyond our expert opinions. THAT is the big problem that we as EX professionals need to solve for and how we might start to bring some certainty back into Employee Experience. 

To read a full copy of our 2023 Trends research, click here.

Further Reading

Models of Change: 7 Main Models
Managing Overqualified Employees: The Why and How
Digital Employee Experience: The Complete Guide

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About author
Sarah Marrs leads the Employee Experience Product Science team at Qualtrics. Her team of organizational psychologists develops employee feedback solutions for employers. Before joining Qualtrics in 2015, Sarah held employee insights roles at Tesco, Hay Group, and Kenexa. Sarah is a member of the British Psychological Society and has a Master’s degree in Work and Organizational Behavior from Dublin City University. 
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