Beyond Free Lunch: Competing for a Differentiating Employee Experience

In a nearby college town, many businesses are partially shuttered or even closed. This is despite a high level of success with vaccinations and significantly lower COVID rates. The reason? They can’t find employees – even with general wage increases. Consequently, one way to overcome this challenge is by competing for a differentiating employee experience.

Creating a differentiating employee experience

For example, one particular employer is thriving at its headquarters in this college town. The employer offers competitive wages and fully paid health benefits. It also creates a differentiating employee experience through perks that other local employers can’t imitate. Employees enjoy free daily gourmet lunches, paid maternity and paternity leave, a morning cereal bar, an onsite fitness center, and free monthly appointments at the onsite salon. On top of the perks, the organization enjoys a highly positive workplace culture. Working for an EY Entrepreneur of the Year and Glassdoor Top CEO resonates with uniquely loyal employees, who take pride in their employer’s luxury products and the work of its charitable foundation.

Additionally, the vast majority of this company’s employee reviews are five stars. A sampling of comments includes:

  • “There is no other business like it”
  • “Being hired at this company is the best thing that ever happened in my business career”
  • “People-first attitude”
  • “Best employer in the nation, bar none”
  • “No other company appreciates and supports their team like this one”
  • “Trust, autonomy and respect”
  • “Inclusive and growth-centered culture”
  • “Everyone feels fortunate to be part of this incredible company”

What did we learn from our own employee experiences?

Now, consider a time in your career when you loved your job. Why was that? (Hopefully this is your current state!) Do employees in your organization feel productive, needed, trusted, respected and love their jobs?

Moreover, the number of people who enjoy their work may surprise you. An A.T. Kearney survey found a significant gap in anticipated versus actual “joy” at work.  Kearney defines shared joy as a powerful human experience, uniting people in “inspired and cohesive efforts to meet great challenges and realize unprecedented achievements.” However, while 90% of respondents expected to feel joy at work, only 37% actually did. 

Conversely, as the post-pandemic world of employee relations emerges, organizations are finding that employees want their employers to meet their evolving needs. For example, while there is significant burn-out from virtual work, many employees want or need some flexibility to continue to use work-from-home as a solution to life’s challenges. As a result, employees and customers expect to move beyond transactional relationships and have employers consider their needs. To create a differentiating employee experience, you must find out what matters most to them.

Four Tips to Bolster Employee Experience

Certainly, leaders play an important role in the quality of the work environment. Done well, organizing choices create a positive work environment that boosts employee morale, encourages motivation, and enhances quality of life. Below are four tips to develop employee experience capabilities:

1. Organizing Choices and Employee Expectations:  Organizing choices are the most effective way to change the culture of an organization. Much like its own “circle of life,” organizing choices drive the company culture, influencing how decisions are made.

In addition, it’s increasingly difficult to find and retain qualified successors for key positions. Therefore, communication about employee development should start with the strategic focus, and strategic priorities should be periodically reexamined. 

2. Employee Feedback:  Employers need to know what matters most to employees.   HBR’s “How to Keep Your Top Talent” highlights organization leaders in global markets that pay careful attention to the satisfaction of “high potentials.” This includes regular assessment of engagement levels, assistance with realistic career expectations, and providing development opportunities.   

3. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:  It’s imperative for workplaces to demonstrate they value diversity, equity, and inclusion. For the best results, these initiatives should be embedded into organizing choices and frequently measured. For example, utilizing non-traditional recruiting channels may be a way to ensure diversity is better represented in candidate pools.

4. Employee Retention and Loyalty:  A recent Forbes report highlighted a survey of 2,000 employees where 82% indicated a sense of loyalty to their current employer. However, 59% of the same employees stated they would leave their current company for something more appealing. Understanding key value points within the employee experience is critical for employee retention. Think of ways to provide a greater sense of purpose and meaning for employees that drive a level of fulfillment beyond free lunches and casual Fridays.

Employee Experience as a Key to Success

Above all, improving the employee experience is paramount to a company’s success and comes about as leaders make intentional organizing choices to drive that strategy. Offering a joyful, thriving workforce creates the differentiating employee experience necessary to support and maintain a flourishing business enterprise.