Beyond Free Lunch: Competing for a Differentiating Employee Experience

In a nearby college town, despite a high level of success with vaccinations and significantly lowered Covid rates, many businesses remain partially shuttered or even closed. They cannot find employees – in spite of general increases in wages offered.

Creating a differentiating employee experience

However, one particular employer with facilities around the country and many thousands of employees, is thriving at its headquarters in this college town. While offering competitive wages and fully paid health benefits, this organization creates a differentiating employee experience through perks that are difficult for other local employers to mimic. 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 – along with 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.

If you glance at employee reviews for this company on Indeed, you will see that the vast majority of reviews give the company five stars. A sampling of employee 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,” and “everyone feels fortunate to be part of this incredible company.”

What have we learned from our own experiences?

If there was a time in your career when you loved your job, why was that? (Hopefully this is your current state!) Can you say that employees in your organization feel productive, needed, trusted, respected and love their jobs?

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.  The Kearney survey found that the vast majority (90%) of respondents expected to feel joy at work, but comparatively few (37%) actually did.  Shared joy, according to Kearney, is a powerful human experience, uniting people in “inspired and cohesive efforts to meet great challenges and realize unprecedented achievements.”

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 (or work from anywhere) as a solution to life’s challenges. Your employees and customers are expecting your company to move beyond transactional relationships and consider their needs. To create a differentiating employee experience, you must find out what matters most to them.

Four Tips to Help Your Organization Bolster its Employee Experience

Leaders in organizations of any size play an important role in the quality of the work environment. Done well, organizing choices can create a positive work environment that can boost employee morale, encourage motivation, and enhance employees’ quality of life. Here are a few thoughts on how your organization can develop employee experience capabilities:

1. Organizing Choices and Employee Expectations:  Organizing choices are the best and most effective way to change the culture of an organization. Much like its own “circle of life,” your organizing choices drive the company’s culture, which, in turn, influences how decisions are made, which then will then wield its own influence on the organizing choices.

As the war for talent shows no signs of letting up, it has become increasingly difficult to find and retain qualified successors for key positions. When discussing employee development, communication should start with the strategic focus; and strategic priorities will periodically need to be reexamined. 

2. Employee Feedback:  Employers need to find out what matters most to their employees.   Consider regularly taking the temperature of your employees. According to HBR’s “How to Keep Your Top Talent,” organization leaders in global markets, where finding and retaining talent is especially challenging, are paying careful attention to the satisfaction of their “high potentials.” This includes regular assessment of levels of engagement, assistance with realistic career expectations, and providing multiple options for development opportunities.   

3. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:  The need for workplaces to demonstrate that they value diversity, equity, and inclusion has never been more imperative. Specific diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging initiatives should be carefully embedded into your organizing choices and measured frequently for best results. Choices such as utilizing non-traditional recruiting channels, for example, may be a way to ensure that diversity is better represented in your candidate pools.

4. Employee Retention and Loyalty:  According to a report published by Forbes, a survey of 2,000 employees revealed some surprising numbers, finding that an impressive 82 percent of employees indicated a sense of loyalty to their current employer. However, 59 percent of these same people stated that 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 that provide a greater sense of purpose and meaning for your employees that drive fulfillment at a level beyond free lunches and casual Fridays.

Improving the employee experience is paramount to the company’s success and will come about as leaders make intentional organizing choices to drive that strategy. Offering a joyful, thriving workforce will create the type of differentiating employee experience necessary to support and maintain a flourishing business enterprise.