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How COVID-19 is Changing the Way Businesses Manage Employee Experience

Published: 27 May 2020

The way that employee experience is managed is changing rapidly. The current crisis means that organisations are being forced to place restrictions on how staff perform their work, while employees themselves are learning new ways of working.

The restrictions and changes organisations are putting in place are rational and safety-oriented. An example of this is limiting how and where employees can do their work.

In many cases, these sudden, sweeping changes affect employee’s everyday lives significantly. The danger for many businesses is that their staff perceive that these changes are being done ‘to them’, rather than ‘for them’ and ‘with them’. This can be disastrous for morale - and can have the opposite of the intended effect and can also lead to staff failing to follow new restrictions and requirements.


The dangers of poor employee experience

When employees are monitored too closely by organisations, or feel that they are being too tightly controlled, this can signal distrust and reduce loyalty. Equally, ‘sugar-coating’, or presenting overly optimistic information regarding the impact of changes - such as playing down how long a lockdown or isolation requirement might last during COVID-19 - runs the risk of making a team feel undervalued or disrespected.

Much of the COVID-19 related advice for employers and leaders within organisations focuses on operational considerations. Examples include guidance on how to implement and manage home-working, or how social distancing can be enforced within workplaces. In many cases this guidance does not deal with the granular detail of how staff can be informed of these changes most effectively. 

Methods of informing staff can range from the environmental – Serco is now ensuring worker accommodations feature highly visible graphics providing guidelines for working during the crisis – to the practical – Serco is ensuring all written guidelines are translated into every major language spoken by frontline workers.

In the case of either, the goal is behavioural change among employees. To achieve this as effectively as possible, communications must meet with employee approval and buy-in.


Gaining employee intellectual buy-in

Since the COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving, these communications regarding changes are ongoing. This lends itself to an approach known as ‘nudge theory’ - a proven behavioural science concept, centred on the idea that small actions and small pieces of information delivered at carefully selected moments can have a significant impact on behaviour. 

A key principle of nudge theory is choice architecture. This is the presentation of information as options which encourage a particular behaviour. The aim is not to manipulate, but to guide actions effectively based on rational, accurate information and evidence.

For example, an organisation seeking to increase its employees’ levels of contributions to their employer-matched savings might, when asking employees to choose how much they would like to save per month, proactively offer the information like: ‘the average saved by individuals with your salary is 500 AED per month’. Many employees will then aim to beat that, feeling that they should be doing better than the average person.

Importantly, nudge theory does not employ direct instruction, which runs the risk of being perceived as excessively paternalistic and which, as a consequence, may have the opposite of the intended effect. Employees are offered choices alongside information to help guide their choices; empowering them, rather than controlling them. 

The ‘nudges’ of nudge theory can be surprisingly simple. These can include changes to an environment. Painted footsteps on the floor leading to the exit have been effective in encouraging staff to go for a walk outside during break periods, for example. They can be information based, providing communications tailored to encourage a particular action in response. Importantly, this information is not didactic, but tacit. A nudge, in effect, in the right direction.

A key tenet of nudge theory is that it should be targeted towards encouraging individuals to take actions in their own best interest. During the current crisis, the actions in a staff member’s best interest can quite literally be a matter of life or death. This means businesses must closely assess not just what they are asking employees to do from an operational perspective, but how they are communicating what they are asking. 


When employees are protected, the organisation is protected

The changes organisations are now making are in many cases oriented directly around enhancing and safeguarding the safety of staff and customers. When employee buy-in is achieved, their wellbeing is protected and, as a side effect, the organisation’s ability to stay productive is also safeguarded. 

Companies implementing rapidly evolving changes to how their employees work should closely consider how these are communicated, in order to protect both their staff and the wider organisation as effectively as possible. 


To find out more contact ExperienceLab Middle East at [email protected].