As expectations of employees change, how can HR better manage the employee experience?

Authored by Deanna Kempinski

In the past few years, human resources professionals have faced unexpected challenges to recruit and retain employees. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three major hurdles were an overall shortage of talent, an aging workforce, and a shrinking talent pipeline. As the pandemic swept across the country in 2020, retirements accelerated and many sectors saw a sharp increase in resignations caused not only by health and safety issues but also burnout.

Now, as the country enters its fourth year managing the side effects of the pandemic, the current talent challenges include an employee population demanding more workplace flexibility and mental health benefits, as well as a desire to see employers embrace policies relating to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. A recent Mercer report highlighted that the disruptions of the past few years – not just the pandemic, but social unrest, inflation, political discourse and war – have shifted the way many people think about work from an attitude of “work hard and attain resources for the future” to one of “prioritize well-being now and work in a way that works for me.”

Benefits and pitfalls of flexible work

In some cases, COVID showed employees the true colors of their employer. They learned if their employer was empathetic and flexible. Employers who are trying to go back to how they managed their business and employees pre-COVID are at risk of losing people because employees’ expectations – and options – are different than what they were before.

Flexibility is table stakes now. If an employer recruiting for a position does not offer some sort of hybrid, remote or flexible work option, many candidates won’t even consider applying. However, employers must be aware of both the payroll tax, state income tax, and state HR regulatory implications related to where their full-time employees live and work.

C-suite leaders and division heads also have to be on the same page regarding expectations about where and how much employees will work. While some executives may be pushing for people to work in the office more than they have recently, division heads and hiring managers are well aware of how such a demand may make it harder to fill open positions.

For employers in sectors where remote work is less of an option, such as healthcare, public transportation, law enforcement, and the restaurant and hospitality sector, employers need to consider other benefits – more flexible in-person work schedules, signing bonuses and relocation assistance, for example – to attract applicants.

“Total rewards” review

With employees having more influence on their conditions of work than they have in years, employers will have to constantly review and enhance their “total rewards” package of benefits. Not every benefit will be attractive to every employee. But having a robust and varied package of benefits will indicate to employees that the employer recognizes the myriad issues outside the workplace that may impact an employee’s ability to focus on the job. A key part of this robust package is effective communication to employees – and those in the job market – the reasons why you are an employer of choice.

One example of how employers can set themselves apart is developing career paths so employees can gauge the ways people progress at an organization. This could be executed through a combination of internal training and education opportunities, as well as opportunities to highlight the success stories and career paths of current employees.


Understanding generational differences in the workplace as a component to your strategy

In many workplaces, there may be employees that span five demographic generations. Employers should be mindful of the strengths and talents that each generation brings to the organization, but also the marked differences in work and communication styles. Significant projects should have multi-generational teams, combining people with historical knowledge of an organization, its customers and processes, with people who may be more adept with new processes, platforms or technology. Business owners and managers should be mindful and respectful of those talents and differences in work styles, and learn to manage them well.

The key, ultimately, is employee engagement: understanding your workforce and how you want to be perceived by your employees and potential employees. The #5 job on the 2023 LinkedIn Jobs on the Rise list is the “employee experience manager,” a job title that barely existed a few years ago. According to LinkedIn, “employee experience managers oversee processes that support employee engagement, well-being and development within an organization, which may include training programs and mentoring initiatives.” This is in addition to more traditional HR office functions, such as determining how or if benefits, compensation, or workplace flexibility policies need to change. Effective two-way communication with employees and then acting wisely on employee feedback will help HR departments guide their organizations into becoming an employer of choice.

Benefits of an HR assessment

If you are struggling with both remote work and your total rewards strategy in this complicated new world of human resources, a good first step for an employer is to work with a qualified outside organization who can perform a comprehensive HR assessment. While this assessment could be compliance-focused, it could also compare a company’s HR function to the HR function of peer companies. The assessment could point out industry best practices, examine how work is organized in the HR office, identify efficiencies, and suggest opportunities for automation. 

Further, the assessment can compare a company’s overall compensation and benefits strategy to other companies, while viewing Total Rewards through the lenses of both internal and external equity and their impact on employee demographics, recruitment and retention.