5 ways to future proofing workplaces with brighter employee experiences


One of the most prevalent issues plaguing companies today is employee fatigue. After an unprecedent year of rolling shutdowns and quarantines, employees in South Africa and around the globe are dealing with anxiety around the wellbeing of themselves and loved ones – while struggling with what the future world of work holds. Amid the turmoil, trying to keep employees motivated and productive has been a formidable challenge. 


As part of the plan to brighten the employee experience and future proof the workforce, mental health and employee wellbeing must be top of mind. 


1.       Use data to stay connected to your people


It’s difficult to create programs that hit the mark and resonate with employees if leadership does not understand what’s important to them. It’s, therefore, important to set up mechanisms that help you listen to your staff and gather an understanding of what inspires and motivates them. Perhaps more importantly, this also identifies what demotivates them, which is especially critical as we rebound from a period of unprecedented uncertainty. 


Data can be collected in a variety of different ways to paint a picture of what the employee experience looks like within your organization, including focus groups, pulse surveys or benefits usage analysis. And, through the use of analytics, the data collected can be analyzed to identify trends and implications for the employee experience that need to be addressed. 

19% of HR leaders have evaluated the effects of the pandemic on distinct groups to inform workings strategies - a glaring gap in understanding what specific employee populations want and need as part of their experience.
- Global Talent Trends report

2.       Design for health and wellbeing


Adults are experiencing stress and anxiety at unprecedented rates due to the mental toll of COVID-19. According to a survey of 1,200 adults conducted by Pharma Dynamics, 56% of respondents reported having higher levels of psychological and emotional distress than before the pandemic.


Coupling the stress epidemic with the meteoric rise of the ‘bringing your whole self to work’ movement, a fundamental rethink into what employees need when it comes to health and wellbeing is critical. It is encouraging to see that 66% of HR leaders in South Africa surveyed in our Global Talent Trends report have improved or plan to improve psychological, mental and emotional wellbeing analytics. This is especially heartening when compared to the pre-pandemic period, when it was reported that just 38% of organizations had a health and wellbeing strategy in place.


While many organizations in South Africa have made strides in destigmatizing mental health at work, the discussion has largely sat within HR teams. Up to this point, the focus has been on ensuring that benefits and support programs were available to those team members that needed them. However, now more than ever, managers are seen as the first line of communication with direct reports. While crafting a new strategy for employee experience, it’s important to equip leaders and managers with the tools they need to check in with direct reports on their mental health.


3.       Co-create new experiences


Employee engagement strategies and programs shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum, even if they are based on actionable data and feedback from staff. Rather, HR leaders must help bridge the gap between business needs and employee needs by bringing both leaders and employees together to co-design new experiences and initiatives. Such a collaborative approach ensures that programs hit the mark to advance both commercial interests and employee experiences in tandem. It can also help accelerate the process by bolstering buy-in from the top, moving programs from development to execution quickly and enabling organizations to deliver on promises faster.


4.       Focus on target interactions


Energized and engaged employees are looking for efficiency, both in the way they deal with organizations and the HR processes that support their journey. A key differentiator of a winning employee experience strategy is how technology is used to deliver the employee experience, namely ensuring that every interaction and employee has with process-oriented tasks is targeted, personalized and seamless. Specific solutions and tools can be used through the employee lifecycle to help drive these efficiencies.


5.       Prioritize value, flexibility and sustainability


Improving or designing employee experience is not a one-size-fits all approach as there are varying factors that are unique to each business that ensure success. As an organization works through the framework above to design its employee experience strategy, it’s important to prioritize three key value:


  • Value: Before launching, focus on designing benefits and programs that create value. By designing with the specific needs of your organization in mind, you can deliver value both at the employee-level and the organization-level.
  • Flexibility: Just as workforce needs are continuously shifting, so are employee expectations. Be flexible in the design of the employee experience by consistently checking in with employees and providing what they need at that given moment. Balancing flexibility is especially key as employees return to physical workspaces, many armed with a new sense of autonomy from working remotely. Building flexibility into your plans around a long-term hybrid working environment is also critical.
  • Sustainability: Any initiative should be taken with a short-term and long-term view to ensure longevity and scalability. By thinking about your strategy through a lens of sustainability, it will be easier to recognize where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow.

While transitioning to a people-first organization, it’s important to remember that the return-on-investment of employee experience programs and initiatives may not be immediately observed. In the past, this has created hesitation toward launching. However, investing in your people rarely comes at a loss. In fact, high people-dependent companies are three-times more likely to have a growth rate of 11% or more than low people-dependent companies. Furthermore, organizations with high employee experience ratings have twice the innovation and customer satisfaction compared to their lower-rated peers, according to a study from MIT.


Changing how we invest in employees will yield a greater return for the business far into the future. As we reflect on a watershed moment in human history and push the button of the Great Reset, now is the ideal moment to put people at the heart of design – compassionately balancing empathy with economics. Now ask yourself: what does your employee experience say about your future? 

Keletjo Chiloane
Keletjo Chiloane
Senior Associate

Speak with a Mercer consultant

We’re eager to speak with you. Please provide your details below.
*Required Fields