HomeEmployee ExperienceEngagementHRD Roundtable Report: Supporting employee growth in workplace cultures

HRD Roundtable Report: Supporting employee growth in workplace cultures

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CultureAmp’s latest roundtable explores how HR leaders are improving the employee experience to reduce burnout as we approach the end of 2023

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As the year draws to a close, organizations across North America are ramping up for a fast-paced year-end. More than three-quarters of employees report feeling excessively strained consistently in the last quarter, which has an impact on performance and morale.

HR leaders are frequently looked to for guidance on how to improve the employee experience in the fourth quarter and reduce feelings of stress and burnout.

On November 30, 2023, HRD Connect hosted a group of senior HR and people leaders to discuss this topic in a virtual roundtable that was led by Max Iacocca, Head of Global People Operations at Shutterstock and Tyler Cahill, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp.

The group discussed several key topics related to the dynamic nature of the modern workforce and how this can support employee growth. The session was conducted under Chatham House rules so while this write-up will highlight key discussion points and takeaways, all participants are anonymized.

The intersection of burnout and wellbeing in organizational culture

To kick off the session, the two hosts delved into the definition of burnout, highlighting that what many employees perceive as burnout may not align with the clinical definition. Instead, it should be termed as wellbeing.

They pointed out that, according to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational phenomenon driven by a chronic imbalance between job demands (e.g., workload pressure and poor working environment) and job resources (e.g., job autonomy and supportive work relationships).

Burnout manifests as extreme tiredness, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing. Importantly, it has been shown to be correlated with anxiety and depression, potentially predicting broader mental health challenges.

Wellbeing, on the other hand, was explained as a holistic concept encompassing one’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental self. It involves how individuals cope and manage their energy reserves.

The hosts further explained that employee wellbeing is often impacted in the fourth quarter due to end-of-year goals and the anticipation of the holiday season affecting people’s work capacity. Economic challenges, widespread layoffs, and tough business conditions were specifically highlighted as significant contributors to the decrease in employee wellbeing in 2023.

Having set the scene and provided a comprehensive understanding of employee wellbeing, the discussion was opened up.

One participant shared their perception that wellbeing is often viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ for organizations, particularly among non-HR leaders. They expressed the challenge of convincing leaders that actively investing in employee wellbeing can lead to long-term cost savings for the business. The participant noted a perceived lack of skill within HR to effectively argue for improved wellbeing initiatives.

Another participant shared their efforts to shift the narrative in their organization away from burnout towards a more positive outlook where wellbeing is embraced as a fundamental aspect of the core culture. This participant raised questions about how to effectively shift this narrative and how to set goals to track progress towards improved wellbeing in the organization. These inquiries prompted a shift in the conversation towards the importance of data in addressing these challenges.

Data challenges in HR initiatives

Tyler Cahill initiated the data discussion by highlighting a common challenge for customers – the lack of supporting data for resource allocation in HR initiatives. They advocated for incorporating employee well-being questions in surveys, like annual engagement or exit surveys, to move beyond anecdotal evidence. The aim is to strategically address specific well-being issues affecting the workforce, with Cahill underscoring the potential impact on retention and success in roles.

Cahill delved into Culture Amp’s standard engagement survey, covering pride, recommendation, motivation, and commitment.

Traditionally, pride and recommendation scores were higher, with a recent shift showing motivation slipping and commitment improving. Economic conditions and a competitive job market were considered potential influencers.

The conversation introduced the activity theory of motivation, where individuals assess their investment in roles against what they receive from their employer, considering factors like compensation, recognition, career growth, autonomy, and skill development.

The decrease in motivation was linked to individuals feeling an imbalance between their investment and gains, prompting a desire for clearer priorities and purpose.

Unpacking the drivers of employee motivation

The conversation then shifted to the diverse needs of different generations in the workforce. A participant shared challenges faced by their company in the public utility sector, highlighting the struggle to address the evolving needs of a younger, less experienced workforce amid financial constraints. To attract new talent, the company increased its social media presence to raise awareness about the industry.

The dialogue then explored employee motivation, emphasizing the significant roles of career development, purpose, vision, and innovation. The impact of economic conditions on motivation, particularly for non-desk roles, was acknowledged.

 The conversation touched on the hierarchy of needs, emphasizing the importance of addressing basic needs before higher-level motivators. Insights on employee motivation were shared, including the diminishing long-term impact of pay increases and the role of career architecture and defined paths in retaining and engaging employees.

Leveraging Employee Survey Data for Improvement

The conversation then delved into a detailed exploration of career development as a pivotal factor influencing employee engagement, drawing insights from onboarding and exit surveys. Tyler Cahill highlighted that individuals often join an organization with the expectation of career growth but may become frustrated if it’s not realized.

The discussion shifted to the employee value proposition, especially in long-tenure cultures, with Cahill suggesting transparency about potential challenges in achieving rapid career growth, particularly in lean operations. Emphasis was placed on setting realistic expectations during attraction and onboarding, aligning employee expectations with organizational realities.

A participant added to the discussion, noting a disconnect between senior leaders’ intentions and employee perceptions and needs. They highlighted the challenge of not taking employee survey data to individual managers for targeted issue resolution, particularly in unionized industries.

In response, Cahill acknowledged positive manager relationships anecdotally but stressed the importance of addressing team-specific and departmental issues.

 A tailored approach to action planning was advocated, considering factors like workforce size, multiple locations, and diverse roles. The need for a nuanced strategy was underlined, recognizing that what works globally may not address specific team or location needs.

Another participant suggested learning from well-run areas within the company by analyzing employee survey data to identify differences in experiences.

They provided an example of significant contrasts between satisfied and dissatisfied employees, emphasizing the potential insights gained from such analysis to enhance overall organizational effectiveness.

Artificial intelligence in HR

The conversation then moved swiftly to how organizations can integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) into a business strategy, particularly in the context of hiring practices. The participant highlights the potential of AI to consider skills beyond traditional qualifications, focusing on both hard and soft skills. A discussion is then had around competency mapping and identification, particularly in the tech world, as areas where AI is making a positive impact.

The objectivity that AI brings to the labor market is emphasized but concerns about potential biases in the data fed into AI systems are also raised. They discuss the need for a human element in talent attraction and caution against fully relying on AI without proper partnerships or considerations for bias.

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