The Ultimate Guide to Personalizing Your Employee Experience

Today, more than ever, employees are beginning to demand an experience at work which rivals their lives outside of the office as everyday consumers.

With the click of a mouse, we can have whatever we want shipped to our home on Amazon. We can have take-out food and a customized grocery list delivered. At the tap of a finger, we can have a car show up at our location and take us wherever we want for a reasonable price.

We’re in the age of the consumer, and the companies which are succeeding today are creating an environment that’s 100% tailored to the individual needs of the customer. For marketers, this means delivering the right content, to the right person, at the right time. For product folks, it means creating the right user experience, at the right time.

And now HR has entered the arena. In the age of the consumer, it is also the age of the employee. HR and people operations professionals are looking for ways to create the right experience, for the right employee, at the right time.

Below is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about personalizing your workplace to better suit the needs and demands of today’s modern workforce.

The main sections of this page are below:

  1. What is a personalized employee experience?
  2. Why personalization is important
  3. What are some ways to personalize a work experience
  4. The two types of personalization.
  5. How to find more opportunities for personalization

Let's dive in.

1. What is a personalized employee work experience?

Personalized work experience is one which takes into account the unique situations, needs, and preferences of each employee and uses that to deliver a work experience that fits their needs.

Designing, planning, and executing on a personalized work experience is a strategy which integrates into every component of a People Operations professional’s role from the big picture like the different elements of the employee life-cycle, down to the nitty gritty of how you communicate with them on their preferred communication channel.

As mentioned above, marketers and product team members are focusing on this very topic with their customers - the business customers. They’re not the only ones though. Sales reps are trying to accomplish the same by fully understanding the prospect and their needs so that they can prescribe the best product package. Good managers are trying to understand their customers - the employees - entirely so they can lead them in the best way possible to succeed.

Every part of the business is now trying to find, understand, and best communicate and solve for their unique segment of one. In a world where mass everything - mass communication, experiences, and strategies are easy to implement - the majority of professionals will rely on these to get their job done. However, the best business professionals know that there’s a better, more meaningful, and necessary way to thrive - and that’s why striving toward personalization.

2. Why personalization is important

There are several factors leading to the increased importance of personalization in the workforce.

First, jobs the type of work is shifting causing a shift in the way we work.

Today, more so than ever in our past, the types of jobs are shifting. Where the middle-class jobs were once manufacturing or labors jobs that also included a high rate of repetition, they’re becoming more tech-focused -- which leads to increased complexity, requiring more brain power than body power.

Thirty years ago, entry-level work revolved around repetitive work—stocking mailrooms, answering phones, or making copies. However today, entry-level employees are being asked to perform cognitively complex tasks such as conduct research, wrangle with data, and code complex programs as economist Robert Gordon notes.

With the type of work changing so much and employee output and productivity look vastly different today than it did before, we’re also seeing a shift in the way companies support our employees. To take on mentally challenging tasks, people need different comforts than they needed before. Today's work needs empowering leadership which engenders trust, environments to help them get into the right state of mind, and tools to help them excel at work and in their personal lives. 

These needs translate into improved work policies around where and when employees can work, how they work, who they work with, and what software or hardware is available for them.

Secondly, if personalization is the outcome then flexibility is the input needed to make it possible.

Lastly, while personalization is becoming king for successful companies - it's more about what needs to be in place for personalization to happen. In order to create a personalized experience for employees, employers need to embrace and encourage flexibility.

Recent numbers suggest that 96% of U.S. professionals say they need flexibility, but only 47% have it. This massive gap signifies a lot of untapped opportunity for companies to better understand their employees and their need for flexibility and begin creating environments which support it.

Lastly, employers are understanding how employee happiness impacts the bottom line, and it's huge.

Employee happiness is non-negotiable for successful business today. 

The unemployment rate is at a point where the numbers are better than our pre-2008 recession days. Since the unemployment rate is a factor of the percentage of people who want work, have it - it means there are less people who are looking for jobs. When less people are looking for work, the number one tactic to hiring more talent for a business is recruiting them away from existing roles. 

Recruiting talent away from their current roles takes time, and is expensive. Companies have to ensure that the switching cost for the employee makes it a worthwhile move for them. How do they do that? By looking at the company and what it offers it's employees.

Companies that genuinely care about their employees have plans, programs, and policies in place that deliver optimal value. Companies that care invest in learning who their employees are, what matters to them, and what are their personal needs in order to produce great work. These three items are the foundation to personalizing the work experience, which is where employee expectations have now transitioned in to.

Solving for employee is no longer about offering beer, ping-pong, and a cool office, and it hasn't been for the past several years. Those offerings are now considered are table-stakes in the eyes of employees as their preferences have matured as the world around them as changed and matured. The companies which will stand the test of time, win the war for talent, and expertly navigate the next technological shift will not be custom-success focused, but rather employee-success obsessed. 

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Gain an unfair advantage by personalizing your employee experience using individualized perks.

3. The two distinct types of personalization

First, there’s the experience you can develop for the employees at your company. It involves determining the company's mission, vision, values, principles, and routines as these directly relate to what it is like to be an employee at your company. They're often also a deciding factor for employees who might be picking between two companies to potentially join.

The other kind of personalization is the much more difficult but emerging one where employees want experiences specifically tied to them and their situations or needs. This type of personalization involves setting policies and programs around work equipment, location, and their employee perks.

Today’s employees are seeking both company and employee personalization because they know their situation, needs, and preferences more than anyone else and are discovering workplaces that will not only support them, but encourage them as well.

4. How to craft a personalized experience for your company.

First and foremost, you can think of this personalization as having meaningful alignment with your company’s culture which separates your company’s experience from other company’s. While a culture isn’t the only reason a person chooses to join your team, it is a big part of the decision-making process. People want to work for companies that have a mission and vision that speak to them, values that align with their values, and something they can be proud to spend their time on. After all, people are spending more time at work than in previous generations, and a lot of people are now deriving their purpose from their work.

You can see this evolution of the role and importance of work in a person’s life by peering into the many discussions happening online today around “work/life balance” versus “work/life fit” or whether fellow employees should act as a “team” or act like a “family.” 

Ways to personalize your company:

Mission and vision: While many people would consider this table-stakes for company’s today, having a clear and compelling mission and vision for a company is one what differentiates it from other companies. It’s what brings employees in to join you on the journey, customers into work with you, and potential investors or strategic business partners in to support you. Without it, there's no way for people to understand why you exist in the first place.

Values: Values are meant to act as the traits which the employers want to see out of employees, and employees can expect from other employees. Companies will promote, hire, and fire people based off of how well or not well employees embody these values. While values can be similar from one business to the next, it’s unlikely that any two are alike - making the experience for employees unique from company to company.

Principles: Principles, as defined by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, are rules or laws that are permanent, unchanging, and universal. If values are the heart of the organization and dictate the standard set of traits employees should live by, principles are the veins that carry blood throughout the body and to and from the heart.

Principles are the real version of “the way we do business around here” and if not stated explicitly can emerge by accident than through proactive planning. If purposefully planned, they can act as guideposts for decision-making. Team members can derive more autonomy from their role if they understand the underlying principles or operating systems of the team. Without them, it’s easy for traditions, habits, and perspectives to bubble up and become the fabric of the team. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on what bubbles up. 

Either way, a clear set of principles is essential for any team looking to scale well and to guarantee everyone is on the same page as to operating methods.

If you don’t have them yet, consider bringing together a few team members to develop them. Or if your team is small enough, get everyone in a room to discuss. 

Mark Kilens, VP of HubSpot Academy at HubSpot, wrote this about developing and leveraging the Academy's team principles:

I also lead an effort to develop a set of principles that act as the guardrails for how we work and what we believe in. These principles drive a lot of Academy’s success. Drafting and defining the principles with other team members is important. Depending on the team’s size, you might do it with the whole team or with different groups within the team.
It’s all about encouraging your team to feel like they have true ownership of the principles and that they’ve had a voice in developing them. We use our team principles for hiring, training, ongoing coaching, and to provide people with immediate feedback.”

A few of the Academy team’s principles include:

  • Provide outstanding customer service. Make the customer your number one priority. You ensure that customers leave every interaction feeling good about their experience.
  • Create a consistent learning experience. Pay attention to the details. You provide a consistent framework for customers by using the HubSpot Academy Operating System.
  • Always be learning. Never stop thinking. Your eyes and ears are always open; everything and everyone gives you an opportunity to learn.
  • Stay weird. Be yourself. :)

If you’re a manager reading this, you can follow all of the items above and tailor it to your team. Just as manager Holly Stevens had done, she developed a team name for pod at work and began to use that to define the why and how of how their team operates.

You too can come up with team values, principles, and an origin story; it's how subcultures begin. 

5. How to develop a personalized experience for individual employees.

There are many different types of personalization for employees. The goal here isn’t to create a one-off individual experience for every single employee but instead develop policies or principles that your employees can take advantage of to create something which fits their unique experience. 

Before we dig into the list of types of personalization below, it’s important to know where to start. If you don’t have any data on the topic, now might be a helpful time to gather some. 

Collecting feedback on the current state of the company whether it’s through a tinypulse, eNPS survey, or conversations one-on-one with managers - there needs to be a benchmark developed, as well as enough information to understand where the most significant opportunity lies. 

The ideas below might seem easy and leave you feeling like you could boil the ocean in a day, but as any high-quality people operations professional knows - it’s about listening to the team and the data first, crafting a quality plan second, and thirdly, communicating it well. 

Below are some of the programs or policies a company can set-up so that their team can personalize their perk experience:

  • Personalized onboarding experience: Every new hire should go through an orientation and onboarding experience, and one ideally, that is tailored to them and their role, their team, and their current level of knowledge.
  • Personalize work equipment: Instead of giving every employee the same computer, monitor, keyboard, and mouse - develop a tech budget or hardware program where employees can buy what’s best for them and their productivity.
  • Personalize work software: As more B2B software begins to introduce a B2C element, more and more people can try out and adapt software they love for their everyday use. Where this gets sticky is when a person falls in love with Grammarly, Smartsheet, or Evernote and wants to use it to improve their productivity or quality of work. Companies can help employees use the software tools that best fit their needs.
  • Personalize work location: Coinciding with the shift in the type of work brings a lot of questions about where we work. Where we once needed to be on-site or “at the office” today, everything is online allowing us to find spaces or places for us to be productive for the type of work we’re doing that day or in that moment. Companies are beginning to adapt by allowing people to change not only their desk locations in the office, but by building out new and improved spaces that accommodate all types of work styles from collaborative to quiet and focused. If your workspace doesn’t allow for that, develop a policy where employees have the trust and freedom to work from wherever is best for them and their work. Some days it might be quiet at home, whereas others it could be in the office amongst the team, and lastly - maybe they need the quiet combined with a bit of bustle that they can find from the local coffee shop. 
  • Personalize work hours
  • Personalize work perks
  • What perks they receive
  • What benefits they receive

The not-so-distant-future might include personalized compensation packages.

Looking to personalize your employee experience?

Employee perk stipends are the way to go. They make perks inclusive, personalized, and meaningful for everyone.