Employers play a central role in their employees' physical, mental, and financial wellness. The response to this reality will have the most significant impact on the employer brand — both positively and negatively — in the next few years.
In the future, it won't be uncommon for candidates who are interviewing to ask what you did:
“How your organization answers this question will affect your ability to both attract new talent and retain the top talent you already have because it indicates not only what the employee experience might be like, but also because it provides a window into the organization’s values.” - Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Research, Gartner.
One of the emerging trends to genuinely support your people regardless of where they live or their life situation is through personalizing the employee experience.
Below is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about personalizing your workplace to better suit today's modern workforce's needs and demands.
Let's dive in.
Designing, planning, and executing a personalized work experience is a strategy that integrates every component of a People Operations professional’s role from the big picture elements of the employee life-cycle, down to the nitty-gritty of how you communicate with them on their preferred communication channel.
A personalized experience is already being executed by most people at your company, too.
Your organization's marketers, sales reps, and product team members focus on this very topic with their customers - the business' customers. They’re not the only ones though; 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, best communicate, and solve for their unique segment of one.
In a world with mass everything - mass communication, experiences, and strategies that are easy to implement - most 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 they're striving toward personalization.
Several factors are leading to the increased importance of personalization in the workforce.
Before, middle-class jobs were once manufacturing or labor jobs that included a high repetition rate, but they’re now becoming more tech-focused. This change toward tech leads to increased complexity, requiring more brainpower than body power.
Today, entry-level employees are asked to perform cognitively complex tasks such as conducting research, wrangling with data, and coding complex programs, as economist Robert Gordon notes.
With the type of work changing so much and employee output and productivity looking vastly different today than it did before, we’re also seeing a shift in the way companies support their employees. To take on mentally challenging tasks, people need extra 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.
While personalization is becoming paramount for successful companies, it's more about what needs to be in place for personalization to happen.
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 significant gap signifies many untapped opportunities for companies to better understand their employees and their need for flexibility and begin creating environments that support it.
Employee happiness is non-negotiable for a successful business today.
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 their personal needs to produce great work. These three items are the foundation for personalizing the work experience, which is where employee expectations have now transitioned into.
Solving for employees is no longer about offering catered lunches and onsite baristas, and it hasn't been for the past several years. Those offerings are now table stakes in employees' eyes as their preferences have matured since the world around them has changed and developed.
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"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," says Sarah Bedrick, former Cofounder of Compt.
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.
It is much more difficult than the first item above, but an equally important one today. This type of personalization involves setting policies and programs around work equipment, location, and employee perks.
You can think of personalization as having meaningful alignment with your company’s culture, which separates your company’s experience from other companies.
While 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.”
While many people would consider this table stakes for companies today, having a clear and compelling mission and vision for a company is one that differentiates it from other companies. It’s what brings employees in to join you on the journey, customers to work with you, and potential investors or strategic business partners to support you. Without it, there's no way for people to understand why you exist in the first place.
Values are meant to act as the traits employers want to see out of employees and employees can expect from other employees. Companies will promote, hire, and fire people based on 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, 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 can emerge by accident than through proactive planning if not stated explicitly. If purposefully planned, they can act as guideposts for decision-making. Team members derive more autonomy from their role if they understand the team's underlying principles or operating systems. It’s easy for traditions, habits, and perspectives to bubble up and become the team's fabric. 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 guarantee everyone is on the same page regarding 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, former 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:
If you’re a manager reading this, you can follow all of the items above and tailor them 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 her team operates.
You, too, can come up with team values, principles, and an origin story; it's how subcultures begin.
There are many different types of personalization for employees. The goal here isn't to create a one-off individual experience for every employee but instead to develop policies or principles that your employees can use to create something that fits their unique experience.
Before we dig into the personalization types below, it’s essential 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 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:
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.
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.
As more B2B software introduces a B2C element, more and more people can try out and adapt software they love for their everyday use. This gets sticky 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.
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”, everything is now online, allowing us to find spaces or places for us to be productive for the work we're doing that day or at that moment.
Companies are beginning to adapt by allowing people to change their desk locations in the office and 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 that builds employee 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.
Due to COVID, your employees' commutes are gone, but they might have more stress with kids going to school online or simply adapting to working from home.
Allowing people to time-shift their hours to allow for greater focus and productivity is an excellent way to personalize their work experience.
Pre-pandemic perk stipends were picking up steam for their plentiful benefits to employees and HR. However, amid the pandemic, they've emerged as the number one perk. Learn more about the different types of perk stipends: health & wellness, learning & development, cell phone, meal plan, equipment, and custom perk stipends.
Employee perk stipends are the way to go. They make perks inclusive, personalized, flexible, and meaningful for everyone. And they don't cost your entire budget.