Written by Marc Bolick
The world is beginning to come out of survival mode, but the battle for a post-pandemic equilibrium in our lives is far from over. What are human resources teams doing in 2022 to help weary employees not just function, but thrive? They’re designing modern work experiences and meaningful support systems that manifest thoughtful human empathy—the heart that we all crave.
In Part 1 and Part 2, we explored the top priority for most HR leaders this year—predicting and nurturing the talent, skills, and competencies that will provide a solid foundation for success in the post-pandemic world. We also examined the rapid rise of remote and hybrid work, a significant disruption that, while initially fueled by public health necessity, is now being embraced and elevated by operational practicalities and the demands of a younger, more values-driven workforce.
In this conclusion to our 3-part series, we turn to a multi-faceted challenge that continues to grow and crystallize within the collective ethos of work: the touchy-feely world of care, perception, fairness, feelings, and fulfillment. In the world of work, those things fall under diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEI*), employee experience (EX), and the broader umbrella of culture.
*The “A” for accessibility is only beginning to be elevated and referenced as a fourth prong in organizational initiatives, so in this article we will use the more common acronym, DEI.
Improving DEI, Experience, and Culture Is the Key to Healthy, Productive Teams
Employers have felt pressure to address these issues for quite some time now, and the highest performing organizations already have programs in place. Indeed, DTG’s research confirms that organizations possessing robust culture, DEI, and EX programs benefit from competitive advantages in the marketplace and in recruiting, retaining, and motivating employees.
For example, the World Economic Forum has long reported that diversity and inclusion are key drivers of business growth, innovation, and performance. And according to Gallup, high levels of workplace engagement often lead to higher performance—ultimately driving an aligned, thriving, and purpose-driven culture among employees of a company.
If your company is at this level already, congratulations—but two things may erode your efforts. First, in today’s fight for the best talent these types of policies are expected as a bare minimum, and, second, engagement has remained relatively flat since 2016 despite organizational benefits and counteraction efforts. It’s time to step up your game.
If your company has made minimal, performative, or no effort in this arena, there’s no more avoiding the hard work. It’s time to get busy.
Situational Challenges Organizations Are Facing
Why the urgency in 2022? Because now these factors are becoming essential to competitiveness for the best talent and directly impact an organization’s ability to innovate. DTG’s research indicates that primary drivers are the holistic well-being of individuals, ever-widening diversity within teams, and increasing pressure to support the greater good.
HOLISTIC WELL-BEING OF INDIVIDUALS
The pandemic placed enormous mental and physical stressors on individuals and teams, creating and exacerbating problems within organizational workflows and employee well-being support systems. In 2020, employers were suddenly forced to prioritize workers’ physical and mental health to remain operational—to simply survive. When viewed in context with larger trends, attitudes and actions show that employee well-being is at an inflection point. Here are just a few examples:
- Since the pandemic’s onset, 94% of companies made significant investments in their well-being programs, 85% increased mental health benefits, 50% increased support for physical health benefits, and 38% increased support for financial well-being.
- Of the employees who utilized these benefits, 23% report improved mental health, 17% report better physical health, and 23% say they are more likely to sleep well at night. These improvements in personal outcomes translate to higher levels of performance and retention.
- Remote workers report less stress, greater focus, and a better work-life balance. They do tend to work over 40 hours a week—that’s 43% more compared to employees who never worked remotely.
Notions of work/life balance seem to have evaporated as work, life, well-being, and safety are now seen as inseparable. If work processes and benefits are not updated to reflect team members’ overall well-being within the new work reality, creativity, and productivity will suffer. Conversely, leaders who proactively meet these emerging needs will be rewarded with teams that innovate and thrive, recruiting programs that attract the best talent, and high retention rates that keep productivity and morale high.
EVER-WIDENING DIVERSITY WITHIN TEAMS
An increasingly diverse population and the lasting prevalence of remote work means that teams must grow and adopt new ways of working to ensure everyone experiences a safe psychological and physical space for their work. Diversity in the workplace is expanding to include not only ethnicity, gender and age, but also cultural background, geography, gender identity, economic status, and the different ways people think (neurodiversity). Consider the following:
- 35% of HR leaders are focusing on DEI this year, making it one of the top HR priorities in 2022; 70% of companies are conducting some type of DEI effort, according to a survey by the HR Policy Association.
- 80% of millennials, the largest generation in the US workforce, want to work for companies that have DEI policies or practices.
- 54% of LGBTQ millennials express career dissatisfaction. 26% say they’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
- Managers are more likely to promote and give bigger raises to employees who come into the office compared to those who don’t—even though there is no sustained difference in performance between the two groups. Data also shows that in a hybrid world, women and people of color prefer to work from home compared to white men.
It may seem difficult and complex to create welcoming spaces for employees from all walks of life, but DEI outcomes will worsen—especially in a remote or hybrid world—without thoughtful attention by all levels of leadership in the organization. When employees feel valued for who they are and have a work environment that allows them to bring their authentic, whole selves to work, they will provide their best work and dedication to the organization’s mission.
PRESSURES TO SUPPORT THE GREATER GOOD
Employees and customers are more motivated than ever to support social, environmental, and governance issues, so they want to see companies affect positive change in these arenas. The last few years in particular have seen widespread, deeply passionate public conversations and discord about race, social justice, climate change, capitalism and democracy itself. There’s also a rise in workplace grassroots activism, with employees around the country unionizing to stand up for their rights. Weigh these statistics and trends:
- 65% of employees say the pandemic has made them rethink the place that work should have in their lives; 56% say it has made them want to contribute more to society.
- The combination of these factors is creating conflict in the workplace — a Gartner 2020 survey of more than 500 employees revealed that 44% of employees have actively avoided coworkers because of their political beliefs. The same study found that employee engagement can drop by one-third when employees are disappointed with their employer’s stance on the societal and political debates of the day.
- Employees are more socially conscious than ever before, and they want to see that companies are investing in environmental, social, and governance goals beyond simple quantitative scores. Gartner analysis found three out of four employees expect their employer to take a view on the societal and political debates of the day.
The bottom line? Employers that dismiss or devalue these concerns may be abandoned by employees and customers who expect policies and practices to be fair, inclusive, and principled. In fact, the largest pools of today’s workforce (Gen Y and Gen Z, including those born after 1982) are acting more and more like consumers when it comes to their place of work. Just as they demand products that reflect their values, they want to work for organizations that align with the values and causes they care about.
Advice From Experts and Successful Organizations
Given all these challenges, what changes are organizations implementing to nurture their workforce and remain competitive? DTG’s research reveals a number of effective HR strategies in the DEI, employee experience, and culture arenas that can serve as starting points for new actions or validation for current strategies already under way.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
DEI cannot be done in a superficial manner. This is as much an operational HR function as compensation and benefits or talent acquisition. Both strategic and tactical changes need to be made to have the desired positive impact on your workforce.
- Invest in digital tools and analytics to help track, understand, and showcase the progress of DEI initiatives. Use these workforce insights to increase transparency about pay and promotion equity; elevate voices of Black, LGBTQ, and other marginalized employees; and even advance social and economic equity in neighboring communities.
- Simply hiring a DEI leader and giving them money for programming is not effective. Forward-thinking leadership understands the business value of these initiatives and grasps the cultural, geographical, relational, operational, physical, and virtual contexts of how the work gets done.
- Address inequity in feedback and coaching processes. High-performing organizations empower, train, and encourage employees to proactively engage in two-way discussions focused on needs and actionable solutions. They value and foster open, transparent communication within environments where employees feel psychologically safe and managers are better able to understand their own biases and employees’ perspectives.
EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE, ENGAGEMENT, AND WELLNESS
Purposefully designing the experiences of your employees in all their critical touchpoints and journeys with the company is something that takes as much focus and investment as developing new products and services for your customers. Make the investment with the same dedication and conviction.
- In leadership and professional development, focus on teaching “soft skills” such as empathy, forgiveness, humility, and awe, which have been identified as the most powerful and sustainable skills in business.
- Employees no longer accept bare-minimum benefits and trendy perks, so it’s critical to improve benefits relating to healthcare, education, work flexibility, and the ability to care for family and friends.
- Design well-being into work itself so that both workers and organizations can thrive in a world where well-being, work, and life in general are integrally linked. This cannot be done by HR alone, so recruit leaders at every level and in every function to champion the effort. Especially important is a proactive approach to support and advocate for employee mental health, putting avenues in place for employees to address stress and burnout. Add new mental, physical, and financial health metrics to employee satisfaction and engagement surveys for better understanding.
- Step up engagement and support for remote employees to create a more seamless digital experience that workers can access from anywhere for onboarding, training, team management, and day-to-day workflow. This involves efficient co-working equipment, platforms, and collaboration tools as well as specially designed virtual events and meetings and program support. A work-from-home workforce values boundaries between work time and downtime, so clarifying the separation between the two is something executives need to do going into 2022.
CULTURE AND MEANING
We all want to know that the time and emotional effort we invest in our work is having a positive impact on the world. Culture has to be led from the top of the organization, but all leaders bear primary responsibility for setting a culture in their teams that satisfies the desire for meaningful work. The payoff can be huge, and the penalty for neglect high.
- HR leaders should evolve their employee value proposition (EVP) and deliver a new human deal to provide an exceptional life experience. Five components are key: deeper connections, radical flexibility, personal growth, holistic well-being, and shared purpose. Harvard Business Review agrees, relaying that a culture of belonging, flexibility, and growth is essential to retain and attract top talent in 2022.
- Embed purpose, potential, and perspective into organizational DNA. In 2022, it’s time to integrate the human aspect of work, in all the ways that employers and workers engage with each other.
- Deeply examine the company’s role in principled individual and organizational behavior. Issues of politics, culture, and social debate have fully entered the workplace, with renewed attention to organizational ethics, fairness, and inclusivity. Some organizational experts even predict that “chief purpose officer” will be the next major C-level role.
HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN USE THE POWER OF DESIGN
Now that we’ve shared actions and advice that others are taking, what should you do? How can you identify and customize solutions that are right for your organization?
Remember in the intro paragraph when we mentioned the importance for the HR function to foster empathy? Well, empathy is the heart and soul of design thinking. Human-centered design is uniquely suited to focus on the perspectives, experiences, and needs of the people who execute your organization’s mission, vision, and goals.
Seek a beginner’s mind. Be humble. Be curious. Be flexible and open to new information and insight. Keep a steady eye on understanding the experiences of the humans—team members, customers, and other stakeholders—who are affected by the issues you’re examining. Championing empathy and understanding—of others, NOT ourselves—is a simple yet powerful shift that sets the stage for fresh insight and positive change.
Do NOT jump directly to problem solving—first gather objective, qualitative data about your stakeholders’ lived human experiences. For example, specially designed employee surveys and sample interviews can generate data and insights to create employee personas and journey maps. Log individual pain points, then assess them in terms of impact in order to narrow and determine a specific focus. From there, go about solving them using methodical, test-and-learn iterative tools and processes.
Using a human-centered design approach helps HR teams zoom out for a 30,000-foot view of their function’s ecosystem, then dive deep to construct a rich picture of employee experiences at all levels. The process helps HR teams design critical employee journeys and create a “service blueprint” that shows how different parts of the organization (typically HR, IT, management, and external vendors) execute desired employee experiences.
How to Get Started
What’s the best next step to equip YOUR team to excel in 2022 and beyond? Start by digging deeper:
- Learn more about the challenges and topics discussed in this article. A few good reading options include Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good, a book by TED speaker Joan Williams; “Delivering Value at Scale: A New Operating Model for People Analytics,” a whitepaper from Insight222; and “How to Demonstrate the Business Value of Employee Experience,” an online guide from myHRFuture.
- Sign up for a course that provides a thorough, interactive, actionable learning experience about design thinking principles and tactics. DTG’s expert facilitators frequently offer live-online instruction—view our current offerings.
- Schedule a consultation to discuss challenges and opportunities unique to your team, organization, and industry. Email email@example.com.
This article about workplace experience, culture, and DEI initiatives is the final post in our 3-part series addressing priorities, strategies, and solutions to help HR teams tackle tough challenges in 2022 and beyond. In Why HR and Design Thinking are Perfect for Each Other—Part 1, we examined skills and competencies for the future; in Why HR and Design Thinking are Perfect for Each Other—Part 2, we explored the “mechanics” of work, a topic that featured remote and hybrid work.
DTG’s research includes reports and articles published by global research firms, renowned business magazines, and HR-focused providers and professional organizations.
Apollo Technical, Statistics on Remote Workers That Will Surprise You (2022)
Deloitte, Five Workforce Trends to Watch in 2021
Harvard Business Review, 11 Trends that Will Shape Work in 2022 and Beyond
Human Resources Online, The Workforce in 2022: 15 Trends
McLean & Company, 2022 HR Trends Report
Modern Health, Future of the Industry Report 2021
Owl Labs (with Global Workplace Analytics), State of Remote Work 2021
Society for Human Resource Management, HR Tech Takes Center Stage in Addressing Work Challenges