In the 2010s, companies finally recognized that the cultures they create matter.
Culture is now the most most important factor for employees choosing between jobs. Meanwhile, the competition soared in the market for top talent. Since the cost of replacement for a knowledge worker is between 90% and 200% of that employee's salary, organizations have recognized the connection between creating great employee experiences and bolstering their bottom line.¹
Organizations are bulking up Human Resources. HR budgets are expanding as the department — often called People Operations now — becomes more proactive. The standard ratio for HR to other employees used to be 100-to-1. In high-growth, knowledge workplaces, it’s becoming 40–1, 30–1, or 20–1.
Yet, despite significant awareness and investment to improve employee experiences, companies still aren’t seeing great results. Employee engagement rates remain low. Turnover is still a looming concern for 87% of companies.
Going into 2020, employees continue to leave work frustrated, feeling unrecognized, underappreciated, and unconnected to those around them. Fifty percent of American workers expect to leave their job in the next year.
The next phase of People Operations is on its way to address these issues. Here are a few of the obstacles that teams will have to face.
Too many employers throw money at perks and fancy offices and say that they have created a great culture. These extras have very little impact on retention or employee satisfaction. An employee who feels unsupported as a parent isn’t going to stay at a company because they have an amazing cold brew on tap.
Giving your employees beer kegs and ping-pong tables to solve complex cultural problems is the professional equivalent of buying your spouse a fancy watch or necklace to make up for treating them poorly. It’s a recognition of the need to invest in the relationship, but a complete miss on where to put that investment.
It seems intuitive that a fun office ≠ a good culture. But employee experience budgets reveal how deeply ingrained the misconception is.
Often, perk budgets aren't even associated with company-wide goals. Without metrics, there’s no accountability. So you’ll keep buying Kevin that $10/gallon oat milk, hoping that it has some impact on his lifetime at your company. Spoiler: It doesn’t.
Recognize that culture is not all about fun and perks. The human experience you create for your employees is more important than any fun office design you might add.
People Operations is every bit as complex as other forms of operations within an organization. As you do with other operations teams, give them company-wide goals and think about ways to constantly improve efficiency and scalability.
Your talent doesn’t randomly show up at work one day and decide that they don’t like where they are.
The moment an employee decides to look for a new job, it’s because of some trigger. While frustration can build over time, key events cause employees to start to look elsewhere. Labor researchers call these moments “shocks.” ²
These examples are common inflection points when employees take a step back and think about where they are now and where they need to be, both professionally and personally.
What’s most interesting about these trigger points is that they are often predictable. We know when someone is passed up for a promotion or returns from leave. Information about who isn’t getting 1:1 support is available internally.
But managers aren’t using the information they have at their fingertips to offer predictive support for their teams — often they don’t recognize these critical junctures at all.
Even more obvious moments don’t receive the attention they should. Birthdays and work anniversaries are downplayed even though they are low-hanging-fruit opportunities to recognize employees.
Every time those milestones role around, employees are more likely to take stock of their current situation and look elsewhere. Job search activity jumps 9% for employees around the time of their work anniversary and 12% around their birthdays. Those numbers are even higher for major landmarks, like five-year anniversaries or 40th birthdays.
Educate managers and leaders about opportunities to be proactive about the key moments for employees. Offer research-backed advice on how to best support their team during these moments. Recognize that managers and leaders are busy fighting other fires. Help them out by creating a process that involves proactive reminders.
It’s not all about creating awareness. People Operations teams can do a better job of breaking down obstacles to action.
The problem starts when employee information is siloed in HR software. The only people that use HR software are HR people.
Managers are busy. You can’t expect them to go into your HRIS, benefit, or employee experience software to get the information they need about their employees. If performance reviews, pulse surveys, birthdays, work anniversaries, and PTO tracking data never leaves HR software, it’s completely useless to anyone else at the company.
Unfortunately, in the hands of a manager or internal mentor, this data would be invaluable in creating more customized, proactive support for employees.
Many managers also need help thinking about how to support employees during important moments. Sometimes a little nudge about what to do for a new parent returning from leave or why it’s important to celebrate a work anniversary can help drive action.
Find ways to pull critical employee information out of the HR software and into the tools that everyone else is using day-to-day — Slack, Microsoft Teams, email, Asana, etc.
Take a hint from the world of behavioral psychology and figure out how to architect better experiences for managers that nudge them toward proactive, positive actions.
When you are a team of eight people working out of one room, it’s easy to create personal connections. Elena wins a big account and you bring in her favorite beer to celebrate. You know that it’s her favorite beer because you heard her talking about it at lunch last week.
The small gestures that make a supportive culture, become unwieldy as your team grows and becomes more distributed. You send Darryl in Dallas a bottle of wine to congratulate him on completing a 6-month project. You don’t know he’s sober. After that incident, you feel like you don’t know anyone well enough anymore, so you drop these personal touches all together.
At very small companies, it’s easy to build a culture where people feel connected. Outside of the startup setting, People Operations teams are trying to build consistent processes to improve personalization.
Right now, the structures they are creating are hacky and manual. We’ve seen a 96-item sheet to manage onboarding, calendar reminders to create reminders for other people, and random spreadsheets to keep track of dietary restrictions and favorite snacks.
Impersonal compliance and payroll systems don’t get the job done because they are built to be databases, not workflow tools.
People Operations teams need tools to assist with the things that need to be happening across your company every day. The tools should be scalable, so they don't create an operational burden as the team grows.
At Gather, we are helping People Operations improve employee experiences.
Gather empowers teams to create customizable workflows that use information from their HR software. We drive action and communication from your team within the tools where work happens.
With Gather, you can build out reminders, messages, tasks, meetings, surveys, and nudges that need to happen to ensure that your organization is empowered to support employees when it matters most.
The next phase of People Operations is here. Together, we can build a future of work that puts people first.
¹ Somehow, people always underestimate this number. The cost of time to hire, onboard, train new employees is massive. Plus, you incur the cost of the inexperience on the job for a long time. In Retaining Talent: Replacing Misconceptions With Evidence-Based Strategies, researchers talk more about these calculations.
² The concept comes from The Unfolding Theory of Turnover. For context on the academic research that led to this model, check out One Hundred Years of Employee Turnover Theory and Research.