How to provide a great employee experience
If you’re known for treating employees well, you’ll attract the best talent, even if recruits know that the organisational structure means they have little chance of reaching the higher rungs of the career ladder. And employees who develop an emotional connection with your organisation and identify with it, remain brand ambassadors for life – even after they leave the company.
A woman who spent seven years at a magic circle law firm in the City before becoming an investment banker said: “These magic and silver circles firms have a pyramid structure with one partner to seven or eight associates so they actually need to lose staff along the way to maintain that structure. It’s very, very hard to become a partner.”
But departures are rarely acrimonious. “People like me remember our time at these firms fondly,” she said. “They work you hard but reward you well and really look after you. They take things like your wellbeing seriously. You credit them with teaching you a huge amount and you leave – after a proper exit interview – with an amazing professional network.”
Now part of her old firm’s alumni network, she is frequently invited back to attend events. “So yes, I’m an unofficial ambassador for them,” she says. “In my new line of work I come across companies looking for a good law firm and can genuinely recommend my old employer.”
Increasingly, the traditional command and control structure is giving way to devolved decision-making as companies equip employees with the skills to use their own initiative. This is a new way of leading through influence and encouraging collaboration.
Typically, if your company has flatter, leaner organisational structures, you have fewer intermediate management positions, which again makes it difficult to reward good employees with promotion. But you are inherently able to offer recruits increased involvement in decision-making and greater responsibility, which is an advantage when it comes to attracting millennials. And unlike their parents, most millennials don’t expect to stay with one company for life.
Devolved decision-making does not mean permissive management that allows employees to do as they please. Managerial control is still exercised, but the rationale for any decision is explained whenever possible while people’s concerns and ideas are listened to and taken seriously. Managers can lead more successfully with the active co-operation and consent of their staff.
Be Sincere – not a Sloganeer
Nowadays, if your organisation claims to regard employees as your most valuable asset, but pays only lip service, your shortcomings will be quickly outed on social media and websites such as Glassdoor.com.
A company’s brand can also suffer reputational damage if media exposes shabby treatment of staff. Amazon came under fire in 2011 after revelations that workers in an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse toiled in more than 100-degree heat with ambulances waiting outside, taking away labourers as they fell. After an investigation by the local newspaper, Amazon installed air-conditioning.
Similarly, Sports Direct has taken steps to counter criticism of its working conditions. An employee representative – the company’s first – can now attend board meetings to ensure that workers are being treated fairly by management. But the Unite union has accused Sports Direct of breaking a promise it made last year to offer store staff guaranteed hours rather than zero-hours contracts.
Bad publicity can do more than damage a company’s image.
“If workers aren’t treated well, it will drive away business and a lot of people who won’t invest in companies if they’re not treating their people properly,” says the woman who used to work at a City law firm.
Nor is it enough that companies treat their workers well domestically. High street clothes stores cannot afford to stock clothes where suppliers abroad have subcontracted out to any workshops down the supply chain that might use child labour in countries such as India or Bangladesh.
“They want to be able to say that their brand is ethically-sourced, which now means a lot to consumers,” the lawyer says.
When it comes to a budget airline like Ryanair, most customers care about flying cheaply and on time – they rarely give much thought to the EX of the pilots or cabin crew. Nor, it is alleged, did Ryanair’s bosses.
But since the airline’s scheduling woes caused thousands of cancellations, the EX of its pilots has become mainstream news, forcing Ryanair’s bosses to give it serious thought.
Of course, no-one would claim that Ryanair pilots are treated like workers in a Third World sweatshop. But many crew have voiced harsh criticism about their conditions and the way the airline is run.
One long-serving Ryanair pilot told the BBC: “We have some memes that have been doing the rounds which we feel accurately portray the situation and feelings of the crew - comparing the company to the North Korean communist regime.”
The pilot, who was not named, added: “The tactics of ruling by fear and divide and conquer are outdated in the pilot market we're in now.” He also criticised “a lack of basic benefits - no free bottles of water, coffee or tea and no crew meals.”
The bad publicity rankled Ryanair’s famously abrasively chief executive, Michael O’Leary. In the early days of the crisis, he accused some of the airline’s pilots of being “full of their own self-importance” and said they are “very well paid for doing what is an easy job”. He also reminded them that “we are in an era when the computer does most of the flying”.
He has since written to Ryanair’s pilots telling them they “are the best in the business” and offering better pay and conditions. Sweeteners included pay increases, loyalty bonus payments, improved rotas and better compensation for pilots forced to work away from their home base.