Providing an optimal employee experience requires commitment from top managers and senior leaders

Sascha Becker

19 april 2022
5 min.
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Providing an optimal employee experience requires commitment from top managers and senior leaders

Having an ideal employee experience results from a conscious choice by top management and senior leaders and includes modelling specific behaviours as well.

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It’s not your customers but your employees who represent the most important form of capital in your organisation. And luckily, employees are making themselves heard more and more.  Whether it’s KLM staff speaking out about the loss of their CEO or the women who work on the scandal-hit TV show The Voice of Holland, employees voices count more than ever before.


Managers operate close to the work floor and have a major influence on what happens there. They make the difference every day, for all stakeholders. And making that difference starts with top management and senior leaders.


Good leadership leads to good results

This analysis is supported by figures from Gallup and McKinsey. Research by Gallup, for example, found that leadership was 70% responsible for employees’ happiness at work, while this and other research backs the hypothesis that being happy at work leads to good business results.


Having involved and aligned employees reduces sick leave sharply (down by 81%), reduces staff turnover (down by 43%), increases productivity (up by 18%) and cuts the number of safety-related incidents significantly (down by 64%). And the good news keeps coming, because having involved and aligned employees increases customer loyalty (up by 10%), profits (up by 23%) and employee well-being (up by 66%).


Recruiting and retaining key talent is not just ‘an HR thing’

Top management and senior leaders are responsible for creating a safe, diverse and inclusive working environment. Within this, they facilitate their employees to excel and make optimal use of the available talent. At the same time, attracting, retaining, engaging, motivating, activating and inspiring the right talent is a task for the whole organisation, not just HR. The importance top management and senior leaders attach to these tasks determines how much of a priority they become for the organisation and how successful it will be at achieving them.


In turn, managers play a significant role in creating a positive atmosphere and determining how well a team functions. Nor should the importance of having a good atmosphere be underestimated. Research by Randstad (2021) found that among the reasons people give for staying with a company, ‘good atmosphere’ ties in first place with ‘attractive salary and good working conditions’ (both 76%), ahead of ‘interesting work’ (60%).


Bringing the organisational story to life starts with the CEO

Employees commit to an organisation when they feel they share its beliefs and recognise its higher purpose. Awareness of this matters because we also see that ‘sense of purpose’ is becoming more and more important when someone is deciding whether to work for (or remain with) a particular organisation.


Here too, top management has an important role to play. They need to make clear the direction the organisation is heading in and spell out how it will get there. Board members must act on the values and show there is commitment from the top. And there is a particular role here for the CEO. He or she is a major influence in the organisation, not only as manager of the business operations or strategy, but also as the inspiration and propagator of the organisational story and as a role model for all employees.


Senior leaders are your flywheels

For their part, senior leaders are responsible for involving employees in the organisational story and translating this to their department or team. They do this by setting them concrete assignments. These assignments make clear to employees how they contribute to the ambitions of the organisation collectively and as individuals. As managers, senior leaders are close to what happens on the work floor and have a major influence on what happens there. Through this, they are directly involved in determining how the organisation’s ambitions take shape in daily practice. It is their responsibility to set the conditions required to create the ideal employee experience.


Creating the optimal employee experience

The question I get asked when I tell this is ‘How? How do we do this?’. In my view, the starting point for creating an optimal experience begins with having senior leaders model the correct behaviour. At the same time, the commitment from top management mentioned earlier includes ‘wanting to change how you behave as a manager’.


The next step is to set out a direction. People choose employers who pursue the same things they strive for and in whom they recognise themselves. It is the responsibility of top management and senior leaders to provide this direction and include employees in the story.


This in turn requires facilitating genuine dialogue. Employees want to think about and participate in matters that concern the organisation. It is the task of managers to facilitate a genuine dialogue, to be open and approachable and to create a culture in which employees can communicate openly and honestly; one in which critical voices are also welcome.


Another aspect is to stimulate personal development and strengthen talent. People generally want to make optimal use of their skills and talents, and it is the task of management and leaders to recognise talent and encourage employees to develop themselves further: ‘How can you employ your talent here? What do you want to achieve through it? How can we help you to develop your talent further?’ Given that only 14% of employees feel inspired by their annual development meeting with their manager (Brecheisen, J., 2020), there is clearly a lot of room for improvement.


Giving and accepting feedback is another crucial aspect in creating the ideal employee experience. People expect constructive and honest feedback. Managers, too, benefit from hearing honest feedback as it helps them to fulfil their role better and develop themselves.


Last but not least, we have expressing appreciation. Compliments help to build an employee’s self-confidence and make them more inclined to invest in their own development.


No reason to wait

The Edelman Trust Barometer, published at the beginning of 2022, concluded that employees are now your organisation’s most important stakeholder group. As such, investing in an optimal employee experience will pay off.


That investment starts with the commitment of top management to make it a priority and pay it ongoing attention. Given the central role of employees in your organisation, isn’t it time to take up the challenge?

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Bea Aarnoutse
strategy director & partner
Sascha Becker
managing partner


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