CAREER

Empathetic Employee Engagement: Putting Yourself in Your Employees’ Shoes

21 August 2018

Andy Leung
Principal – Career Business, Mercer Hong Kong

“Nine out of 10 senior leaders think engagement is important, and eight out of 10 organisations have a formal engagement programme already in place.”

For decades, organisations have recognised — and have tried to realise — the benefits of a highly engaged workforce. According to a recent study, DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Create and Sustain Highly Engaging Cultures, conducted by Mercer | Sirota in partnership with the Engagement Institute™, nine out of 10 senior leaders think engagement is important, and eight out of 10 organisations have a formal engagement programme already in place. Clearly, engagement is a vital area of focus: It’s estimated that organisations spend close to a billion dollars annually on promoting higher levels of employee engagement.[1] Despite this huge investment in employee engagement, and even with the many different approaches to driving employee engagement that are available, most organisations are still frustrated with their progress in overcoming their engagement challenges. In fact, results from the study show that only 50% of HR leaders feel that managers know how to take action on engagement survey data to help achieve their desired results.[2]

So what’s the problem? Is it a lack of relevant data and insights? An inability to hear employees’ voices and truly understand their concerns? Or is it that organisations are just sitting on data and neglecting to execute their well-intentioned action plans? In talking with many different stakeholders (including business leaders, HR leaders, frontline managers and employees), we’ve noticed that despite significant differences in how highly engaged organisations approach their people challenges and the myriad ways in which they choose to engage their employees, one thing remains the same: Highly engaged organisations anchor their engagement approach in a critical value— empathy.

But some might ask, “Aren’t we being empathetic when we conduct employee engagement surveys to better understand our employees’ experience at work?” Well, yes, to a certain extent — but in reality, the survey is only the first step. The principle of empathy should apply not only to the survey process, but to all aspects of the employee engagement journey, especially to post-survey-related activities such as action planning.

Be Empathetic by Adopting Design Thinking

An empathetic approach to employee engagement may sound fairly simple as a concept, but ensuring it’s executed effectively requires a major shift away from the more traditional methods that most organisations have adopted.

To better understand how to achieve the goal of an empathetic and highly engaged organisation, we have worked with leading organisations that are setting the standard for high employee engagement by adopting human-centred design thinking to address their engagement challenges. Although there are numerous frameworks for design thinking (devised by Stanford and IDEO, most notably), they all share three key stages of developing an employee-centric approach— exploration, generation and realisation. The three stages are outlined below:

  • Exploration Stage
    o Learn more about employees, other key stakeholder groups in the organisation and the context of problem
    o Synthesise learnings gleaned from discovery and from listening to various points-of-view

  • Generation Stage
    o Conduct iterative ideation to push past stereotypes to get to breakthrough ideas
    o Build prototypes to learn, providing a foundation for making ideas better
    o Test ideas and prototypes with actual users, or in this case employees

  • Realisation Stage
    o Implement the chosen solution and maintain a focus on continuous improvement

Exploration Stage

There are two phases in this initial stage: discover and define.

- Discover.
Using an employee engagement survey to collect employee feedback helps organisations explore the unique needs of their employees and discover what their people value. Employee engagement survey results serve as the foundation for providing the necessary insights organisations need to be empathetic and to design meaningful actions that not only meet business objectives, but also truly address employee needs.

Another important element of this phase is creating a compelling problem statement. A well-developed employee engagement survey identifies the core elements of the problem to guide the future direction. The core elements include the following:

  • Who — identifying specific demographic segments for which the problem/issue is most relevant
  • What — understanding the impact of the issue and/or problems caused
  • When — conducting multiple rounds of study to identify when certain workforce trends, whetherpositive or negative (attrition or turnover, for example), are happening
  • Where — pinpointing the geography (or geographies) where the issue is taking place
  • Why — using statistical analysis to identify key drivers of employee engagement

- Define. Organisations need to synthesise the insights they gather — this is how they make sense of what they’ve learned, identify patterns, find meaning and develop an overall picture of their own workforce trends. In this phase, organisations also begin to lay the foundations for an overall employee engagement architecture. By translating the findings into an employee experience story, they can identify the root of the challenge and clarify how to move forward. The story can be simple: for example, a technology company I worked with recently, successfully engaged its employees by providing them with a high level of autonomy and embedding an experimental approach into company’s processes. This resonated with employees who tended to be more motivated by having opportunities to innovate instead of by achieving financial rewards alone.

A key part of an organisation becoming more empathetic is by strengthening its analyses of the employee experience through journey mapping and blueprinting — to illustrate the journey of an employee over time. Other components are sometimes added, such as high points (moments that garner the highest reception from employees), breakdowns (areas that likely may receive varying degrees of receptiveness, leading to lower positive perception from some employees), emotions (employees’ psychological reactions to certain changes, which employers can anticipate by defining employee personas) and touchpoints (the connection between the various parts of a holistic employee experience within an organisation). This helps us understand the building blocks of engagement that are unique to each organisation, and reveal the processes that are delivering highly engaging experiences for employees. It also enables us to connect the various components of the employee experience to one another, from frontstage (involving direct interaction with employees) to backstage (including all the behind-the-scenes preparation required to implement a successful engagement programme).

An effective journey map and blueprint should be able to:

  • Provide a clear overview of the employee experience and the systems in place (like performance management, and learning and development)
  • Facilitate communication across dimensions (for example, total rewards versus agility) and related organisation groups (managers and employees, for instance)

Spot where certain things are not working, highlight opportunities for greater enhancement and support decision-making to identify the most suitable options

Generation Stage

While most organisations are open to listening to employees’ voices and needs, action planning is typically still a “closed door” activity and thus not truly empathetic. The generation stage is about the divergence and convergence of ideas, and about building on the outcomes from the exploration stage to identify possible solutions in a collaborative way. The three phases of this stage — ideate, prototype and test — function as an iterative cycle.

- Ideate. To be truly empathetic in idea generation, highly engaging organisations are adopting a participatory design approach by involving employees in their action planning. These organisations recognise that employees have important insights to offer and can best articulate, when given the appropriate tools to express themselves, how their needs should be addressed. The ultimate aim is to prompt employees to tell their unique stories about their experience in the organisation. This serves as a core component of the design of an effective employee engagement programme and offers numerous benefits:

  • Enhances the potential for being innovative by going beyond existing solutions
  • Leverages diverse perspectives and the collective wisdom of employees
  • Uncovers unexpected knowledge worthy of exploration
  • Generates greater volume and flexibility in innovation options
  • Creates a sense of ownership of the ideas that are generated

There are many ideation techniques — brainstorming, mind-mapping, sketching, among others. But no matter which techniques are adopted during ideation, postponing the evaluation of the ideas that are generated during the ideation phase is critical. When employees know that the merits of their ideas will not be immediately evaluated, it allows their imaginations and creativity greater freedom, and also demonstrates an organisation’s flexibility in aligning employee input on engagement actions with its overall business strategy.

- Prototype. After ideation for employee engagement action planning is complete, building a prototype will be crucial — to avoid losing the potential for empathy and innovation while focusing on the most viable ideas, and to answer questions that will help bring an organisation closer to the best solution. A prototype for employee engagement action can take any form, as long as it encourages employees to interact with it: It could be a storyboard of a concept, a game employees play or a gadget they put together, or a role-playing activity, to name a few examples. The prototype can be simple — it need not be very detailed; it only needs to include a few points to describe the solution or outline the steps that need to take place. The key is that for a prototype to support the idea of empathy, it must be something the employee can experience.

Four principles should guide the prototyping process:

  1.  Get started — don’t delay. If you lack a clear picture of what to do about employee engagement or don’t have all the details in place, don’t let it stand in your way. Just having some notes and ideas is enough to get the process going.
  2.  Look for a clear indicator. A prototype is critical because it enables you to answer specific questions with certain variables (for example, whether to link performance ratings to salary increments or to a percentage of an employer’s contribution to employee pension funds). These variables will serve as the anchor to support the next step or action (whether it be further strengthening the variables or deciding to change direction).
  3.  Be ready to let go. A prototype is not meant to be a guaranteed solution. There are many different ways to engage employees: Organisations should not let themselves get too attached to any one idea or solution, and should be open to exploring other options.
  4.  Stay focused on employees. Continue to ask, “What do employees want?” The answer(s) to this question will help focus the prototyping by collecting meaningful employee feedback that can inform iteration and guide next steps.

- Test. To ensure a prototype can become a viable solution, it needs to be tested: eliciting feedback on the prototype from employees creates additional opportunities for empathy, reinforcing the focus on employee engagement. Testing is also crucial to supporting the iteration cycle and, of course, identifying the most suitable solution.

An empathetic approach to testing collects employees’ feedback during the iteration process to help shape the employee engagement action plan design. “Micro-piloting,” a hot choice and one of the latest market trends, is a great way to capture employee feedback. There are many different ways to conduct a micro-pilot — below are some examples drawn from my experiences in working with highly engaging organisations.

  • Crowdsourcing Campaign: A company might encourage employees to participate in budgeting decisions for its people programmes (for example, a company outing or a wellness programme) by asking employees to “vote” for a specific event or initiative by using a virtual token that has no direct monetary value, but instead has an internal currency. For example, if senior leaders have budgeted $100 per person for people programmes, they might issue a $50 virtual token to employees to enlist their help in identifying the most promising programmes and determining how much the company should allocate to these programmes. This engages employees by giving them the opportunity to show how they think the organisation should use its funding, allowing them to have a more direct influence on budgeting and to have a say in what experiences will deliver the best outcomes and most value.
  • False Door: A false door is typically a webpage that includes a simple call to action to promote an employee engagement initiative or programme — often employees are prompted to click a button to “understand more” or “sign up to participate”. Organisations can then track employees’ actions and responses to various engagement programmes, allowing them to determine, for example, which programmes have the highest click rate or most visits, providing organisations with valuable data that helps them understand what serves their employees’ best interests.
  • Wizard of Oz: In this scenario, employees don’t know that they’re participating in an employee engagement initiative; instead, their feedback is being collected behind the scenes. For example, in a retail company I worked with recently, employees wanted an enhanced training approach to improve their customer service skills and support their ongoing development, so the company designed a new online programme to test how the training could best be delivered — they wanted to more closely assess their use of technology to determine, for example, the optimal number of interactions for employees. As employees moved through the online programme, their behaviours and responses (for instance, how they navigated from one page to another within the programme) were guided, observed and recorded to help shape and refine the design and the delivery of the training. By testing against different variables and adapting the design of the training accordingly, the retail company succeeded in customising the training to fit their employees’ needs.

Realisation Stage

To maintain a strong focus on empathy in the execution phase of any employee engagement programme, deployment must be consistent and all stakeholders must adopt a continuous learning approach. Organisations that have been successful in the realisation stage understand that for an empathetic approach to have real impact, employee engagement efforts must not be built just for show — they must be authentic. And more importantly, employee engagement programmes must be “built to run” and “built to learn”.

- Built to Run. Being empathetic is not just about “branding” improvement actions; it’s about ensuring follow-through. Employee engagement must be managed in a holistic and enduring way. To achieve this goal, highly engaging organisations have defined a clear governance model to ensure their employee engagement action plans are executed in a consistent and empathetic way. When it comes to employee engagement, good governance is defined by six characteristics — employee engagement efforts should be:

  • Participatory: Employees are involved in the implementation.
  • Ownership-driven: It’s not only leadership and HR who have accountability for driving employee engagement; this critical responsibility is also delegated to more junior employees.
  • Transparent: Employees have a clear picture of all the different aspects of the employee engagement programme.
  • Responsive: The employee engagement programme is designed to capture moments that matter (for example, those involving communications around bonus awards, promotion decisions or departures from the company).
  • Inclusive: Employees feel they have a stake in the organisation’s engagement journey; no one feels excluded.
  • Rules-based: A fair policy framework is put in place to enforce actions, with incentives and consequences, to help ensure the identified employee engagement actions have been properly implemented and the desired impact is achieved.

- Built to Learn. Iteration with the goal of continuous improvement is a key aspect of adopting a design thinking methodology and a lab mind-set in promoting employee engagement: Indeed, employee engagement is not a one-off initiative, but an ongoing journey. To excel in this journey and ensure they keep learning, highly engaging organisations adopt the mechanism of progressive survey design in their employee engagement studies.

What is progressive survey design? High-engagement organisations do not issue an employee engagement survey as a one-time exercise; instead, they conduct engagement surveys regularly to chart progress and ensure employee voices are continuously heard. Because the number of survey questions is often limited to ensure a better survey experience, selecting the right questions to reflect the current moment is crucial. Each survey questionnaire should be designed to align with the overall strategy, keeping longer-term objectives in mind, while mirroring the natural evolution of change within an organisation. If senior leaders want to understand how an organisational transformation is impacting their employees, survey questions must be designed to reflect and capture employee responses to progressive change. For example, survey questions might evolve as the organisational transformation unfolds, moving from initially asking questions about employees’ awareness of the change to later posing questions in subsequent rounds of the survey about employees’ understanding of and commitment to the change.

In Closing

It’s clear that an organisation that succeeds in engaging its employees in this age of increasing disruption creates a competitive advantage. And to win this increasingly competitive war for talent, organisations need to reinforce and model the principle of empathy by adopting design thinking to design employee experiences that are meaningful and enriching. When organisations truly empathise with their people and literally put themselves in their employees’ shoes, and when they take an iterative approach to employee engagement initiatives with a focus on continuous learning, they succeed in building a thriving workforce — and a thriving business follows naturally.

 

1 Mercer | Sirota and Engagement Institute study, DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Create and Sustain Highly Engaging Cultures, 2014.
2
Ibid.

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For instance, a ‘Financial Advisor’ may execute on the classical accounting tasks, such as processing accounts receivable and payable, but the job title, however, indicates that the job holder would spend some time interacting with stakeholders and provide advice on financial matters. The lack of defined possibilities to engage in such activities may constitute a psychological contract breach, leading to cynicism towards the organization, turnover, job dissatisfaction, reduced commitment and an overall decrease in performance. 3.   Another important issue to consider is an employees’ propensity to boost their current job title. This is linked to two mechanisms. Firstly, boosting one’s job title ultimately serves to enhance one’s status and self-identity[1]. Secondly, an enhanced job title is likely to attract attention on the external job market. 4.   Perceptions of fairness may decrease due to inconsistently labelled jobs. For instance, a job may be called ‘Finance Lead’ that is, in terms of roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications required, very similar to a ‘Head of Finance’. For most people, a ‘Head of Finance’ is classified as a higher ranked job despite both jobs being very similar in nature and potentially having the same job grade. This can create perceptions of injustice leading to employee turnover, lower levels of extra-role behavior and greater levels of withdrawal, deviant and retaliatory behaviors[2]. 5.   Purposeless job titles may also be detrimental for internal and external communications. Internally, there might be a certain degree of ambiguity to what the hierarchy level of a an incumbent is and consequently how messages should be phrased. Externally, purposeless job titles may further lead to misunderstandings in terms of authority levels and responsibilities an employee holds. Reasons for purposeless job titling   The reasons for these five issues are manifold. First and foremost, only few organizations seem to have adhered to a coherent, up-to-date and intuitive job titling framework. In fact, in many organizations job titling is either left to the line manager or, in some cases, left to the job incumbent. This, by definition, is likely to create a certain degree of heterogeneity among job titles. In addition to that, even in leading organization, there is often no clear, well-defined organizational process in place to govern this element of organizational life. We advocate, and outline in greater detail below, that there should be a process in place including clear roles and responsibilities in terms of who sets and ultimately approves the titles of jobs. We also see that organizations often seek to develop job titles that adhere to the specific cultural contexts in which they operate. This, as a consequence, also adds to a certain degree of incoherence in job titling. Lastly, the high degree of change to which many organizations across the globe are exposed to, also contributes to incoherent job titles. To be specific, when organizations adopt new structures and amend roles and responsibilities of their jobs, job titling should also be considered. However, for many organizations this is an issue of limited importance of the time of restructuring so this tends to get neglected. As a consequence, especially with numerous rounds of re-structuring, a heterogeneous, incoherent landscape of job titles is likely to emerge. Conducting purposeful job titling   The above-mentioned observations raise the question of how organizations can move forward to actually create purposeful job titles. Meaningful or purposeful job titles usually consists of two key elements. Firstly, purposeful job titling should indicate the actual function and with this associated roles and responsibilities the job incumbent is tasked with. If an employee in Finance is responsible for maintaining the Finance IT systems, then the job title should indicate that this employee looks after IT for Finance, as opposed to more generic IT activities. Secondly, a purposeful job title also indicates the hierarchical level, or, to be more specific, should hold reference to the actual job grade the job has been mapped onto. In our work across the globe, we see a certain degree of inconsistency and incoherence in this respect. Frequently, strict hierarchical levels are used to create job titles, even though the job evaluation may not indicate such job titling. For instance, the responsible job incumbent for managing financials in a country managing set-up of a small to medium sized enterprise owned by a multinational corporation may be called ‘Chief Finance Officer’. This job title indicates a fairly senior position. In reality, however, such a job more closely resembles the activities of a ‘Financial Accountant’ or a ‘Finance Manager’. Such discrepancies between the actual roles and responsibilities of a job and its titling typically become clear when job evaluations are performed. As such, we advocate a certain adherence to job grades when it comes to job titling in order to derive purposeful job titles. In Figure 1, we outline how an approach to purposeful job titling could look like. It indicates the main components of a job title, i.e. (a) what the job’s hierarchical level in the organization is, (b) its function or area of expertise, (c) to what organizational unit the job belongs, and (d) what the actual scope of responsibility of the job is. For instance, a ‘Senior Vice President Finance EMEIA’ uses the elements A, B and D of the framework. Element C, the organizational unit, in this case is not required. For professional jobs, as another example, an ‘Advisor Finance Downstream Abu Dhabi’ would have all elements in her or his job title. This way, the same protocol and nomenclature for different job titles is applied universally across the organization, and thereby meets the requirements of purposeful job titling set out above.                           Figure 1: Mercer’s Purposeful Job Titling Framework In addition to adopting such a framework, organizations should consider who owns and governs job titling. The governing department should make sure that there are employees who have ownership of this process, and that no job requisition and its related activities as well as any internal re-structuring fails to comply with the framework. This way, purposeful job titling gets embedded and institutionalized in the organization. Sources: 1. 2017, ‘The talent delusion: why data, not intuition, is the key to unlocking human potential’, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Piatkus. <a href="#"> 2. 1994, ‘Human resource practices: administrative contract makers’, Denise M. Rousseau and Martin M. Greller, Human Resource Management, 33-3, page 386. <a href="#"> 3. 2005, ‘Understanding psychological contracts at work: a critical evaluation of theory and research, Neil Conway and Rob B. Briner, Oxford University Press.<a href="#"> 4. Ibid. <a href="#"> 5. For an interesting review see: 2019, ‘The five pillars of self-enhancement and self-protection’, in the Oxford handbook of human motivation, Constantine Sedikides and Mark D. Alicke. <a href="#"> 6. For a good overview please refer to: 2001, ‘The role of justice in organizations: a meta-analysis’, Yochi Cohen-Charash and Paul E. Spector, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86-2.

More from Voice on Growth

Engage Brazilian Employees With Personalized, Digital Experiences
Stefani_Guerrero |27 Mar 2020

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming employee satisfaction and career management through customized digital experiences and modern employer branding strategies. As technological advances continue to reshape workforces, and the need for digitally savvy workers grows, individual employees are taking a more proactive role in their own professional development. This is especially true in Brazil, where people view jobs as opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. In fact, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report, Brazilians seek greater control over their careers and rank being recognized for their contributions, having access to learn new skills and technologies, and being empowered to make their own decisions as their top three workplace concerns. Employers in Brazil must internalize the evolving needs of their Brazilian workers and implement processes and strategies that encourage professional development and harness the power of individualized career paths. The Power of Employer Branding   To attract top talent in their respective industries, Brazilian businesses must focus on building strong internal brands. Employer brands are built on a system of values that should permeate every aspect of workplace culture — from onboarding practices and everyday meetings to telecommuting policies and, especially, career development opportunities and digital experiences. Employers that cultivate a reputation for investing resources into an employee's career journey entice the best job candidates and will have employees who are more productive, successful and engaged with their responsibilities. According to Mercer's HR 2025: Talent, Technology and Transformation Magazine, &quot;Thriving employees are three times more likely to work for a company that understands their unique skills and interests. And 80% of thriving employees say their company has a strong sense of purpose.&quot; Creating a clear and powerful mission statement that defines a company's purpose and how employee growth is a key element of that purpose will result in a more aligned and dynamic workforce. Employer brands must communicate and deliver career advancement opportunities to employees in ways that suit their personalities and individual sensibilities. Bespoke Career Management   In Brazil, employees are not only playing a key role in their own professional development, they are also pressing employers to offer more streamlined digital experiences and customized learning opportunities utilizing a variety of resources. Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report explains, &quot;In an environment where knowledge is widely and freely accessible, the corporate learning function must shift its focus to continue adding value. Curated learning is not new; what's changing is how it is being used to shape content relevant to a particular ambition, close a known skills gap, or build connections among peers who can share expertise.&quot; Employers can leverage digital experiences to address the uniqueness of each employee's goals, talents and learning styles. Online web portals, smartphone apps and other digital training materials can be customized according to the user's preferences, skill sets, learning ability and career goals. These digital experiences offer employees the chance to learn at their desired pace and develop skills that will lead to greater responsibilities and opportunities to advance their careers and income. The same Mercer reports explains that, &quot;When curated learning works well, people stay and progress through the organization because their learning helps them accelerate their career.&quot; The Digital Transformation of Human Resources   Robust benefits portals, personalized training and educational digital experiences are only a few hallmarks of how digital transformation is revolutionizing human resources in Brazil. By creating digital tools that map and guide an employee's developmental journey, businesses can also better understand the overall health and value of their workforces. Cloud-based systems that use Software as a Service (SaaS) models are creating unprecedented transparency within the employer-employee relationship. However, for large multinational companies in Brazil, implementing these resources can be exceedingly difficult. Legacy systems, aging applications, technical incompatibilities and unintuitive interfaces pose serious challenges to effective implementation. Finding ways to navigate these technical obstacles is critical to future success. Digital transformation is redefining the roles and capabilities of HR departments and revolutionizing workplace cultures. Skilled, upwardly mobile workforces are not only more productive and add value to the bottom line, but also provide businesses with effective ways of differentiating their brand, services or products from competitors — a key advantage in competitive marketplaces. Employees who feel engaged, listened to and valued make their employers more competitive. Mercer's HR 2025: Talent, Technology, and Transformation Magazine elaborates, &quot;Organizations typically pore over compensation and benefits numbers. Yet it is often the actions beyond salary — such as promotions, transfers and healthcare spend — that have a greater impact on business outcomes. Understanding which elements make a company competitive, and which are differentiators, can go a long way in delivering an employee value proposition that resonates.&quot; By investing in the futures of employees and their careers, employers in Brazil are also investing in their own long-term success.

Continuing Business When Business Continuity is Interrupted
Kate_Bravery Kate Bravery |26 Mar 2020

As with all unforeseen threats, COVID-19 is prompting individuals, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and large corporations to reevaluate habits that have long gone unchallenged. The outbreak is stress-testing our resolve and our resilience. Those that will emerge fighting fit will balance tough economic decisions with empathy. For, while the pandemic remains foremost a human tragedy that requires constant vigilance and swift action, thoughts about the way we work are also coming to the fore. Who can work remotely? Do we really need that conference? How can we make virtual meetings more engaging, inclusive and productive? How ready are we to embrace digital working? Even before the crisis, one in three employees said they were anxious about job security, data from Mercer’s forthcoming 2020 Global Talent Trends Study reveal. The novel coronavirus will do little to calm those fears. And so, while organizations prepare to ensure business continuity in response to different scenarios, we find ourselves needing to experiment with new work patterns. Companies ahead of the curve will be those that place empathy at the heart of their mandate. It is the balance of empathy and economics that will win in an evolving and unpredictable world — in other words, companies that care enough to put people and productivity metrics side by side, both while confronting COVID-19 and its economic fallout, and further ahead as they build better, brighter futures. This year’s forthcoming Talent Trends Study points to how companies can respond to the pandemic and focus on what matters by applying the new decade’s empathetic imperative. Commit to stakeholders &nbsp; With the vast majority of business leaders (85%) agreeing that an organization’s purpose goes beyond shareholder primacy, now is the time to match actions with words and make decisions with empathy and equity for all stakeholders. This includes supporting supply chains and the economies that rely on the company. For example, Microsoft has committed to paying normal hourly wages to non-employees (such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers) whose pay might be interrupted by the many Microsoft employees working from home. Another imperative is to provide a sense of security and trust. Indeed, trust is a significant factor in employees’ sense of thriving. The 2020 study found that thriving employees are seven times more likely to work for a company they trust to prepare them for the future of work and twice as likely to work for an organization that is transparent about which jobs will change. Building a strong community around a common purpose and sharing the vision is vital to communicating that the company cares and has a plan for different scenarios. How employers respond to well-being issues like stress, burnout, and uncertainty will be a hallmark of their attitude towards responsibility and sustainability And as people worry about their health, this is the time to confirm the organization’s commitment to well-being. Calm messaging, employee assistance, and mental health apps all have their place day-to-day. It also may be prudent to reexamine the relevance of company benefits: virtual yoga sessions or discounts for online shopping might become highly valued. The good news is that 68% of employers are likely to invest in digital health in the next five years. And if the pandemic lasts for a long time, fundamental issues of well-being will be at stake. Epidemics are historically associated with a rise in depression and anxiety. And this year a clear majority of employees said they feel at risk of burnout before 2020 even got started. Are employees’ partners covered by income protection? Do benefits extend to family members? What financial advice is on offer? For instance, outdoor retailer REI has modified its paid leave policy to guarantee the income and benefits of employees who miss work or have to care for family members. All these need to be communicated clearly. How employers respond to well-being issues like stress, burnout, and uncertainty will be a hallmark of their attitude towards responsibility and sustainability — a critical attitude given that 61% of employees trust their employer to look after their health and well-being. Kick start skills &nbsp; Executives are swiftly adopting future of work strategies to compete in response to a possible economic downturn. If macroeconomic conditions continue to be unfavorable, companies see this as an opportunity to double down on new ways of working such as strategic partnerships (40%), using more variable talent pools (39%) and investing in automation (34%). Front of mind is modelling supply and demand under various scenarios and interventions, such as how to manage variable and fixed costs.&nbsp; With the quickened pace of automation, it’s no surprise that executives and employees are reflecting on how this will impact careers. The Mercer study reveals that business leaders rank reskilling as the top talent activity capable of delivering ROI this year, while employees say the #1 factor in thriving is the opportunity to learn new skills and technologies. Yet, for employees the biggest hindrance to learning is lack of time, according to our study. In this respect, the current crisis may offer the opportunity to kick start reskilling. Providers such as General Assembly and edX offer on-point courses and, with potentially more time to spare, employees can take advantage of online learning to explore new directions. But to realize learning’s full benefit, organizations will have to be transparent with employees about the new roles reskilling could lead to. Take the time to have clear career conversations with employees about the skills required to move along a pay range and/or qualify for other jobs within or across departments. People who feel well-informed about their future career path are more likely than others to take up reskilling opportunities (83% versus 76%) and are more likely to stay with the company (54% versus 46%). Share what you know &nbsp; In the last five years, HR has moved data up the value chain and seen a significant jump in its use of predictive analytics. This is a major development in the growth and value of workforce analytics. Finally armed with insights, organizations are shifting their focus toward gaining measurable value from analytics and honing their market-sensing and analytics capabilities to enhance talent management practices. But as companies weigh the impact of the disease, are organizations measuring the right things? This year, the study shows 53% of companies are tracking the drivers of engagement, yet insights on training (down 6%) and burnout risk (down 25%) declined in prevalence. Digital ways of working bring more data sets we can mine, but also challenge our models of workplace success. Exploring what metrics are most relevant and sharing them with employees provides insight into productivity inputs in a new remote working and distracted climate. Many employees would be happy to receive meaningful findings and advice on how they are working or on their well-being indicators. Finally, as the workforce science discipline gathers force, it can supply vital forecasting insights to build future business resilience. Key to workforce forecasting is an enterprise-wide culture of experimentation. HR can work closely with executives, finance leaders and data scientists to explore how to mitigate the productivity and well-being fallout of such scenarios. Promote the remote &nbsp; For many organizations, the novel coronavirus has been a wakeup call to the possibilities of remote working and its impact on the employee experience. JPMorgan Chase, Twitter and Sony’s European offices are just some of the many companies asking employees to work from home. The challenge has been that only 44% of companies assess every job for its ability to be done flexibly. So what helps? Thriving employees say the most important factors for successful flexible working are: colleagues that are supportive of people with flexible work arrangements, a company culture that encourages flexibility, and managing performance on results not hours worked. Design thinking with pilot teams working remotely are critical to seeing what needs to change to better suit these times. Still, if not done well, remote working can exacerbate challenges with inclusion, accessibility and emotional support. Some simple tips for staying connected in times of social distancing can help: Inclusive teaming when working remotely requires effort. To make sure every team member’s voice is heard, communicate expectations and agendas in advance, encourage people to be visible on the call, ask people to come with comments/questions, and set up discussions by hangouts and chats in between calls. Pre-brief senior people in your team to be vocal and embracing. Create an informal climate up front with small talk. Remote calls require a redesign of the meeting. As a rule of thumb, halve the time you would allocate for a face-to-face meeting for a call where people are dialing in. Leverage pre-reading to ensure those who are more introverted or reflective feel ready to contribute. Small group preparation and post group actions are vital to building team spirit. Establish new rituals. &nbsp; Take time to address the emotional, not just the practical. Take a few minutes at the start and end of a call to find out how everyone is feeling. Pulse-checking questions people can type responses to in a chat function (e.g. “Use one word on how you feel about what we’ve just shared”) can be a great way to take a temperature check. Communicate that managers are still accessible by phone, even if not in person. Use old and new technology (phones as well as video conferencing services) to stay personal, especially with workers not used to working remotely. Don’t let email (and even chat) be the only way you communicate. The volume can become deafening if not managed. Leverage community sites and project boards to train people in how best to stay connected. In our study, 22% of employees believe that some necessary human interactions have been lost, so finding ways to inject warmth and a bit fun into exchanges is a good idea. &nbsp; The social distancing required in response to COVID-19 has, rightly, got many companies reexamining their digital work experience. Forty-seven percent of executives are concerned about employees’ digital experience — or the energy-sapping nature of not having it. Nearly half of employees believe there is room to improve on digital transformation: 20% of employees today say HR processes are complex, and a further 29% say they have been simplified but still have a long way to go. In the longer term, it will be valuable to revisit the company’s EVP and interrogate how technology-enabled HR processes are today and how capable working tools are with coping with mass remote services. Intermediaries such as ServiceNow, Mercer’s Mobility Management Platform and digital outplacement solutions can help. How we care is how we win &nbsp; Employees are understandably concerned about the health of their families and communities and organizations are quite rightly putting the health of their people first (their #1 workforce concern this year). But financial market volatility, and the impact on individuals’ jobs is a mounting concern that is weighing on people’s minds. Meanwhile, businesses are examining whether their practices are agile enough to withstand unpredictable events such as COVID-19, if they are resilient enough to sustain themselves through this period of hardship, and innovative enough to stimulate demand afterwards. We’re being challenged to do things differently — in companies big and small, on new platforms and with new technology, and we see emerging new ways of caring for one another. And in their wake we will not go back to how we operated before. Necessity breeds innovation. We are on the cusp of new ways of working and living that, if executed well, will build a bright future.

A Way Forward Towards Purposeful Job Titling
Dr._Sebastian Dr. Sebastian Fuchs |26 Mar 2020

Everyone’s job has, in some form or another, a job title. Be it a Brick-layer, Accountant or CEO. The common understanding is that the job title depicts the respective job and its roles and responsibilities. Our work with different clients of different sizes, with different structures, maturity levels, and in different economic and cultural environments, however, suggests that there is much more heterogeneity in job titles than one would suspect. In one organization, for example, an Accountant is called ‘Financial Advisor’ whereas in another organization, s/he is called ‘Finance Officer’. In Mercer’s 2019 Global Total Remuneration Survey, on a sample of 182 organizations based in the United Arab Emirates, as an example, the Mercer Job Library position ‘Accountant–Experienced Professional’ is tagged against more than 180 different job titles. This suggest that more than 99% of organizations included in the data set label this type of job in a unique, idiosyncratic manner. In a similar vein, Mercer’s 2019 data from Australia shows more than 360 different job titles across 313 organizations. A similar report for India from 2019 shows over 520 different job titles across 360 organizations for this type of job. In Brazil, Russia and the UK, the same analyses produced very similar results. This means, to be specific, that similar jobs even in the same organization are often labeled in a heterogeneous, unconcerted way. Problems associated with purposeless job titling   While the Accountant example provides some insight into the actual responsibilities of the role, we often see organizations labelling jobs in less meaningful, purposeless ways. For instance, we find job titles such as ‘Senior Supervisor Financial Accountant’, ‘Business Analyst’, ‘Finance Executive’ or, more recently, creative titles such as ‘Accounting Guru’, ‘Accounting Ninja’ or ‘Accounting Rockstar’ in this area of organizational life. In our view, this creates five key issues: 1.   In markets that are suffering from employee disengagement, the rise of passive job seekers and a growing appeal of self-employment and entrepreneurship[1], a job opening with an inaccurate job title faces two key problems. Firstly, the job applicants may be over or under qualified for the position at hand and, secondly, potentially suitable applicants may not apply as they believe the job is not a good match. 2.   Breaches of the psychological contract between employees and their employer may occur. To be precise, “the psychological contract encompasses the actions employees believe are 1.      expected of them and what response they expect in return from the employer”[1]. To this end, a purposeless job title may provide an inaccurate view on the actual roles and responsibilities to be performed by the new joiner. For instance, a ‘Financial Advisor’ may execute on the classical accounting tasks, such as processing accounts receivable and payable, but the job title, however, indicates that the job holder would spend some time interacting with stakeholders and provide advice on financial matters. The lack of defined possibilities to engage in such activities may constitute a psychological contract breach, leading to cynicism towards the organization, turnover, job dissatisfaction, reduced commitment and an overall decrease in performance. 3.   Another important issue to consider is an employees’ propensity to boost their current job title. This is linked to two mechanisms. Firstly, boosting one’s job title ultimately serves to enhance one’s status and self-identity[1]. Secondly, an enhanced job title is likely to attract attention on the external job market. 4.   Perceptions of fairness may decrease due to inconsistently labelled jobs. For instance, a job may be called ‘Finance Lead’ that is, in terms of roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications required, very similar to a ‘Head of Finance’. For most people, a ‘Head of Finance’ is classified as a higher ranked job despite both jobs being very similar in nature and potentially having the same job grade. This can create perceptions of injustice leading to employee turnover, lower levels of extra-role behavior and greater levels of withdrawal, deviant and retaliatory behaviors[2]. 5.   Purposeless job titles may also be detrimental for internal and external communications. Internally, there might be a certain degree of ambiguity to what the hierarchy level of a an incumbent is and consequently how messages should be phrased. Externally, purposeless job titles may further lead to misunderstandings in terms of authority levels and responsibilities an employee holds. Reasons for purposeless job titling   The reasons for these five issues are manifold. First and foremost, only few organizations seem to have adhered to a coherent, up-to-date and intuitive job titling framework. In fact, in many organizations job titling is either left to the line manager or, in some cases, left to the job incumbent. This, by definition, is likely to create a certain degree of heterogeneity among job titles. In addition to that, even in leading organization, there is often no clear, well-defined organizational process in place to govern this element of organizational life. We advocate, and outline in greater detail below, that there should be a process in place including clear roles and responsibilities in terms of who sets and ultimately approves the titles of jobs. We also see that organizations often seek to develop job titles that adhere to the specific cultural contexts in which they operate. This, as a consequence, also adds to a certain degree of incoherence in job titling. Lastly, the high degree of change to which many organizations across the globe are exposed to, also contributes to incoherent job titles. To be specific, when organizations adopt new structures and amend roles and responsibilities of their jobs, job titling should also be considered. However, for many organizations this is an issue of limited importance of the time of restructuring so this tends to get neglected. As a consequence, especially with numerous rounds of re-structuring, a heterogeneous, incoherent landscape of job titles is likely to emerge. Conducting purposeful job titling   The above-mentioned observations raise the question of how organizations can move forward to actually create purposeful job titles. Meaningful or purposeful job titles usually consists of two key elements. Firstly, purposeful job titling should indicate the actual function and with this associated roles and responsibilities the job incumbent is tasked with. If an employee in Finance is responsible for maintaining the Finance IT systems, then the job title should indicate that this employee looks after IT for Finance, as opposed to more generic IT activities. Secondly, a purposeful job title also indicates the hierarchical level, or, to be more specific, should hold reference to the actual job grade the job has been mapped onto. In our work across the globe, we see a certain degree of inconsistency and incoherence in this respect. Frequently, strict hierarchical levels are used to create job titles, even though the job evaluation may not indicate such job titling. For instance, the responsible job incumbent for managing financials in a country managing set-up of a small to medium sized enterprise owned by a multinational corporation may be called ‘Chief Finance Officer’. This job title indicates a fairly senior position. In reality, however, such a job more closely resembles the activities of a ‘Financial Accountant’ or a ‘Finance Manager’. Such discrepancies between the actual roles and responsibilities of a job and its titling typically become clear when job evaluations are performed. As such, we advocate a certain adherence to job grades when it comes to job titling in order to derive purposeful job titles. In Figure 1, we outline how an approach to purposeful job titling could look like. It indicates the main components of a job title, i.e. (a) what the job’s hierarchical level in the organization is, (b) its function or area of expertise, (c) to what organizational unit the job belongs, and (d) what the actual scope of responsibility of the job is. For instance, a ‘Senior Vice President Finance EMEIA’ uses the elements A, B and D of the framework. Element C, the organizational unit, in this case is not required. For professional jobs, as another example, an ‘Advisor Finance Downstream Abu Dhabi’ would have all elements in her or his job title. This way, the same protocol and nomenclature for different job titles is applied universally across the organization, and thereby meets the requirements of purposeful job titling set out above.                           Figure 1: Mercer’s Purposeful Job Titling Framework In addition to adopting such a framework, organizations should consider who owns and governs job titling. The governing department should make sure that there are employees who have ownership of this process, and that no job requisition and its related activities as well as any internal re-structuring fails to comply with the framework. This way, purposeful job titling gets embedded and institutionalized in the organization. Sources: 1. 2017, ‘The talent delusion: why data, not intuition, is the key to unlocking human potential’, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Piatkus. <a href="#"> 2. 1994, ‘Human resource practices: administrative contract makers’, Denise M. Rousseau and Martin M. Greller, Human Resource Management, 33-3, page 386. <a href="#"> 3. 2005, ‘Understanding psychological contracts at work: a critical evaluation of theory and research, Neil Conway and Rob B. Briner, Oxford University Press.<a href="#"> 4. Ibid. <a href="#"> 5. For an interesting review see: 2019, ‘The five pillars of self-enhancement and self-protection’, in the Oxford handbook of human motivation, Constantine Sedikides and Mark D. Alicke. <a href="#"> 6. For a good overview please refer to: 2001, ‘The role of justice in organizations: a meta-analysis’, Yochi Cohen-Charash and Paul E. Spector, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86-2.