Corporate culture and employee experience have stolen the media spotlight in recent years—and not necessarily for the better. A number of well-known brands have found themselves under fire due to unfair, cutthroat, or otherwise discouraging organizational climates that have been exposed in very public ways. 

These highly publicized cultural implosions have turned into social media spectacles that demonstrate the human costs of negative corporate environments. The initial post-mortem indicates possible increases in employee turnover, long-term damage to brand loyalty, and negative financial outcomes.

We’ve found time and again one key factor to be the culprit of these meltdowns: a reluctance to listen to and act on employee-voiced concerns, complaints, and challenges. In retrospect, it has frequently been revealed that hands were raised and alarm bells were sounded, only to meet pushback through rigid policies, excuses, or, outright inaction on behalf of the organization and the leadership. In some cases, the competitive landscape dictated that certain opinions be dismissed for the sake of capturing more market share. 

In others, whistleblowers or vocal employees were labeled rogue dissenters and brushed aside as a way to minimize the fallout. Regardless of the reasons, the end result is the same: employees and customers alike are now voting with their feet, deleting apps, boycotting future purchases, withdrawing funds, relinquishing brand loyalty, and, often, encouraging their networks to do the same.

These cases all shine a light on the value and necessity of the voice of the employee as a critical influencer of organizational success. While this concept is certainly not new, several modern trends are forcing organizations and leaders to take a more serious and nuanced approach to the way they treat and listen to their employees today—and not to just avoid becoming tomorrow’s nightmarish headline:

  1. Company purpose as a driver of consumer interest. Consumers are demonstrating a heightened desire to align themselves with a brand’s mission or purpose, in addition to the company’s products and services. Understanding this, organizations like REI are choosing to “opt out” of traditionally profitable opportunities in the name of a higher purpose, and are reaping customer loyalty as a result.
  2. Employee voice reaching beyond company walls. Employees don’t just have a voice internally—they can now express their opinions in public following a termination, a bad year, or even a single unfortunate experience. These opinions are analyzed, tallied, and made widely available to prospective employees and consumers alike. Unlike marketing or sales messaging, they can’t be tailored to reflect the employer’s desired narrative.
  3. #Brandfails going viral. On the flip side, it’s easy for consumers to hear and share stories of brands failing to keep promises or otherwise letting their employees down. A negative story (whether completely accurate or not), which may have historically been able to fly under the radar, can now become a trending topic within mere moments of an upload and “like”.

People-centric cultures lead to organizational success and People Success

Meanwhile, stories are piling up to demonstrate the benefits of taking an approach that not only emphasizes the employee experience, but truly makes it a business priority:

  • Consumers are expressing attraction to brands that treat their people well: Under Armour saw a three-fold increase in sales of its basketball shoes after it was widely reported that the footwear underdog won over NBA juggernaut Steph Curry by treating him more like a human than competitors did.
  • Partnerships are being formed in the business world based on shared values and people-centric strategies: Delta hatched a first-of-its-kind partnership with Lyft in no small part due to the ridesharing app’s focus on customers and its commitment to its people.
  • Even potential investors are taking employee experience into account: Investment banks are weighing employee experience as an indicator of an organization’s future prospects, with Glassdoor scores entering the mix as part of assessments as to whether or not to provide funding.

The data backs up the impact an employee’s experience at work has on a company’s financial performance. A recent study of Glint data from more than half a million employees revealed that organizations in the top quartile of Glint scores (a measure of employee engagement) tend to have Glassdoor Recommend scores that are a full 34 percentage points higher than those in the bottom quartile. The analysis also indicated that public companies in the top quartile of Glint scores achieved 42% higher 52-week change in stock value than those in the bottom quartile.

Adopt a people-centric culture to bolster brand and financial outcomes

Ultimately, what these stories reflect and the research demonstrates are that organizations can protect and even improve their brands and financial outcomes by focusing on their employee experience. And again, while this concept isn’t novel, what we have now is the ability to systematically measure and influence the engagement of employees through practices like frequent and timely employee pulses that support continuous conversations across organizations. This makes it both easier and more effective to listen to the employee voice and course-correct as a result.

So how can today’s organizations proactively respond to all of these lessons coming out of the media? Show that you’re actually listening and, more importantly, taking action based on employee feedback. These are crucial elements in the journey to creating resilient, empowering, people-centric cultures. Five critical steps: 

  1. Talk about and review people data like any other business metric. Nearly ⅔ of organizations ask employees for their feedback about organizational environment just once per year—if at all. Meanwhile, goals are continuously being worked toward, achieved, and missed; the business environment is constantly changing; and people are moving, collaborating, and making decisions each day that are impacting the business. Frequent, regular check-ins with individuals and teams will help shed light on how employees are doing and experiencing their work—and will surface potential challenge areas in the present before they become major issues.
  2. Derive insights using technology to hone in on action. There is an abundance of people data available, especially if gathering employee feedback more frequently. Thus, it can feel overwhelming for the most seasoned of data analysts to draw timely, meaningful insights, let alone for HR professionals and managers to act on the insights that may not actually move the needle forward on engagement. Harness new technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to identify hidden hot spots and bright spots and surface the areas that actually impact employee engagement. With a clear understanding of opportunities at the local and systemic levels, HR, leaders, and managers will make faster, more confident decisions and actions that move the business forward.
  3. Communicate results quickly and clearly. When employees are asked for feedback and never see the results or progress based on their input (or don’t see them in a timely manner), their engagement and future pulse participation can suffer. Create a clear plan for communicating results with the organization, including the timeline for taking action. Harness influencers, such as the CEO, CFO, or individual business leaders, to deliver results within the context of the business. For managers and leaders, set clear expectations to discuss results with their teams, and provide guidelines for working together to derive solutions.
  4. Foster continuous conversations. Communicating pulse results is essential, but encouraging conversations among managers and teams is the best way to spur action and share progress. Encourage managers and leaders to have one-on-one or team discussions about the organizational environment to help make engagement a part of the company’s daily vernacular. Inviting more feedback and learning from discussions creates candor and trust among team members, and can make employees feel more appreciated, more empowered, and more committed.
  5. Take targeted action. Ultimately, the quickest and longest-lasting improvement comes as a result of timely, targeted action. It’s easy for organizations to want to solve every issue that’s illuminated by employee feedback—which can lead to incomplete or unlaunched efforts across the board. Instead, use data insights and conversations to hone in on the most important focus areas at the team and company levels. Taking one or two actions at a time will help leaders prioritize and manage their commitments to fruition.

Armed with similar technology and data insights to that which we use to track KPIs, HR, leadership, and even managers have fewer and fewer excuses for allowing the employee voice to go unheard—and employees know it!

Engagement is an ongoing activity. Don’t expect to be able to change everything at once or to dramatically alter your culture overnight. However, a sustained commitment to asking employees what’s going on, understanding their insights, and taking a sustainable approach to action-taking will go a long way in creating an environment where people thrive. Ultimately, by making employee engagement a priority, you’ll better position your organization to be admired.