Two weeks ago, I decided I was spending far too much of my ‘free’ time on social media or watching CBeebies (even once my son had long gone to bed!) so I took action and bought two new brightly coloured books for some much needed screen-free time.
‘Why Mummy Drinks – the diary of an exhausted mum’ by Gill Simms
‘A World of Good’ – Lessons From Around the World in Improving the Employee Experience by Gethin Nadin
I decided to start reading ‘A World of Good’ first and was instantly gripped. Learning so much on each and every page and sharing the insights with my husband and colleagues, I very quickly got in touch with Gethin and persuaded him out for a whiskey to understand the motivations, inspiration and key learnings he found in writing this book.
‘A World of Good’ has taken me on a total global tour of workplace experiences, packed with research, statistics, quotes and hugely useful learnings. This must have taken you some time to write.
When did you realise you wanted to write a book?
I guess writing a book is on most people’s bucket list. I’d written screen plays before and even had one of them acted out at a theatre, but it was blogging on LinkedIn that really sowed the seed for the book. Over the years I’d tried to write an article on LinkedIn at least once a month and started getting positive feedback on the content from HR professionals. Then, back in January this year I wanted to give myself a project that I could focus my energy into as a way of dealing with a little bit of anxiety I’d started to develop. That’s when the book started to take shape.
What was your inspiration for writing this?
For almost two decades, I’ve seen the very best and the very worst of employers. In 2017, despite the influence of many progressive organisations, still so many get it wrong. From Uber to Sports Direct, the media has started taking a disliking to employers who don’t treat their staff well and so there has never been more demand for help in creating the best employee experience. I’ve read quite a few HR books and watched a lot of TED talks, but I’ve often struggled to find them accessible. They tend to be too long, too drawn out and in many cases quite dictatorial. They also tend to rely on encouraging employers to make big, drastic changes. For most employers, completely re-building your offices or making sweeping costly changes isn’t practical – especially for small organisations. I wanted to show employers that there are some really simple and cost-effective ways to improve the workplace without having to install a two-storey slide or artisan bakery.
The book also came about because of the way politics has started to create a much bigger divide between different cultures and countries. An ‘us and them’ mentality has led many into believing we have lost common ground with other countries – especially within Europe. However, the reality is, when we look back at how the world of work had changed, this has never been driven by one country. America, New Zealand, the UK and Sweden for example have all played major parts in defining workplace laws we still rely on today. No one organisation or country can claim to have perfected the ideal workplace, so we need all the help and learnings we can get to try and get as close to perfect as possible. Hopefully this book can help employers to achieve that.
What does Employee Engagement mean to you?
I think employee engagement is about how we create the best environment for an employee to thrive. For this reason, its very personal and it can’t be found in a box. Employee engagement isn’t a product and no single approach is going to work for all your employees. When an employee feels part of your organisation, feels cared for and is achieving something meaningful, then that’s when they’ll reach more of their potential and contribute more. A well thought out and implemented employee engagement strategy is a win for everyone involved.
There’s a lot of talk lately on social media (Ok, I promise I’m reducing the amount of time I spent there) about Employee Engagement and Employee Experience. To you, what are the main differences?
Firstly, they aren’t the same thing. Despite what you might see from some job titles and company names, you can’t simply switch out ‘employee engagement’ for ‘employee experience’ to appear relevant. Employee engagement and employee experience have both existed closely for many years, we have just recently become more attune to the experience. The reason being is that many organisations realised that the highest levels of employee engagement are (in part) driven by great employee experiences.
Whereas employee engagement typically focusses on shorter term focus around how an employee feels about their place of work and their employment, the employee experience is more about how organisations can completely redesign the workplace with the employee at the centre. You might love your job on a daily basis, but small things can affect that every now and then. For example, you might feel like you have purpose at work and feel valued, but your long working hours, poor commute, small dark office negatively affect that every now and then. How engaged you feel at work can be affected by the physical workspace, the technology you use and the people you work with.
From your experience and extensive research, what are the organisations (or even countries) who have high levels of engagement doing differently?
Without giving too much of the book away, there are some really well-known organisations that improving employee engagement through better employee experiences. One of my favourite examples is Disney. An organisation that survives on having happy employees (imagine waiting years to meet Mickey Mouse and then finding out he’s disengaged and unhappy!) and generally has quite high levels of employee engagement. In fact, Disney does it so well, its set up and institute to help other organisations improve the lives of their employees. But Disney realise that there are still lots of ways they annoy and frustrate even the happiest employees. Things like poor technology, bad processes and complicated rules can affect the work of the most engaged employee. By removing these points of frustration, they are improving the employee experience and ensuring their engagement levels remain high.
Country wise, the Netherlands features heavily in this book – which probably won’t come as a surprise to many of your members. The Danish in particular have high engagement, high productivity and better work life balances. But also, so does Asia. The popular expectation of many is that the communist parts of Asia see workers as machines and not as people. However, many of these countries are built on relationships, family life, folklore and spirituality. This means that some of the more progressive employee engagement and employee experience strategies are starting to come out of places like Japan and China. These countries are putting the employee at the centre of the organisation and devising strategies emotionally, rather than logically.
On your journey of research across the world, which was your favourite country and why?
For me, the place that appears to have it very good is Denmark. Not only do employers seem to show genuine care and compassion for their employees, they also realise that work is not the be all and end all. The realisation that for many, their family and friends are significantly more important than their jobs has led them to create employee experiences centred around what’s important to the employee. The Danes also have the right Government backing. State sponsored benefits and minimum wages that secure a decent standard of living mean that the employee is well looked after. When you consider they also have some of the highest levels of engagement and productivity in the world too, they certainly appear to have struck a decent balance.
I’ve also been to Denmark, so have witnessed at first hand how pleasant the society is.
Where haven’t you yet visited that you’d like to?
Japan is next on my list. A country whose working practices were heavily criticised for many years is slowly making significant changes to how they treat their employees. It also just looks like a great city and Japanese design is some of the best in the world.
What’s next for the world of Employee Experience?
The world of work has seen more changes in the last 20 years than perhaps in the last 100. Everything moves at such a pace nowadays that the employee experience will evolve regularly. As we start to see more employees working remotely and being self-employed (gig workers especially), there will be new challenges around engaging these new breeds of employees. There will be more court cases that will evolve employment, but it will all be mostly positive. For every bad employer, there will be just as many good employers and that means more options for employees. I think employee’s patience with employer will get shorter and we’ll see a more transient workforce keen on developing new skills and changing careers regularly. Keeping up with these changing attitudes and expectations will be one of the biggest employee experience challenges.
What is one piece of advice you would have for Employee Engagement practitioners to:
a) gain buy-in from stakeholders
This isn’t just about money. There will be clear, short term financial returns on investment, but organisations need to understand that a lot of what you do will be based on the long term and the financial aspects might be harder to measure. For example, engaged employees delivering better customer service will inevitably impact customer loyalty, but you may never be able to track that journey back to an individual. Its also obviously difficult to measure how a customer’s opinion of your brand might change because of an engaged employee. However, what you certainly will notice is when this stops happening. Stakeholders shouldn’t be focussed on what we get if we do X, it should be what happens if we don’t.
b) gain buy-in from employees
Involve them in your design. If they help to build it, they will want it to work and will want to take care of it. Plus remember that every employee is different – you can’t make an assumption about anyone anymore and that means you don’t know what is important to them unless you ask. A sweeping engagement strategy is like buying one pair of trousers and expecting it to fit every employee.
And finally, any advice for anyone who might be thinking of writing a book?
It will be a lot more time consuming and challenging than you think. This book ended up being more than 4 times larger than my dissertation (which up until this year was the longest thing I’d ever written). Self-publishing has meant you don’t need a lot of money to be able to physically create your book anymore (you certainly don’t need a book deal). However, it does mean you’re on your own to do all of the layout, design and marketing yourself – the latter being the most difficult.
If you are going to write a book, do it for you and no-one else. Don’t write a book to make money, write a book to make a difference and that way you only need one person to have read it and learned from it as they’ll pay that forward.
Whether it’s a fiction or non-fiction, just go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose (unless your ego bruises easily as inevitably you’ll get a bad review). Just remember that there are books that sold millions that were self-published. My best advice is to buy my book first, then write your book! (jokes!).