Former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Bock, said, “Over time you can make a bunch of money by treating people badly and run a good business, ‘good’ in the sense of ‘profitable’, but it’s not going to be a business that lasts generations.”
Throughout history, organizations have gotten away with treating their employees badly. Many of us are familiar with Office Space, the Mike Judge comedy depicting employees frustrated and unmotivated at their jobs, working the typical “9 to 5”, being mistreated by management, and constantly worrying about the possibility of layoffs or downsizing. These different depictions of the workplace, whether it be through film, television, or the news, have caused us to have increasingly negative connotations in regards to work where we now see work as somewhere that we need to show up. Organizations, in turn, take advantage of this notion and create an environment that is restrictive, unengaging, and unjust.
However, many organizations are now actively working to create an environment where people actually want to show up. Organizations are now directing more attention towards improving the “employee experience”. Jacob Morgan, keynote speaker, author, and co-founder of the Future of Work Community, defines the employee experience as a “symbiotic relationship” that allows employees to feel more engaged and happy at work, contribute their best ideas, and work efficiently and productively. As a college biology major, I have heard the word “symbiosis” many times, but it’s interesting to see how this biological concept can be applied to an organizational setting.
The employee experience is a symbiotic relationship that allows employees to feel more engaged and happy at work, contribute their best ideas, and work efficiently and productively.
Symbiosis is a close and often long-term interaction between two different organisms living closely together. There are different symbiotic relationships, such as mutualism, where both organisms benefit, and parasitism, where one organism benefits and causes harm to the other organism. For so long, organizations have maintained a parasitic relationship between themselves and their employees; individuals are left feeling drained and exploited while organizations reap the benefits of the work done by their employees. To increase employee engagement and improve the employee experience, organizations need to create a mutualistic relationship between themselves and their employees, where everyone benefits.
Bees and Flowers
We’ve all witnessed the relationship between a bee and a pollinating flower. The bee gains nectar from the flower for survival, while the bee carries the flower’s pollen to other flowers. Overall, both organisms living together benefit from their existence. But how can organizations accomplish something like this? Well, they can begin by understanding the specific goals and needs of individual employees. Everyone doesn’t want the same development opportunities or rewards, for instance, so organizations should be able to provide different experiences tailored towards individual workers. Organizations can provide employees with different training programs for professional development. Workspaces can be improved to promote maximum efficiency. Companies can utilize other reward systems besides solely giving money. Companies can give employees more autonomy and task significance in their work, allowing them to feel that they have control over something that is of great importance and impact. Organizations can redesign their employees’ jobs through job enrichment, where their job duties are expanded, giving them more freedom and responsibility over how their work is completed. Organizations can offer flexible work arrangements, such as flextime, job sharing, or telecommuting. There’s so many options!
Not only are all these solutions advantageous to employees, but to the organization as well. Employee engagement drives better performance and yields higher productivity, profitability and customer engagement, which ultimately benefits the organization’s bottom line. Engaged employees are more motivated to produce quality and innovative work that allows the organization to thrive, and when other people see that the organization’s employees are motivated and engaged, they’ll be more willing to work for that organization!
People should be excited to go to work and organizations can make that happen by focusing on the employee experience. As future HR and business leaders, let’s learn something from the bees and the flowers and work to create a collaborative and mutualistic environment where everybody wins.
Emma Edoga is Graduate Assistant in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. She serves as the Treasurer for VUSHRM. Learn more about her here!