Do you know what employees really want? Discover the key trends and recommended approaches that will drive success following the return to the office, based on feedback from UK employees and HR managers.

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After the pandemic attracting, retaining, and getting the best from employees is crucial to business success.

With the world of work changing, and employee needs transforming, HR teams understand they need to adopt different strategies and approaches to delivering a successful employee experience.

Achieving this means focusing on feedback and listening, and using this insight to act quickly to meet key challenges around wellbeing, health and safety and hybrid working.

Based on feedback from employees and managers responsible for HR, Tivian’s third annual employee experience research report provides insight into the key themes and recommended approaches that will drive success following the return to the office.

Key theme 1: An accelerating need to focus on wellbeing

The pandemic highlighted the importance of mental and physical wellbeing. HR teams stepped up and supported employees during lockdowns, helping to keep wellbeing levels generally high, according to our survey.

We need to embed a new colleague listening programme that centres on an individual’s wellbeing and connectedness to the business.

Moving forward, wellbeing is now the number one priority for HR teams:

We are looking to find ways to encourage more flexible working and get the balance right between increasing productivity and employee health.

Actions for HR teams

Key theme 2: Keeping talent requires flexibility

It is people that will power the post-pandemic recovery. Recognising this, 84% of HR teams see talent retention as essential/very important for their organisation over the next 6 months. But many are not likely to be offering sufficient flexibility to meet changing employee needs.

The pandemic has changed employee attitudes to where (and when) they work:

However, just 57% of companies plan to offer significant flexibility – and 27% expect employees to return to the workplace in the same way as before the pandemic.

The company needs to be flexible and accept that people will be allowed to work other options than in the office 100% of the time. Managers need to trust employees working from home.

Failing to meet individual employee needs will hit retention and productivity. Dissatisfied employees say they’ll either leave immediately, start looking for a new job or be less motivated.

Actions for HR teams

Key theme 3: The importance of safely managing the return to work

After over a year away, and with the COVID-19 virus still active, employees are unsure about returning to the office:

We will need to manage some staff back to work that are feeling isolated or vulnerable.

To deliver reassurance HR teams understand that they need to focus on managing employee fears with clear processes and actions. 92% saw health & safety as essential/very important for their organisation over the next six months and 17% said it was their top priority, second only to wellbeing.

Again, overcoming employee fears requires a tailored approach. While some people will be happy to return to the office, others will need greater support, both within the workplace and for their commute. HR teams and managers need to combine logistical and process changes with an understanding of individual circumstances to successfully manage the return to the (hybrid) office.

Actions for HR teams

Key theme 4: Listening methods are becoming more professional – but are not yet fully effective

Over the last year, HR teams have moved towards much greater use of continuous listening and pulse surveys in place of less ‘official’ channels such as WhatsApp/online communities.

This enables better management and analysis of data to drive understanding and faster change. In turn, this has increased the effectiveness of listening strategies:

In 2020 24% said their strategy was very effective – in 2021 this rose to 34%

We need to engage more with our staff, find out what they need from us.

However, there are still gaps in effectiveness. Over half (54%) of HR teams said their listening strategy had room for improvement, particularly around speed and driving consistent action.

We want to create a more inclusive atmosphere with the ability to speak on a regular basis face to face.

Actions for HR teams

Key theme 5: HR needs to deliver a changing, individualised experience

Employee needs are changing – and differ radically between individuals. Some want to come back to office, others don’t. Some want greater control, while others are asking for increased support:

HR leaders must meet all these differing needs if they are to retain talent. When asked, 43% of HR managers said treating employees as individuals was one of their biggest learnings from the last 12 months, alongside the importance of regular communication (63%) and listening/getting regular feedback (51%).

Managers now have an ‘open door policy’ where employees are encouraged to discuss areas where they have concerns with no adverse consequences.

Actions for HR teams

We now focus on employees being involved in the change process – they have a ‘seat on the board’ so to speak.

Key theme 6: At a tumultuous time, HR delivered - but must keep focused moving forward

Despite the pressures and challenges of the pandemic, most key people metrics have remained stable or improved over the last year according to employees:

On a personal level, most employees feel engaged and valued by their organisation, although around a third disagree.

All this has been achieved without increased spend on HR. Less than a third (30%) of HR staff say budgets went up – 64% stayed the same. This demonstrates how hard HR teams have worked during the pandemic. However, the return to the office will bring fresh challenges, meaning that the focus on employee experience needs to continue.

Actions for HR teams

Sample size and methodology

The 2021 Tivian Experience Intelligence Report surveyed 1,000 office-based UK employees and 100 managers responsible for HR during July 2021.