[Panel] Evolution of Employee Programs

[Panel] Evolution of Employee Programs

At Epoch’s Employee Experience Symposium, Keith Choy (Co-founder & COO of Epoch) moderated an insightful Keynote: Evolution of Employee Programs. Scroll down for key takeaways! 👇

Meet The Panelists

The Evolution of Employee Programs keynote had 4 amazing panelists.

How has the current macroeconomic environment (tech layoffs, recession etc.) affected employee programming? 

As we are coming out of the pandemic, we are being hit with a new macroeconomic environment. As the Head of DEI at NerdWallet, Shai wants to ensure that DEI programming still meets the needs of employees and creates connections. In doing so, NerdWallet is leveraging ERGs by partnering with other teams to attract outside participants. Shai shares that when companies are limiting resources and budgeting, it's important to be intentional about what you are planning and what the budget is going to.  

At Salesforce, Jeffery shares that over the pandemic, everyone built their own perfect home office. With RTO, it is challenging to get employees to want to return to the office and make the commute again. Jeffery shares that it is essential to rediscover the drivers that bring employees into the office, and tap into them. For example, ERGs can create excitement and engagement. Moreover, engaged employees think better, are more in touch with their well-being, and are more connected to their company’s culture. After the pandemic, Jeffery shares that although the teams are smaller from layoffs, the budget is still the same. Salesforce is focusing on partnering with other teams across the company to empower them to focus on employee experience and events. 

Kyle sees the current macroeconomic environment as a replay of the 2008 recession and hopes that this one will pass too. As businesses and society are recoiling during this time of uncertainty, Kyle looks inwards to empower ERG champions to be the face of current events and support them as program managers. Kyle shares that when organizations cut creative roles, it is important to find this creativity in other corners of the company. There must be a proper balance of excitement, growth and mindfulness of what is going on externally.  

What defines “success” for an event in 2023? How does that differ from before the pandemic?

Kyle shares that defining success has multiple levels of impact. To achieve success, the organization must be cost-effective, have a senior leadership presence, tie into rewards and recognition, have a connection with ERGs, have an element of art, and have employee values that align with the company. Before the pandemic, there was an element of competition with peers and an element of keeping up with the Joneses. Now, people are more focused on core moments and heartfelt connections. To showcase success at Hinge, Kyle mentions that the people leadership team has implemented data-driven decision-making frameworks. For example, they recently rolled out a super robust employee survey program with a 97% engagement rate!

For Jamie, in-person events have always been a moment of building connection, creating a sense of belonging, and fostering collaboration. Yet, after three years of the pandemic, some employees still have not met each other in person. Instacart wants to focus on getting people off the screen and measure its impact on employees' sense of belonging and inclusion. Before the pandemic, Jamie shares how a lot of these experiences were taken for granted. Now, these in-person events are more embedded into the business objectives of the company. 

Shai shares that Zoom fatigue is prevalent at her company. People do not want to stay on screens for social events on top of their daily screen time. For Shai, success is the value that people are gaining from their events and leveraging the perspectives of employees and programs. With that said, NerdWallet focuses on three features:

  1. Incorporating the voices of ERGs
  2. Champions and programs, and
  3. Uptaking wellness offerings with the benefits team to understand what everyone wants

What role does human connection play in increasing engagement and improving productivity?

As Shai mentioned, Nerdwallet is remote first and Zoom fatigue is real. To combat this, NerdWallet frequently changes the types of hosted meetings and events. They have a variety of speakers, breakout rooms to collaborate, and surveys to gain feedback. Shai emphasizes the use of breakout sessions because they allow employees who aren't in leadership roles to be able to contribute ideas and make an impact on tasks. Additionally, NerdWallet is very data-driven. They beta-test events and programs, gather feedback, and then reiterate the events based on feedback.

Jeffrey distinguishes between "return to in-person" versus "return to the office.” Salesforce research shows that certain teams are more productive when they have in-person connections and are learning from each other. On the other hand, RTO is more of an arbitrary requirement that employees need to be at their office desks. With that said, the number of days an employee spends in person is encouraged on a team-by-team basis to suit their needs and to ensure they are most productive. 

Jamie shares that building a sense of community and human connection is fundamental to the employee experience at Instacart. It’s through in-person programming such as offsite pop-ups that Instacart has been able to bring people together and create opportunities for employees to meet others who are nearby. 

What’s the most clever hack or tip you’ve done to get people back in the office and connecting in person? 

Transforming the workspace

To get people back into the office and connect in person again, Kyle shares how the new floor opening in their office brought a lot of employees back in. The new floor generated excitement among teams and they were eager to use this new space. The team hyped up the opening of the new floor through communications during all-hands meetings. The opening didn't feel like a forcing mechanism, but rather, it was creating a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) among those who weren’t in office. 

Think about the ‘cost of the commute’

Jeffrey shares that when employees are coming into the office, sometimes they are starting off in a bad mood due to a long commute, traffic, paying for parking, etc. With that said, Salesforce wanted to create a fun space where employees could feel positive and excited about coming into the office - How do you make it worth their commute? Jeffrey recognizes that employees will only come into the office if they want to, and if there is something to gain from not being home. So, going the extra mile to host fun events is important to Salesforce. 

Generate excitement

To foster a sense of connection and facilitate new connections in the workplace, Jamie shared that Instacart leverages the power of food as well as surprise and delight pop-ups. They also revamped a part of their office (The Garden), to encourage casual coworking and provide an opportunity for employees to meet new colleagues. 

How can we sustain the investment in employee experience initiatives (move away from nice to have)?

  1. Show qualitative proof of the impact on employee experience
  2. Create FOMO of being in the office 
  3. Leverage the visibility of events
  4. Collect and listen to feedback 
  5. Align employee experience with organizational values to attract executive support 

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