Personalization is what keeps employees at a company.
Just ask Jessica Schaeffer, director of marketing and communications and chief of staff at LaSalle Network Inc., a staffing, recruiting and culture advisory firm based in Chicago. To personalize the employee experience for her eight team members in her job, she sets aside time to talk with them at least twice per month, discussing both work and their personal lives during such “one-on-ones.”
In these discussions, Schaeffer learns about projects her team members are working on, as well as what’s going on with them outside of work. She then provides them with what they need to continue being their best as employees.
“The only way to really understand somebody’s motivators is to get to know them and to talk to them,” Schaeffer said.
To keep up with what her employees need, Schaeffer takes notes and marks important dates in her calendar for future reference. If employees express a concern, and the manager forgets, then that relationship falls apart, Schaeffer said. She equated the employee experience to a bank account, in which managers make deposits and deductions. If giving negative feedback, they are taking out of that bank. If they fail to keep track through notes and following up, an employee’s account could deplete, leading them to leave the company.
“They need to feel that you care because otherwise, they’re out the door. That’s what people are craving now more than ever,” Schaeffer said.
Personalizing the work experience of employees in this manner is effective, as research shows it leads to higher employee engagement and, as a result, retention. Gallup research from 2013 found that when a company excels in employee engagement, it outperforms other businesses by 22 percent in profitability and 21 percent in productivity. These businesses also had lower turnover and absenteeism, fewer safety incidents and fewer quality defects.
Personalization is especially important in remote work arrangements, which are more frequent these days. When employees request to work from home a few days a week, it’s important to know the reasons to best support that worker, said Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at HighGround, an employee engagement software company based in Chicago.
Harris shared with her employees that there’s a period in the summer in which she has limited child care, as her kids are between summer camps and school starting. Letting her employees know that she’ll need to work from home, come in late or leave early “helps other people work with me if I’m up front and tell them what’s going on,” she said.
For those employees who work at home full-time, Harris is sure to include them in video calls and to walk them through their onboarding. She wants them to understand the team and organization as a whole. “It’s hard to build culture when you have people who are out on islands,” Harris said. They also visit the Chicago headquarters quarterly for meetings and outings, so people feel connected to team members, even when not in the office daily.
Much of the employee experience is open to personalization, but it’s especially crucial in talent development, said Jordan Birnbaum, vice president and chief behavioral economist at TalentX, a unit of HR technology firm ADP. Skills held won’t be the same for all workers, so making learning and development tailored to each individual is crucial. “We’re starting to see as organizations get flatter that cross-business unit collaboration is becoming more and more important,” Birnbaum said. “It’s an area that we believe requires some training and development for individuals both to maximize their own performance but also to maximize their interactions with colleagues in a way that brings the engagement for everyone up.”
Personalizing benefits is also important, Birnbaum said. Especially among companies with numerous benefits offerings, it can be hard for employees to consume all options available to them. “When you personalize something, you are increasing the likelihood that the information is consumed or evaluated,” he said.
To personalize messaging of available benefits, data becomes a valuable tool, Birnbaum said. Age, family and marital status can be great indicators of what an employee might want from their benefits. For example, a young person with children is likely more concerned with benefits like parental leave and childcare than retirement. However, he said it’s important to still communicate all options available. “The less work you ask people to do, the more likely you are to be successful.”
Limits of Leadership
But at what point does this all become too unmanageable, given that managers have many other responsibilities to be successful at their job?
“It raises the questions of what is the job of a leader?” asked Birnbaum. If the job of a leader is to empower, engage and motivate their direct reports, then they should be personalizing everything, he said. “The problem, of course, is that there are very few leaders who have the luxury of only having to worry about how to empower, engage and motivate their employees.”
They have their own jobs to execute and responsibilities to fulfill; they’re stretched too thin to personalize the employee experience for all of their direct reports, Birnbaum said. It’s therefore incumbent on the manager to know how much they can personalize so they can then drive their level of personalization so it’s most impactful for their teams.
Ideally, managers would personalize everything. But, “in the real world, it’s certainly not possible,” Birnbaum said.
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor for Talent Economy. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.