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Why digital investment is critical for improving the employee experience 

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By David Chandler, Division Director, Great State

With the World Health Organisation officially declaring the Covid-19 crisis over in May, the pandemic is beginning to feel like a distant memory. However, many industries are still experiencing a recruitment and retention crisis as they struggle to move on from the disruption it caused. 

From retail to healthcare, hospitality to education, high levels of stress and burnout are common denominators when it comes to job dissatisfaction and lack of employee engagement. As more power has shifted into the hands of employees, keeping talent satisfied and motivated has become a continual challenge for HR leaders.  

Employees place a higher-than-ever importance on work-life balance, company culture, career progression, and wellbeing support. Employers are being put under more scrutiny than ever before. Take the aviation industry, for example, where employment instability and the changing contract structure of pilots and airline staff has resulted in 63% of pilots globally planning on switching jobs in the next 12 months. 

Our research suggests that that the employee experience is still a determining factor when it comes to talent retention. Through conversations with employees across the aviation industry, we found many employees feel their overall employee experience has gotten worse, with many small frustrations mounting to contribute to an overall feeling of stress and career dissatisfaction, resulting in employee burnout. 

How can digital help to tackle this problem?  

Engaged employees are more productive, happier in their roles and stay longer. Whilst it can be easier to engage employees when you see them every day, how do you improve the employee experience for remote or hybrid workforces, or dispersed workforces who are rarely in the same location as their colleagues? 

Investing in digital products and services can offer a way to create a sense of belonging where employees feel connected to the organisation or company they work in – a sense of community quite literally in the palm of their hand.  

However, it’s not just the tools themselves that will solve the challenges they face. Many off-the-shelf platforms exist, but they can be costly to implement and can still miss the smaller, day-to-day challenges that cause employee friction. It’s the essential discovery and research process, looking at the uniqueness of each organisation, that identifies key frustrations among staff. If you don’t understand your employees, how are you going to support them? 

To ensure they’re utilised, digital tools need to be designed in a way that is truly user-centric, user-friendly, and solve actual employee frustrations, or it risks not being adopted by the target audience. It needs to include personalised and relevant content, tailored to individual’s needs and preferences. Doing so will make employees feel understood and valued as individuals. Not doing this risks disengagement with the tool and subsequently, the user.

Digital employee engagement tools can also act as a central hub for professional development. From easy access to company resources and educational content such as training modules and skill-building activities, to real-time communication and the ability to share feedback with employers. They can be the key to making employees feel connected, understood, and integral to an organisation, regardless of their physical location.  

Investing in digital does not necessarily have to come at a high cost. One way to de-risk investment into digital tools is by developing them iteratively and tailoring them to meet the needs of a particular company or organisation rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. When you weigh this kind of investment up against recruitment costs, not to mention time and money spent in training and development, investing in your workforce to improve retention can often be the most cost-effective option. 

How the Royal Navy used digital to turnaround the employee experience 

One organisation that knows too well the challenges associated with connecting a globally dispersed workforce is the Royal Navy. In 2022, the Royal Navy found themselves facing a big retention challenge: more personnel were leaving the service than joining it.    

Working with the Royal Navy, we created a bespoke employee engagement and empowerment tool, called MyNavy – designed to enhance the lived experience of serving personnel, reservists, Royal Fleet Auxillary and civil servants. 

To understand the pain points being experienced within the Navy, we carried out research with hundreds of serving personnel to uncover the pain points that were contributing to their dissatisfaction and leading to increased staff turnover. The research discovered that many felt undervalued, unsupported, and uncertain about their future and that they didn’t have the digital tools to support their lives. The user feedback and needs all fed into a program of digital transformation designed to support personnel through the app to improve the lived experience of its users – removing frustrations and making them feel empowered.  

MyNavy is the first port of call for service-wide announcements, in addition to tailored information about deployments, base navigation, and career development. It even has a built-in e-commerce functionality designed to take the stress out of ordering uniforms, replacing the need to go to physical locations to do so.  

Using data insights captured through the app, the Royal Navy can stay ahead of emerging challenges and frustrations and deal with issues before they arise. This gives them a better understanding of personnel’s interests and ambitions, with the ability to tailor content delivered to them, and in doing so becoming a more engaged and meaningfully supportive employer. 

Taking this user-centric approach has seen the Royal Navy modernise its relationship with employees. Since conception, new services and improved functionality have been added based on employee requirements. It is now available in 27 different countries to more than 81,000 personnel, generating more than 168,000 monthly visits. 

Tailoring digital investment to the needs of the employee 

Every organisation is different, so the first step when considering investment in digital is to identify key frustrations that employees are experiencing that need to be addressed.  

Returning to the airline industry example, punishing hours, reduced wages, and job security concerns has resulted in pilots and other airline staff feeling their status, treatment and conditions have deteriorated.  

By introducing a bespoke, tailored digital solution to ensure airline employees stop feeling as though they are being treated as a homogenous set of worker drones, airlines can start to rebuild employee confidence and boost engagement. For the aviation industry, which has experienced massive setbacks from the Covid pandemic and its aftermath, measures must be put in place to engage and reward employees to keep retention high, and reduce the costs and risks incurred with high staff turnover. 

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