A woman with brown hair standing on a stage, giving a talk. There is a purple wall behind her.
Natalie Baumgartner. Image: Achievers

How to improve employee experience on a tight budget

29 May 2019

Giving your employees a positive experience can be essential to keeping them from leaving, but what if your budget is too tight to mention?

It’s no secret that a positive employee experience is the key to maintaining a positive work culture and, by extension, retaining your incredibly valuable staff.

It can be easy to search for perfect work cultures and see plenty of major brands with big budgets, plenty of resources and designated employee experience teams to ensure they give their employees the best of everything.

This can make smaller companies with little or no budget to spare for employee experience think that they don’t stand a chance and there’s nothing they can do about it.

However, when it comes to employee experience, it’s important to remember two things. First, you do not need a massive budget to create a good working experience for your employees. Second, not all companies that throw money at employee experience necessarily have a good culture, so it’s time to stop assuming there’s no point in trying.

Now that you understand that, you’re probably wondering how you actually can give your employees a good working life and culture with little or no budget. I spoke to Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers, to find out.

“My goal has always been to change the way the world works,” she said. “I’m passionate about corporate culture and transforming organisations by enhancing the employee experience. I’ve spent the last decade using research and science-based thinking to help business leaders better understand the world of work, particularly the way in which data-driven engagement impacts performance, along with issues related to company culture.”

Unsurprisingly, Baumgartner said the biggest misconception she sees from companies is that a positive employee experience is created by fancy perks such as ping-pong tables, coffee on tap and dry-cleaning services. “Perks are great but they are not sufficient to ensure that employees truly thrive in the workplace,” she said. “While employee benefits and perks should be consistent with a company’s culture, they don’t define the culture.”

Communication is key

Baumgartner said the most important factor in giving employees a good work experience is creating an environment where there is honest, open communication and where employees feel heard and listened to. It may sound simple, but a PR360 report in April 2019 revealed how bad communication can be in a large number of companies. “Creating an open environment where employees feel their voices are being heard and where managers show they’re actively listening by taking steps to make change is the number one way companies can improve the employee experience,” said Baumgartner.

Sweat the small stuff

Aside from the broader topic of open communication, she also pointed out that since the experience an employee has is the sum of everything, it’s important that leaders pay attention to the small stuff, too. “Things that truly affect day-to-day engagement, such as an unclean kitchen, a cold office, a long, unnecessary meeting, or a tough workload may fall through the cracks,” she said. “If these types of problems aren’t addressed right away, small issues may turn into systemic problems.”

Use and analyse data fluidly

Traditionally, employee engagement might be examined by HR by way of an annual survey once a year, and this practice still occurs in many organisations. However, this is outdated and ineffective because it has already aged out by the time it is analysed, and taking the temperature once a year is not a realistic representation of the culture.

“Since companies need to be measuring and gathering information in an ongoing way, I’d consider employee feedback software as a ‘need to have,’ not a ‘nice to have’,” said Baumgartner. “Employers need a way to continuously gather employee input and deliver actionable changes that address any challenges employees report.”

Flexibility and autonomy

This ‘perk’ is extremely low-cost to implement but, according to a recent Gallup survey, flexibility is a top perk that employees would actually change jobs to get. “Allow people to work remotely, work flex schedules or adjust time slots that fit with their personal needs,” said Baumgartner.

The feeling of independence that comes from flexibility should stretch to other areas of work, too. “Autonomy and a sense of independence can go a long way in improving someone’s job satisfaction,” she said. “Taking the foot off the pedal in some areas of control also shows trust in employees, which can make them feel more valued and comfortable.”

Bring games into the workplace

Baumgartner said gamification is an easy way to engage people within teams or departments, especially if tied to meaningful rewards or workplace recognition. “It also offers an easy way to give rewards to winning teams (including low-budget prize options) and allows managers to publicly recognise achievements.” This can also make reaching certain goals and metrics easier or feel more achievable.

Recognise your employees

Giving proper recognition for your employees’ work is perhaps the most important part of giving them a good work experience but it is often shockingly neglected. “According to our 2019 Complacency Report, nearly one in five employees say their manager is ‘horrible’ at recognising them,” said Baumgartner. “Sending a regular newsletter listing employee achievements or offering public recognitions during staff meetings can help boost morale and enhance the employee experience.”

Still think it’s not important?

It can be difficult for leaders to siphon off some of their budget on something that doesn’t immediately appear necessary for their bottom lines. However, not spending any resources on employee engagement and experience could end up costing you a lot more.

In fact, a Gallup report estimated that the cost of disengaged employees is between $450bn and $550bn annually in the US. The statistics have always been there – it’s less expensive to retain staff than lose them and have to train in new ones.

Baumgartner also wanted to hammer home the point that a positive employee experience really doesn’t have to be expensive. “Companies don’t need to put big money behind fluffy perks,” she said. “Instead, employers need to invest in creating a positive company culture where employees feel listened to, recognised and engaged.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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