The Realities of Employee Experience – S.A. Case Study

Meet Nombulelo a 35-year single mother, working as a Customer Services Consultant for one of South Africa’s largest petrochemical companies. Nombulelo lives with her 62-year-old mother and her 2 daughters, the eldest is 14 years old attending High School, and her 3-year-old, in a rented property in the township of Gugulethu, Cape Town. Nombulelo recently relocated to Johannesburg in January 2021, after securing a role as a Customer Services Consultant in the same company, the relocation was driven by the recent retrenchments/lay-offs that were taking place at their Cape Town office. As a single mother and breadwinner, she needed to protect herself and her family from a potential job loss which led her to apply for another job opportunity in their Johannesburg office.

After moving to Johannesburg, she realized that the cost of living is far more expensive compared to Cape Town, which meant that she couldn’t take her 14-year-old daughter along. She moved to Johannesburg with her 3-year-old daughter, leaving her mother and eldest daughter behind. This new living arrangement meant that she now needed to start paying rent for 2 properties, buy food for 2 households in addition to paying school fees for her elder daughter in Cape Town. Nombulelo’s new role is paying the same salary as her previous role in Cape Town, making this a lateral move. In addition to the above, with the current remote way of working she is required to top up data on the router supplied by her employer because the allocated data gets depleted before the month ends. She tops up the data from her own money and then submits a claim to the employer for payment which is made 30 days after the claim submission date.

Nombulelo recently discovered that her eldest daughter has not been attending school and has been coming home late at night. As a result, Nombulelo’s mother has developed a condition from the emotional stress associated with the sudden rebellion of her grandchild. Nombulelo is required to work from the office 1 week per month and for her to get to the office means she must take 3 different taxis and will need to ensure that she finds someone to look after her 3-year-old daughter. She currently feels emotionally drained because of her current living arrangement, her salary is not enough to cover her living arrangement, her mom’s condition, rebellious daughter, travel to work, care for the 3-year-old daughter, and insufficient access to WIFI to be able to do her work.

Nombulelo decided to speak to her Line Manager with the hope of coming up with alternative ways of work that will allow her to be there for her family, reduce the current financial burden and work efficiently. Upon discussing the matter with her Line Manager, she was blatantly advised to find a cheaper place to live in Johannesburg which is obviously even far away from the office. Her manager told her that she was also in a similar position and the organization told her they will not be able to allow her to move to Cape Town to continue to work remotely from there although they have an office in Cape Town therefore, she won’t even bother escalating the matter for further discussions. The issue relating to internet access according to her line manager cannot be immediately resolved because the company is re-looking all expenditure across the different cost centers, once this process is complete the current allocations will be reviewed.

Given the above case study, here are some initial thoughts about the realities of EX

 EX should never be a once program or event, I say this because people by nature are forever changing, our lives are not immune to change therefore a once-off EX program defeats the very nature of EX. The very term “Employee Experience” is made up of Employee + Experience, this means that the success of EX is in recognizing that it starts with employees, the drivers for initiating EX should be Employees, they should be allowed to define and contribute towards their own experience. It is not “Business Experience” nor “Customer Experience” nor Supplier Experience” it is Employee Experience, and they should have a seat at the table.

 Let us look at some “thinking” we need to demystify before even attempting to make recommendations:

  •  “Top 10 tips to improving experience” – have you designed a contextual definition of employee experience unique to the relevant organization and their employees? Do you recognize and understand how employee experience has evolved? How have you tested and measured the effectiveness of the methods/frameworks/strategies being recommending?
  • “We need to normalize talking about emotions in the boardroom” – the reality is this, some of the executives occupying seats in the boardrooms have made financial investments in these organizations, some have invested their whole life savings into these organizations, this explains why their primary concern is about the financial performance of the business. Does this make it, okay, no, but it presents opportunities to start meaningful conversations?
  • “Start with the Voice of Employee program” – do organizations even know the people behind these voices? Have we as an organization sought to understand how employees have evolved? Have the barriers to giving authentic feedback been removed? Is there an understanding of the organization’s maturity and readiness to embark on this transformative journey? Do employees know what is a VOE program and what their role is in it?
  • “Treat employees the way we treat our customers” – What if employees are far removed from what it is to be the customer? Is this way of thinking not assuming how employees would like to be treated? Do employees not own the right to have a say in how they wish to be treated?

Before we can even suggest a VOE program/an EX-programme as a solution to an organization let us be practical:

  • Does the client/organization know what it is they are trying to solve?
  • What is propelling the organization to focus on employee experience?
  • With many organizations being popular for using retrenchments/layoffs as a tool to balance their books leaving the rest of the workforce in great uncertainty about their prospects, do organizations even know how the rest of the workforce is feeling after these massive layoffs/retrenchments?
  • Some approaches have left employees with a great amount of distrust in their employers, they’ve had to watch their peers deal with the trauma of losing their jobs, they get to see their peers suffer each day as a result of being laid off/retrenched
  • What changes have the rest of the stakeholder groups undergone which could impact the organization’s ability to drive employee experience?
  • How can organizations assess the level of preparedness of the people entrusted with leading the employee experience agenda?
  • What external and internal skillset, professional expertise, and roles are required to design the future of work?

 Watch out for the 2nd edition of this blog where we will be providing practical recommendations for independent consultants and organizations to help drive sustainable employee experience.

Written by: Mandisa Makubalo

CX Consultant, Unlimited Experiences SA

Author CX3 Book

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