Making Work Human: What Do Employees Want?

January 11, 2022 Sarah Bloznalis

person sitting looking at phone 3-minute read

(This post continues our new blog series breaking down each chapter of “Making Work Human.”)

Research conducted by Gallup finds “businesses that orient performance management systems around basic human needs for psychological engagement, such as frequent recognition and opportunities for personal development, get the most out of their employees.” So, it’s no surprise to see organizations that truly listen to their employees tend to flourish, while traditional hierarchical organizations fall behind.

In the fourth chapter of “Making Work Human,” authors Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine share what employees really want from their organization, and the steps business leaders can take to achieve it.

Entering the cognitive era

Productivity was once measured by the number of widgets produced in a day, but this is no longer the case. In this new cognitive era, productivity has acquired additional meaning, with a focus on qualities like imagination, insight, collaboration, and communication.

According to Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath, management is entering a new era of empathy. She finds “many are looking toward organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences,” where creativity, passion, and problem-solving are appreciated and recognized.

Measuring employee experience

The challenge we now face is creating an environment where humans can bring their best selves to work. To do just that, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Workhuman® joined together to conduct a global research study on employee experience.

After analyzing 20 years of data, which includes more than 50 million global recognition moments tracked by our customers, we developed the Employee Experience Index, which quantifies the employee experience by addressing:

  • The environment: Including a strong sense of organizational trust and enabling supportive co-worker relationships
  • The work: Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work and providing continuous feedback, recognition, and growth
  • The person: Acknowledging the importance of empowerment and voice, as well as opportunities to disconnect from work and recharge

By putting the framework of six human workplace practices first laid out in chapter one (organizational trust; co-worker relationships; meaningful work; recognition, feedback, and growth; empowerment and voice; and work-life balance) into action, the result is positive employee experiences along five dimensions:

  • Belonging: a feeling of being part of a team, group, or organization
  • Purpose: an understanding of why one’s work matters
  • Achievement: a sense of accomplishment in the work that is done
  • Happiness: the pleasant feeling arising in and around work
  • Vigor: the presence of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement at work

How does this positive employee experience impact our humans and our organizations? The research found that organizations that score in the top 25% on employee experience report nearly 3x the return on assets and double the return on sales compared with organizations in the bottom quartile.

Even further, comparing companies with high versus low Employee Experience Index scores provides valuable insights about employees at higher-scoring companies:

  • They work harder: Discretionary effort is nearly 2x higher in positive work experiences.
  • They perform better: Workers with positive experiences are more likely to report high levels of performance (23 percentage points higher).
  • They stay longer: Workers with high Employee Experience Index scores are 52% less likely to leave.

What this means for leaders

We know what employees want – meaningful work, personal and professional growth, empowerment, and an inclusive community. Now it’s up to leaders to make that happen.

The key to creating this employee experience is what we call human applications. With a combination of leadership, culture, and technology, human applications “promote and facilitate human moments that matter, and they have the power to both reveal and reinforce the best qualities of the human enterprise.”

To truly understand the impact of human applications, we must understand the human qualities that ignite performance, which we will break down in the next post in this series.


Making Work Human: The Human Enterprise

Making Work Human: The Employee Experience

[Video] Elevating the Employee Experience

About the Author

Sarah Bloznalis

Sarah Bloznalis is a content marketing coordinator at Workhuman from Dorchester, Mass. When she's not writing about the future of work you can find her in the library, at the beach, or exploring the city.

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