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Feeling: The Heart of the People Experience

When we talk to clients about what's important to them to understand about their people experience, one of the most common responses is: How do our people feel? In this article we look at what 'feeling' means to us and how it helps us turn this question into meaningful and actionable insights.

When we talk to clients about what's important to them to understand about their people experience, one of the most common responses is: How do our people feel?

Emotions or feelings are at the heart of the people experience

That's music to my ears, because I'm really interested in emotions, which is really what's at the heart of the people experience.. ..but in reality when we're talking about using employee surveys to make accessible and actionable insights, we have to take one step away from emotions. That's because they take a lot of interpretation, and they also change from moment to moment.

One day, I'm sure that we will measure and use emotions more directly in our work, but for the moment we've described a number of 'cognitive-affective' feelings, which we might define as evaluative responses that arise from the interaction between individuals (and their beliefs, needs and value), and their environment. These evaluations in turn influence motivation and behaviour.

Feelings versus emotions?

If I said, “I feel sad” or “I feel angry”, that would clearly describe an emotion. And emotions are both interesting and useful in the context of work, but for a large, periodic employee survey in particular, not very practial.

So to help us make sense of people’s experiences of work we’ve described a number of 'feelings', that are a bit easier to manage at an organisational level and we’d generally consider to be positive..

  • Purpose - I have a sense of purpose or find meaning in my work
  • Enjoyment - I find my work enjoyable or stimulating
  • Belonging - I feel like I belong here, while being myself
  • Autonomy - I have freedom to act and can influence my work
  • Connection - I enjoy good relationships with others
  • Growth – I’m able to use and extend the range of my skills and knowledge

Let's take a deeper dive into each of these.

Purpose

Having a sense of purpose doesn’t need to mean that you’re doing “good” or changing the world, but it does mean that work provides you with meaning and direction, through your connection to a vision, mission or higher goal.

Why is purpose important?

A sense of purpose is a source of motivation, but it also helps us to organise ourselves, prioritise, take satisfaction from making progress and be less affected by short-term setbacks and fluctuations.

A good example of this in action is the now infamous cleaner at NASA who is reputed to have said to President Kennedy, “I’m not mopping the floors, I’m putting a man on the moon”. Whether this story is true or not, it’s an example of someone connecting a potentially menial role to the bigger mission.

What can you do to build purpose?

Some ways that you can help people to find purpose and meaning in their work include:

  • Provide a clear, compelling organisational vision and mission
  • Help people to see the impact that their work has internally or externally
  • Enable people to contribute to projects that benefit the wider community

Enjoyment

Enjoying work can mean that it’s “fun” but it doesn’t have to. It may equally mean that you find it inherently interesting or stimulating, and if it is fun, it may not be the tasks themselves but the environment that makes it so.

Why is enjoyment important?

Enjoyment is, in our view, an often-overlooked source of employee engagement, wellbeing or performance at work. When we enjoy work we’re more often ‘in the moment’ may be more open to opportunity, change, and risk, be more creative and even productive.

That can mean having fun (even ritualised), but it might equally be about intellectual stimulation, solving problems, or becoming immersed in tasks. When work is relatively mundane, you can see that people naturally break the mundanity and that’s healthy if it ultimately enables them to focus more effectively for when they are “on”.

How do you make work more enjoyable?

Some examples include:

  • Provide opportunities for people to be curious, take risks and try new things without fear of consequences
  • Treat mistakes as something to be learned from, not punished
  • Ensure that people are not overwhelmed by workload and short-term targets
  • Allowing space and time for the team to develop their own rituals that build fun

 

Growth

You feel like you’re growing when provides opportunities to use the full range of your knowledge and skills, as well as extending them and developing them. For some it may be more aligned to career growth and for others about broadening or deepening skills.

Many make the mistake of equating growth with training, but growth starts with feeling that your skills are being used effectively, that you’re competent and then that you’re developing. Training may or may not be an effective means of providing growth – it depends!

Why is growth important?

Well, aside from more obvious benefits in terms of developing and retaining employees, enabling mastery and growth equips people to deal with change and uncertainty, and to seek out challenging situations.

How can you encourage growth?

Some examples include:

  • Provide opportunities to contribute to projects and solving problems beyond immediate roles or objectives
  • Providing challenging tasks and goals, not just increasing workload but instead adding complexity or responsibility
  • Taking a coaching approach to management, which means questioning, listening and providing feedback rather than directing ‘what’ and telling ‘how’
  • Having regular conversations about development, understanding and supporting individual’s developmental goals

 

Connection

You feel emotionally connected with our colleagues when the workplace is a source of mutually trusting positive and supportive relationships. You may also feel an emotional connection to the organisation, brand or customers.

Why is connection important?

Strong and safe relationships form the basis of wellbeing and resilience, the ability to work effectively in teams, and to provide excellent customer service; as well as supporting inclusion (belonging).

Teamwork doesn’t depend on everyone liking each other, or being friends, but trust is essential. If people feel safe, cared for and trusted they are more likely to give care and trust.

How do you help people feel more connected?

  • Consider the importance of physical layout and spaces that encourage people to connect, or in a virtual environment the range of opportunities to get together in meaningful ways.
  • Encourage collaboration and collective goal setting where possible, discouraging competition.
  • Provide time and space for social bonds to develop, not just for doing ‘task work’ – from team socials and staff conferences, to making sure people take time out for lunch

Think about these factors in a holistic way. In a previous organisation of mine, simply creating an attractive café with subsidised food, that the leadership made a point of taking time out to use, helped to bring diverse groups of people together.

Belonging

Belonging means identifying with (and subscribing to) the norms and values of the group without having to compromise your own values or identity. For this delicate balance to occur you must feel included and psychologically safe (to express yourself or challenge).

Belonging is a little paradoxical – because it’s being able to freely express yourself and to challenge that ultimately enables you to ‘buy in’, and without a coherent sense of the collective there’s nothing to belong to.

Why is belonging important?

It’s (hopefully) obvious that building an inclusive organisation is the right thing to do, but from a business perspective it contributes to creativity by enabling diverse groups of employees to work together, enables more effective decision-making and reduces friction in the ‘system’.

How can you build a sense belonging?

  • Be intentional about building psychological safety and trust
  • Ensure that leadership role model inclusion, invite challenge, facilitate open debate and demonstrably listen
  • Emphasise shared values, while allowing room for interpretation in expression
  • Build diverse teams and provide opportunities for social interaction

Autonomy

Experiencing autonomy means that you as an individual exercise free choice, are free from unnecessary constraints and can influence the goals and decisions that affect you.

Autonomy is relative. What’s appropriate to me in my role might be different to you in yours, but none of is completely unconstrained at work. Even the CEO is accountable to the board. We’ve seen people in a wide variety of roles, from operatives to execs, rate their autonomy as high, which suggests that (on the whole) we have a good sense of what autonomy means in context.

Why is autonomy important?

Autonomy is critical factor in organisational agility and change, as well as promoting creativity, innovation and, paradoxically, increasing accountability (with freedom comes responsibility!).

How do you enable autonomy?

  • Personalise goals, where possible, though dialogue and enable your team to contribute to collective goals
  • Involve people and in and enable them to question change and decisions, even if they don’t have the final say
  • Remove unnecessary controls, permissions and approvals from processes to free people up
  • Remove barriers to local teams making changes or improvements to ways of working, and ensure that processes for doing so are in place and understood

What's the evidence base for these feelings?

It’s important for us at The People Experience Hub to be evidence-based in our work, and I think that also comes with a responsibility to be open. Our people experience framework is our perspective on a large and body of research, but one that is also fragmented and still developing.

We’re also early in the process of gathering our own data to test the validity of our interpretation, so if we’re sure of one thing, it’s that it’s not perfect. It will evolve.

However, we hope that it helps you to think about the different kinds of experience that you might try to facilitate at work and, most importantly, why.

In our other articles we talk about our people experience framework as a whole, and how you can use this to design a great people experience that's engaging but, in short: If you understand what outcomes (e.g. innovation, collaboration, agility) are important to you and your business, you can consider which of these feelings are most important to you to facilitate, then use them as lenses to evaluate and redesign your organisational practices, processes and places.

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I’ll be talking about our framework as a tool for navigating the people experience as part of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition’s free Insights Programme. Join me on the 4th November at 14.30-15.00  or visit us at stand 26  

Navigating

 

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