COVID-19 and the employee experience: Moving from insight to action

Habanero helps organizations create great employee experiences. We want to help create workplaces where people can live fulfilling professional lives and lead better lives overall.

As COVID-19 lockdowns began, we saw that organizations were struggling to understand at a deep level how their employees were doing; the tools they had used in the past were no longer suitable for what was happening. It was also becoming clear that this was the beginning of a big movement in the world of work.

We took a step back and asked ourselves, “What can we do to help the world right now?” This research study is one answer to that question.

Study details

We designed an empathetic research process, using human-centred design tools, to give organizations deep insights into how their people are doing. Participating organizations spanned 49 countries, with a combined cumulative employee base of over 85,000 people, and shared a demonstrated commitment to evolving their employee experience.

Our top findings

In all participating organizations, we witnessed an amplified importance of strong organizational culture, a heightened sensitivity  for empathetic leadership and an acute need for human connection in productive work.

Our ways of connecting and collaborating are evolving.

Organizations shared the ways they are trying to nurture relationships and collaborate effectively across physical divides.

Leadership that is authentic, accessible and human is critical now.

We heard from leaders who felt a call – and sometimes pressure and strain – to step up and be both strong and vulnerable to support employees and their organization.

A strong culture is more important than ever.

We talked to employees about their organization’s culture and how it impacted their ability to get work done, show up for each other and adjust to uncertainty and change.

Moving from insight to action

It’s time to move to the next phase of this journey – putting research to work to improve the daily lives of employees. We’ve identified the following three themes, drawn from our findings, that define the work that lies ahead.

We can’t go back to the way we were. That world is gone.

Autonomy has replaced micromanaging, and there’s no going back. In the future we’ll need new hybrid models for WFH and a flexible integration of people’s home and work life.

We can’t stay here. Our current state is unsustainable.

People are fragile and overextended. They’re doing what they can, but productivity is variable. We need to move past surge capacity mode to a sustainable pace and design holistic employee experiences attuned to people, culture and technology. Organizational cultures are shifting in unintended ways. We need to co-create intentional culture fit for the organization.

It’s time for our methods to evolve. We need to use different tools and think differently about how we will evolve forward.

Our study showed that surveys alone can’t give a full picture of how people are doing. We need mixed methods research to drive human-centred action. We also saw how slow-moving organizations struggled to sense and adapt to rapid change. Embedded agile behaviours will be a key survival tool. Finally, we learned that vulnerable, human leadership had a big impact on the employee experience, suggesting that empathy must be a core leadership capability.

What’s next?

We’re at an important inflection point – organizations must reassess how fit their environments are for the people that work within them. The organizations that will succeed are those that create an environment that attracts the best people and allows them to do their very best work to solve big problems.

To build organizations that will thrive in the future, employee experience must take centre stage. We’re excited to be sharing these findings now with like-minded leaders and organizations who are committed to evolving their employee experience.

This study will give you insight into:

  • How people are coping with the many changes COVID-19 has created
  • The biggest challenges and changes people are experiencing
  • What people want to keep from the experience
  • How to start to evolve your organization to be fit for the future

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