Enhancing the HE employee experience, together

By Roshan Israni, Deputy Chief Executive, UCEA 
17 March 2022 

As an employers’ association, we at UCEA pride ourselves in understanding ever changing trends in the labour market, and supporting our members in responding to them. 

This is why our strategic plan, Agility in a time of uncertainty, has supporting employer aspirations to enhance the employee experience as a key pillar – our second strategic priority in fact. 

So firstly, why do we need to prioritise this work?

We believe that the compact between employees and their employers has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of an entire career working for one employer. Employees certainly don’t value as much receiving a watch from the CEO as they retire at a specific age. More so than ever, employees seek satisfaction from their work - knowing that their role or work is contributing to something meaningful. 

The pandemic has also accelerated changes while developing different thinking, with employees pushing the agenda for employers to look more creatively at new ways of working. Never has employees’ digital and flexible relationship with their place of work been more important, and the real challenge now for employers is how to communicate and build an organisational culture that is fully understood by all employees irrespective of where they deliver their role.

And this is why we believe it is so important for our sector to embrace an approach to enhancing the employee experience. 

But what do we really mean by this? I quite like the CIPD’s succinct summary: ‘Employee experience is about creating a great work environment for people, and helping them to be their best.’ So, it is an umbrella term for all the things that affect how employees feel about work. It is a holistic view of how all the touch points with an employer shapes what and how they think about their employment journey. This can be as broad as organisation/team cultures and leadership/management styles to practical things such as policies, systems and procedures. It also includes the look and feel of the office environment as well as the quality of equipment and technology and indeed how the increasingly important technology enables or otherwise key processes for employees. Technology is infiltrating each corner of the employee experience.

Employee experience can and does influence engagement scores, productivity, motivation, retention and even customer/client experience and profitability. In the case of our sector focussing on the employee experience will further help enhance the student experience which our sector so rightly focusses on. 

But employee experience requires a new approach. The crucial difference here is shifting the dial when designing and implementing HR and other processes using the lens of the experience of the employee as opposed to the employer; from recruitment and onboarding, to interacting with various processes and their experience of IT equipment, and beyond. 

We understand that our members will be in different places with their approach to employee experience: some will have established successful work in this area with the pandemic pushing this into sharper focus, others might be thinking about this in terms of addressing recruitment and retention challenges. There will be institutions with fully fledged teams focusing on employee experience, others evaluating business cases for allocating resources to focus on this and yet others who are yet to consider this approach. 

Keeping this front of mind, earlier this month UCEA launched work relating to its exciting new employee experience strategic priority. Bringing over 80 HR and OD professionals from UCEA’s member HEIs together at a launch event we discussed the definitions of employee experience, examined some of the theory behind this way of thinking, and looked at how it can be applied in practice, in particular at UCL. We believe that HE employers should adopt good practice from our sector and beyond, so our launch also showcased the innovative work that Deloitte are undertaking to better their employees’ experience.

At UCEA, we see our role as not having all the answers, but instead shining a light on good practice, so members can tailor it for their needs, and being a conduit for those with similar challenges in this area. This is why our programme of work will involve three crucial workstreams:
  1. Thought leadership in employee experience – this will involve a series of events highlighting good practice and a suite of resources such as a template for a business case and case studies of innovative practice.
  2. Creating a strong employee value proposition – listening to the wider employee voice to understand what is it that employees in HE value from their employment. This will help inform work resulting in a total reward toolkit that our members can use. 
  3. Narrative for HE as an employer of choice – this will seek to promote the good work that is going on within the sector, offer a brand narrative for the sector as one of good employers. 

So, plenty to do (!) but UCEA is really excited about embarking on this new area of work and are looking for examples of good practice to support all of our members. If you have any ideas that you would like to share or indeed contribute to case studies or a story from your HEIs that you would like to tell then please do get in touch with us at UCEA. I look forward to sharing our progress in my next blog.