technology and the employee experience
Technological innovation has the power to differentiate an organization, directly impacting its ability to compete and thrive. At the human level, while technology can help build stronger teams through improved collaboration and increased efficiency, it can also lead to unintended outcomes, particularly as it becomes more embedded in everyday workplace activities.
Not all employee populations respond in the same way to today’s digital opportunities and challenges. HR leaders and hiring managers have a particular imperative to understand how technology tools affect the choices and work habits of their most important assets: their employees.
To look into this further, Randstad US joined forces with Future Workplace, an HR advisory and research firm, to explore how technology shapes the employee experience. By understanding how people throughout an organization interact with all things digital, human capital leaders and hiring managers can better assess how their technology choices impact their talent ecosystem.
The survey results presented here reflect the answers of 1,202 U.S. managers and employees across functional roles and industries about their experiences with technology at work.
Age categories reflect generational guidelines as defined by Pew Research Center:
Different age groups have distinct workplace attributes. These differentiators are particularly apparent when it comes to how people think about and use technology. Our study confirms that employees perceive digital benefits through their own generational lens, and the biggest gaps appear between the youngest and oldest workers — the Gen Z and baby boomer demographics.
Gen Z is forecast to comprise 36 percent of the global workforce by next year. As these digital natives step into their careers, they bring with them unique technology habits, and their approach to digital life doesn’t always align with that of the generations before them. However, because Gen Z represents the workforce of the future, savvy organizations can position themselves as employers of choice by recognizing new technology preferences and tapping into this youngest generation as the proving ground for all things digital.
In the bigger picture, best-in-class companies will seize the opportunity to guide all employees — regardless of age — to assimilate their personal technology practices into constructive work outcomes. For example, companies can actually suffer a competitive disadvantage by continuously acquiring new employees with the latest technology skills but not fostering tech upskilling across all workforce generations. When asymmetry around technical knowledge persists among employees, this can lead to negative outcomes like higher costs and longer go-to-market cycles.
Technology provides unprecedented flexibility as to where and when work gets done. Collaborative tools are commonplace today and help organizations build strong teams, often consisting of a mix of on-site, remote and contract workers with specialized skills.
Our study reinforces that one consequence of the ability to connect from anywhere is that employees often blend work and nonwork activities throughout the day. Instant access also tempts employees to juggle work responsibilities when off the clock or on vacation. On this front, employers must provide guidance and promote healthy technology habits for teams at all levels.
setting the stage
To frame the discussion about technology across the employee experience, we asked all survey respondents to identify the most important aspects of their workplace cultures.
The results were in some areas surprising. For example, while making money remains a top priority for both managers and employees, employees equally value working with supportive teammates. This finding confirms the idea that despite, or possibly because of, the prevalence of technology, younger workers are hungry for human collaboration in the workplace. Nearly half (46%) of employees also crave flexible workplaces and the kind of remote collaboration and flexible work arrangements that technology makes possible.
most important aspects of corporate culture
making the first connection
To land today’s top candidates, talent sourcing strategies must target qualified job seekers in the places where they’re looking for employment opportunities. This strategy sounds obvious, but our study found gaps in how managers and candidates regard and use various recruiting platforms.
For example, employees in our study ranked a company’s career website as the number one place they look for open positions, with 71 percent of respondents saying they spend time job hunting directly on employers’ websites. At the same time, only 58 percent of managers feel their companies’ career websites yield the highest-quality applicants. These data points underscore the importance of having a website that’s appealing and user-friendly, together with well-written job descriptions and a fast-moving screening process to attract candidates.
In another example, a solid majority (63%) of managers rate employee referrals as the most successful way to source top candidates, but only 48 percent of all employees invest time nurturing referrals to find jobs. Given that more tenured workers frequently have well-established professional networks, it’s not surprising to find that baby boomers (60%) are the cohort most likely to use referrals when job hunting. Interestingly, 58 percent of Gen Z candidates also rely on referrals, which may reflect this generation’s tendency to build connections online through social networks.
Managers are evenly split on the effectiveness of social media recruiting, with half indicating that social networks generate the most promising candidates. On the talent side, younger job seekers actively use social sites, with over half of Gen Z (58%) and millennials (59%) checking out social platforms when looking for work. Among more senior workers, on the other hand, social networks are less important than job boards like Monster.com. To capture the attention of employees, then, it’s not enough to simply target “social media” as a recruiting tool. Instead, employers must target the platforms most popular with each generation. For instance, Gen Z and millennials have different social habits, with many millennials preferring LinkedIn, Facebook and Glassdoor, while Gen Z typically prefers YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Customizing recruiting strategies for each generation gives employers the edge to attract the best candidates from each demographic.
Over one-third (39%) of managers feel staffing agencies are a great source for top candidates, and staffing organizations are also a preferred job source among baby boomers and independent contractors of all ages. Many younger candidates, however, do not use staffing agencies and may be unaware of the process or benefits of working with a staffing and recruiting partner.
Managers: What sources have you found typically yield the highest-quality candidates for your organization or department?
Employees: When you were last searching for a job, where did you spend most of your time or efforts?
most successful sources
sources most used
emerging technologies in the hiring process
Emerging interactive technologies, such as AI chatbots, virtual reality/gamification and even video interviewing are often heralded as the future of talent acquisition. Many HR professionals believe that AI chatbots will relieve recruiters from mundane and repetitive tasks, and some think virtual reality and gamification tools can improve candidate assessments and the hiring process. Video platforms like Montage, for example, facilitate a high-tech, high-touch candidate experience that can speed up and improve hiring outcomes.
Yet at this point, fewer than half of all managers find these technologies to be effective, and even fewer employees have actually encountered them during the interview process. Notable, however, is the fact that Gen Z survey respondents have interacted with these technologies far more than respondents from other generations. As employers look for innovative ways to compete for and build their reputations with young talent, they will need to find the sweet spot for combining these newer technologies with more traditional options that appeal to more experienced candidates. What’s more, all online job postings and company information should be developed for mobile viewing to make it easy for job seekers to research and apply for jobs from their phones.
When it comes to digital job searches, the incoming workforce is most likely to have experienced a fully digital experience, while nearly half (46%) of baby boomers have had no digital job search interactions. Nonetheless, older employees need to be prepared to participate in an increasingly technology-driven hiring process.
the hiring experience
almost exclusively digital
almost exclusively in person
skills assessments — a winning technology
In our study, online skills testing stands out as the most widely utilized screening tool, with well over half (63%) of managers currently using this technology. From an industry standpoint, approximately two-thirds of managers in manufacturing (68%), IT (67%) and finance and accounting (66%) report digital assessments to be effective screening tools.
mixing in the human touch
Even with the growing popularity of digital recruiting and screening tools, in-person interactions remain extremely important. Both hiring managers and candidates say the opportunity to physically sit down face-to-face allows job applicants to show their personal style, which matters when assessing soft skills and best-fit potential. In particular, managers credit in-person meetings with revealing if candidates have done their homework to research and understand the organization.
Job seekers believe in-person interactions during the hiring process may give them a leg up, too, with independent contractors in particular prizing these types of interactions. Savvy companies, therefore, should capitalize on the opportunity to blend a digital interviewing experience with in-person human connection.
keeping new hires in the funnel
The benefits of effective onboarding stretch beyond the three pillars of attraction, engagement and retention by enhancing team connections and communication, reducing employee turnover and improving business outcomes. Another striking benefit of a strong onboarding program is that it proactively engages new hires during the crucial window between offer acceptance and start date, a practice referred to as “preboarding.”
Automated marketing tools provide an easy and cost-effective option for boosting engagement with new hires who are waiting in the wings to join the organization. When integrated with digital channels, pre-written communications can be scheduled and delivered to new employees on a range of relevant topics, keeping the new opportunity — and your commitment to their careers — top of mind.
While a majority (62%) of managers say their organizations have policies for engaging new hires during this critical in-between time, nearly one-third (30%) of organizations don’t have formal processes in place. This can be problematic given that two-thirds (66%) of managers say they’ve had a new hire accept an offer and then back out before the start date. And there’s reason to believe this kind of behavior may increase in the future. For example, a full one-third (34%) of Gen Z respondents report they’ve accepted and then backed out of job offers, compared to only 13 percent of baby boomers.
Has a candidate ever accepted a job offer and retracted it before the start date?
Have you ever accepted a job offer and then changed your mind before the start date?
Does your company have a policy to engage new hires between the hire and start dates?
Because younger generations are particularly motivated to join companies that offer a good cultural fit, HR leaders can reap big rewards by making new hires immediately feel part of the team — and there are innovative mobile apps that can help with that. After all, first impressions count, and today’s technology tools can help companies make the right one.
onboarding: what's offered?
room for improvement
Our study found that only 25 percent of employees say their last onboarding experience was excellent, while one-third (34%) say the experience was good. Another third (33%) say it was acceptable, and eight percent rate their last onboarding as poor or very poor. Freelancers commonly experience poor (or nonexistent) onboarding — a missed opportunity for employers, particularly in light of the growing gig economy. By extending some level of onboarding to external talent, companies can ensure these team players gain critical insight into the organization, which ultimately can boost the impact of their contributions.
Our survey shows that younger generations participate at a higher level in onboarding programs than their older counterparts, with professional development taking center stage, including job shadowing and mentorships. Interestingly, manufacturing organizations offer the least amount of onboarding, which may reflect the temporary nature of many manufacturing jobs. Organizations that utilize temporary teams have an opportunity to reap the benefits of higher employee engagement by implementing onboarding programs that focus on the temporary workforce.
investing in training: a disconnect
While 70 percent of managers report their companies always or very often invest in employee development, fewer than half (47%) of employees report their companies do the same. What’s more, well over half (60%) of independent contractors say their companies rarely or never pay for training or development opportunities. That’s unfortunate, because effective teams require that all members work from the same assumptions and have common knowledge of practices and protocols. Technology can be very helpful in building a common knowledge base, especially when training is provided through webinars or online models. What’s more, allowing contract workers to access online training opportunities is a low-impact, cost-efficient option.
the learning edge
How often employees take advantage of training opportunities diminishes over the course of the employee lifecycle. Younger workers — 68 percent of millennials and 65 percent of Gen Z — exhibit the highest rates of participation in upskilling opportunities. However, as employees age, participation in learning programs drops to 58 percent (Gen X) and 48 percent (baby boomers). To help employees become more invested in professional growth, companies should review their training methods and consider the advantages of tech-driven training.
managers' companies: what training is provided?
Across the board, on-site employees receive more training opportunities than remote workers. Employees who work off-site report more access to computer-based learning compared to other methods, but in general receive fewer training and development opportunities than their on-site counterparts.
mobile learning: an opportunity in waiting
Mobile learning is not yet in the mainstream, but forward-thinking companies can jumpstart employee development by adapting training programs for mobile platforms. With the nearly universal adoption and increasing sophistication of smartphones, employees can engage in learning from just about anywhere. Providing training through various channels, including mobile, ensures more employees can access these opportunities.
how do managers' companies provide training?
Overall, a blended learning model, combining technology and in-person training, appears to be the most common approach at companies today.
technology in engagement and retention
The workplace has experienced monumental shifts in where and when work gets done. Technology has transformed the traditional in-office experience, leaving the boundaries between “work” and “nonwork” hours more fluid than ever before.
Powered by digital technology, teams today are able to define their own workplaces, without being tied to a particular location prescribed by the organization. Younger generations are particularly accustomed to being productive in nontraditional settings outside of standard working hours. They tend to view workplace flexibility as a natural approach to getting work done.
In our survey, 67 percent of managers and 50 percent of employees report their companies always or very often offer workplace flexibility, with the most common offerings being flexible hours and greater choice of attire. Remote work options are not as prevalent, but this dynamic is rapidly evolving in many industries, particularly those that build project teams based on skill sets, not location.
what flexibility options are employees offered?
Lack of flexibility is a top reason why workers leave their jobs. And while some companies, such as those within manufacturing and healthcare, are naturally more limited in terms of the flexibility they can offer employees, companies that are able to offer flexible work arrangements have an opportunity to strengthen employee relationships, improve talent engagement and retention and ultimately enhance their employer brand.
the impulse to stay connected — when you’re not working
Instant access to collaboration and productivity tools means both managers and employees may feel pressure to check in, even when they’re not officially on the job. And if employers aren’t clear about their expectations for after-hours communications, employees may not know how and when they’re expected to be “on.”
Asked how technology has impacted their work life, over half (56%) of all managers reported being unable to disconnect from work after hours. Over one-third (37%) of employees, too, have difficulty disconnecting from the workplace.
managers set the example of working after hours
The vast majority (87%) of managers check email after work with some frequency, while a mere 13 percent rarely or never check. On the other hand, far fewer employees are keeping tabs on work-related projects and assignments after hours, with 48 percent frequently or sometimes checking in. Gender is a factor, too: Men (67%) are more likely to stay connected after working hours than women (59%).
But most of all, the impulse to keep in touch after hours correlates with age. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Gen Z employees check in when not on the job, whereas over half of Gen X (56%) and baby boomers (62%) say they rarely or never reconnect after they leave the workplace.
employees: who checks email/voicemail after work?
Employers and direct managers must set clear guidelines to ensure that employees aren’t left wondering when they should be available to their teams and managers. Our survey found that while 43 percent of managers’ organizations have established policies about after-hours communications, only 18 percent of employees say they are aware of them. This gap indicates that organizations need to not only define expectations, but also communicate those expectations to all employees.
When asked if their managers expect them to answer emails or take meetings after office hours, most employees (67%) say no. Interestingly, one-third (30%) of men feel they need to be available, compared only 18 percent of women. Out of the generations, Gen Z employees feel most obligated to show up online after hours, but that sense of obligation diminishes with age: Only 23 percent of millennials, 21 percent of Gen X and 10 percent of baby boomers say their managers expect them to be on call after hours.
take vacation — but please stay in touch
Some two-thirds (66%) of managers encourage their teams to take one- or two-week vacations once or twice each year, but employees may not perceive this encouragement in the same way. After all, just one-third (36%) of workers take at least one full week of vacation annually, and a full 20 percent of employees report never taking a vacation of a week or longer.
While managers may support extended time away, over half (53%) have some expectation that team members reply to business messages while out of office. A full one-third (33%) of managers expect employees to always or very often reply, and 20 percent sometimes want to hear back from employees who are on vacation. As a result, many employees (43%) feel compelled to always, very often or at least sometimes reply to managers’ requests while they’re on vacation. As might be expected, Gen Z is the generational cohort most apt to respond to work emails while on holiday. Over two-thirds (68%) of Gen Z employees at least sometimes respond to work-related messages while on vacation — and as with other connectivity habits, that percentage drops off among older workers.
For younger employees, the motive for staying connected is primarily professional advancement: 45 percent of respondents say they respond to messages after normal working hours because they think it’s good for their careers. One-third say they keep in touch because they love what they do and don’t actually mind dealing with work while on vacation.
too much connection?
Virtually all managers (96%) say they at least sometimes use technology to communicate and collaborate with co-workers during the workday. At the same time, one-third (32%) of managers say they overuse technology during the workday, compared to fewer than one-fourth (17%) of employees. Out of all generations, interestingly, Gen Z employees are the most likely to feel they overuse technology during the workday.
But what exactly does “overuse” mean? To help answer that question, we asked survey respondents to share more about their technology habits at work:
overuse of technology among managers and employees
Our survey acknowledged that many people find it easier to deal with work conflicts through words on a screen than face-to-face conversation. For example, the majority (56%) of both managers and employees say they prefer to handle sticky situations digitally. More women (57%) than men (48%) hold this preference as well.
At 60 percent, Gen Z employees are nearly twice as likely as employees from other generations to use technology for personal reasons during the day, while millennials far outpace other groups for playing on their devices during work hours. At 37 percent, managers showed the highest incidence of all respondents for going online for entertainment during the workday.
texting in meetings — who does that?
Lots of people, apparently! Our survey identified the following groups as top offenders when it comes to texting during work meetings.
employees who text in meetings
lead by example
Organizations must lead their teams to develop positive technology habits. When asked if their companies promote healthy technology habits, eight percent of managers and nearly a quarter (23%) of employees say they’re unsure. This gap highlights the fact that more guidance is needed when it comes to technology use in the workplace. Developing guidelines around the healthy use of technology can evolve into an important aspect of organizational culture and employer branding — and that, in turn, can help with recruitment, engagement and retention.
the great task takeaway
Our survey found that, while technology makes people more productive, employees still have to do tasks they don’t like.
how has technology impacted your work life?
Across the board, most people credit technology with making them more productive (87% of managers and 81% of employees), increasing workplace engagement (85% of managers and 76% of employees) and strengthening team relationships (82% of managers and 69% of employees). Well over half of all respondents (76% of managers and 68% of employees) praise technology for delivering greater work-life balance, to boot.
However, when it comes to eliminating unpleasant tasks, most people feel there’s more that can be done. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of managers completely or somewhat agree that they can turn over undesirable work to technology, yet only 53 percent of employees agree. Gen Z workers are the most enthusiastic about technology’s capacity to eliminate mundane tasks, with 69 percent completely or somewhat agreeing — a prospect of which only 43 percent of baby boomers are convinced.
technology accelerates work, but may inhibit strategic thinking
Constant connection creates a need for speed and often rewards employees for getting things done quickly. However, this also promotes less strategic decision-making, which can negatively impact business outcomes.
To look at this aspect of our always-connected world, we asked managers if their employees take immediate action when situations arise — as opposed to, say, pausing to consider long-term strategy or the big picture. A resounding 79 percent of managers responded in the affirmative. Employees tend to privilege immediacy over strategic action. Additionally, all generations feel that technology increases the need to be more action-focused and less strategic.
To help combat that, Jim Link, chief human resources officer, Randstad North America, suggests that today’s managers must lead toward decompression by providing opportunities and tools that allow teams to slow down, think holistically and build their strategic “muscle.”
All generations indicate that technology encourages immediate action over strategic thinking:
reputation matters … a lot
With the growing popularity of online company review sites like kununu, current and former employees have an open mic to reveal what it’s really like on the inside of an organization. These reviews not only help shape a company’s brand — for better or worse — but directly impact candidate behaviors, namely whether or not people decide to join the organization.
For example, our survey found that over half (57%) of employees won’t even apply to companies with negative reviews. Surprisingly, however, only one-third (34%) of managers recognize how significantly these unflattering ratings impact their ability to attract candidates. It seems managers don’t see the connection between negative reviews and talent outcomes, with a full two-thirds (66%) stating that poor ratings have some, little or no impact on successful recruiting.
If candidates can be truly moved into action or inaction based on how many stars a company receives online, employers must consider offboarding as integral to their reputation management and talent acquisition strategies. Strategic and well-implemented offboarding procedures have the power to transition departing workers into brand advocates and can help companies maintain a robust talent pipeline that includes former employees.
Our survey shows these final employer/employee discussions are usually done in-person, either with HR or the employee’s direct supervisor. However, nearly half (45%) of employees state they have never had an exit interview, indicating that this strategic approach to offboarding is underutilized.
Few companies automate their exit interviews, but a digital platform can provide a cost-effective and data-driven method of gathering input from departing employees. Of course, digital exit interviews have limitations when compared with face-to-face interactions where employees can address subtle nuances or discuss feelings and gain a sense of closure — which is why combining an in-person interview with tech-enabled inputs is probably the best approach.
Trends show that so-called “boomerang” employees — employees who return to an organization after working for another company — are increasingly common. Sixty percent of managers report their organizations are open to boomerang rehires, and a strong majority (80%) of employees are very or somewhat likely to return to a former employer. Just 20 percent of workers say they’re unlikely to go back to a former place of employment.
Given that most employees would consider returning to a former workplace, organizations can take advantage of digital opportunities to maintain contact with past employees. Online talent communities and alumni groups can help keep former employees in the fold, both as brand ambassadors and as part of a future potential talent pool.
technology provides a personal link
Social media is a powerful tool to help companies stay connected to alumni, with Facebook being the most utilized platform, followed by email and LinkedIn groups.
the silver lining in layoffs
When organizational change requires workforce restructuring or layoffs, leaders have notable — and often overlooked — opportunities to reinforce employee relationships during a difficult time. Providing tangible support to workers as they transition out of jobs has the potential to improve morale across the enterprise, protect the employer brand and strengthen the long-term talent pipeline. However, our research shows that most companies offer limited support to workers during layoffs.
provide after a layoff
There are also talent mobility and outplacement partners like RiseSmart that offer innovative technology solutions to help organizations positively navigate workforce realignments and give employees tools to support job or career transitions.
A comprehensive offboarding strategy should take into account the ramifications of a layoff to relationships with talent — both from within the organization and from without. When approached with the goal of impacting the full employee lifecycle, what had been the “end” step of the offboarding process becomes the first step in a new, longer-term relationship.
Research findings are based on a survey conducted by VIGA across the U.S. between December 7 and 14, 2018. For this survey, 1,202 employees and managers were asked general questions to explore the impact of technology on the employee lifecycle. The study targeted HR managers, line managers and employees with no management responsibilities. Respondents were recruited through a number of different mechanisms and via different sources to join the panels and participate in market research surveys. All panelists have passed a double opt-in process and completed on average 300 profiling data points prior to taking part in surveys. Respondents were invited to take part via email and provided with a small monetary incentive for doing so. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 2.8 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.
Randstad North America, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Randstad N.V., a €23.8 billion global provider of flexible work and human resources services. As a trusted human partner in the technology-driven world of talent, we combine the expertise and passion of our employees with some of the most innovative HR technologies on the market today to advance the careers and business success of our candidates and clients.
Randstad’s North American operations comprise over 5,700 associates and a deployed workforce of more than 100,000 in the U.S. and Canada. In addition to staffing and recruitment, Randstad offers outsourcing, consulting and workforce management solutions for generalist and specialist disciplines, including technology, engineering, finance and accounting, clinical and non-clinical healthcare, human resources, legal, life sciences, manufacturing and logistics, office and administration and sales and marketing. Global concepts available to North American client companies include RPO, MSP, integrated talent solutions, payrolling and independent contractor management and career transition services. Learn more at www.randstadusa.com or www.randstad.ca.
about future workplace
Future Workplace is a HR advisory and research firm preparing leaders for what’s next in the future workforce and workplace. Future Workplace works with heads of talent acquisition, talent management, human resources, corporate learning and diversity to prepare them for the disruptions impacting recruitment, employee development and engagement. Future Workplace is host of the Future Workplace Network, an Executive Council that includes heads of Human Resources, Corporate Learning and Talent Management, who come together to discuss, debate and share “next” practices impacting the workplace and workforce of the future. For more information, please visit: http://www.futureworkplace.com.