Renee Leon

Image license from Adobe Stock

If public sector organisations want to attract, retain and develop talent, leaders must improve the employee experience, Kathy Martin from Iceni writes.

In today’s fast-evolving public sector landscape, leaders face unprecedented challenges in meeting the accelerated demand for skills and talent.

Over the last five years, the focus on capability uplift and attracting, retaining and developing employees has dominated strategic conversations among leaders. At the same time, employees are still grappling with the exhaustion brought on by the peak workload levels experienced since the pandemic.

The 2022 Australian Public Sector (APS) Census results revealed that one in three respondents felt burned out by their work. This exhaustion has led employees to reevaluate their expectations of their employers. After tirelessly working above capacity for prolonged periods, they are less tolerant of inefficient systems and processes.

The rapid rise of technology and automation capabilities has also set new standards for smoother workflows and streamlined operations.

These challenges, as well as the impact of climate change and increasing rates of social isolation have led individuals to look for work that aligns with their value systems. As a result, organisations now face the task of ‘selling’ their purpose and integrity when advertising roles to attract prospective applicants.

The recent win by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) on behalf of APS workers brought significant improvements to APS workers’ access to flexible working arrangements. This includes removing caps on the number of days employees can work from home and recognising the significance of First Nations employees’ connection to country.

Now, more than ever, organisational leaders must understand and anticipate employee needs by focusing on and improving the employee experience. This will allow existing employees to use their skills and knowledge more effectively and attract the kind of capability organisations require to meet future demands.

What exactly is the employee experience?

Think of the employee experience as the journey an individual takes within an organisation, from the initial recruitment and onboarding process to their career development and performance evaluations.

It encompasses what employees learn, do, see and feel throughout their journey. It also includes the interactions they have with colleagues, leadership, stakeholders, systems, policies, processes, workplace culture, and their physical and virtual workspaces.

By mapping the employee experience just like you would map the customer experience, leaders can clearly understand their employees’ needs, expectations and feelings at each stage. This insight provides a basis for identifying areas for improvement.

Most importantly, using your understanding of the employee experience to enhance it creates an environment where essential capabilities like collaboration and innovation thrive. These capabilities are crucial in a world facing labour shortages, environmental crises, rapid technological advancements and global social issues.

However, the 2022 APS Census results revealed concerning figures: only 52 per cent of survey respondents believed their agency inspired them to explore new or improved approaches. Only 39 per cent felt that agencies acknowledged the significance of failure as part of the innovation process. These findings highlight the urgent need to cultivate trust and loyalty – the bedrocks for collaborative and innovative success – between employees and leaders.

How can organisations improve the employee experience?

Improving the employee experience requires a consistent focus and aligned approach from both strategic leaders and those who lead people to be effective. Here are some key steps to get you started:

Strategic leaders

  • Ensure your organisation’s purpose is clearly defined and integrated into your corporate branding to inspire and guide your employees.
  • Define your values as desired behaviours and make sure both your physical work environment and operational environment fully support these values.
  • Collaborate with employee groups to co-design inclusive workplace policies that cater to their needs for work-life balance. Embed these policies within your culture and ways of working.
  • Regularly review your systems and processes to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness, then identify and eliminate any barriers that hinder your teams from achieving outcomes.
  • Implement pulse surveys and feedback platforms to identify workplace culture issues and health and wellbeing concerns, then use this feedback to assess the effectiveness of any solutions you’ve put in place.

People leaders

  • Uncover unique strengths in your employees and leverage them to achieve optimal results in work allocation and project teams.
  • Cultivate a mindset of curiosity and continuous learning within your team by embracing ongoing development in everyday activities.
  • Create a culture that encourages sharing lessons learned and applying successful approaches to new situations or problems.
  • Create opportunities for social interaction among team members to strengthen connections and build a sense of belonging and unity.

Only by deeply understanding and focusing on enhancing the employee journey now will future-focused leaders and organisations overcome challenges, drive transformative change and achieve extraordinary outcomes in the future.