Taking an individual approach
People are individuals, but sometimes employers can forget to see them that way. We talk in terms of teams, workforces and staff – collective terms that require a singular approach, rather than focusing on individuals.
What do your people need to be happy, motivated and engaged, during their time at work with you? Well, they all need different things. People in their early 30s saving money for a deposit on a house have different concerns to new graduates going out at the weekend, or older employees approaching retirement. An employee suffering from stress or anxiety has different support needs to one excitedly planning their wedding, or next holiday.
It doesn’t stop at demographics… personality differences have a much bigger impact in the workplace than many employers expect. It’s simply not the case that everyone can work in the same way – some struggle to work in groups while others can’t focus on their own, some may dislike being monitored while others need reassurance at every step of a project.
Promoting employee health and wellbeing at work is a goal for many employers – but it can’t be done by treating everyone the same way.
Are employers failing their employees?
While research from PwC has found that 30% of the UK’s jobs are at risk of being lost to automation over the next decade and a half, and many employees may feel like it’s already here – except they’re the robots.
There are many simple facts of the average working day that can make people feel like just a cog in the machine – when too many of them combine in one workplace, it can make for an oppressive environment, where people lose their individuality.
One common example is over-the-top monitoring. Whether it’s a tracker in a company vehicle, highly scrutinised breaks, reviewing online activity and banning websites, or micro-managing every aspect of a person’s day, these tactics are often used under the guise of improving productivity – but it could be having a massive impact on someone’s ability to stay motivated. It shows a fundamental lack of respect for staff – so why should they return it?
Similarly, a failure to recognise the efforts of employees is a big part of what can make people feel as though they’re not treated as individuals at work. A person’s success is the company’s success, yes – but failing to take note of the individual contributions people make, whether that’s hitting a target or truly going above and beyond in their role, is a sure-fire way to ensure people don’t feel valued.
What should personalisation mean?
Having to behave in a way that is out of character can be incredibly stressful. For example, forcing yourself to work in a team when you prefer to work alone, or being discouraged from talking to fellow employees when social contact helps keep you refreshed and motivated, is very restrictive. Feeling as though your individual personality is stifled can be frustrating.
This is why it’s important that people are able to have a degree of flexibility in the way they approach work. Standardisation is important but, provided the end result is the same, people need some degree of control over how they get their job done.
A better understanding of a person’s personality can lead to a better understanding of the principles of what motivates and engages them. For example, employees with more practical personality types will be better motivated when they understand the practical reasons and outcomes behind what they’re doing. These people may prefer to have targets to hit, and will want to understand where their personal targets fit in in the context of the wider organisation.
Others, meanwhile, are more concerned with the impacts of their actions on others. These people may be less interested in sales figures and targets – which they may see as arbitrary – and will be better motivated by the ways in which their work will enrich the customer’s experience.
This leads into the reasons behind rewarding people – for some, receiving incentives for hitting their targets will be incredibly motivating. For others, rewards for good customer service will be valued far higher.
Personalised rewards and benefits
Giving rewards for the right reasons is one thing – ensuring rewards take the right form is another. For example, if you have a great deal of employees who identify with more introverted personality types, rewards that are overtly social in nature may not go down quite so well. People struggling financially will appreciate rewards that will help them save, but may feel anxious about the idea of travel-related rewards – which could involve spending money on new clothes, food, and so on – as they may not be able to afford to go, even if the flights and accommodation are paid for.
This becomes more important when discussing employee benefits – offering childcare support is a fantastic way to improve employee wellbeing, for example, but only for people who have children. Ensuring that benefits packages are well-rounded enough to provide support for a range of needs is an important part of helping staff to feel as though they are being considered as individuals.
The impacts of personalisation on health
A personalised approach is currently a key focus for the NHS, with health professionals increasingly recognising the importance of giving people independence and control over their own wellbeing. This can take the form of personal budgets, in which people are able to decide what support they access – often investing in services and equipment that will improve their health to the point where crises that require a great deal of emergency care can be avoided.
So far, the benefits of personalised budgets have included:
- People feel more in control
- Improvements in quality of life and psychological wellbeing
- Reductions in unplanned emergency care
- Increased satisfaction
It’s very easy to see how this principle can be applied to the workplace. When people are treated as individuals, with a say over how they are able to work, what benefits they receive, what form recognition takes, and so on, they’ll feel more in control – something that is essential for mental health and wellbeing.
And when people feel in control, and are able to take steps to ensure they’re as healthy as possible through the way they work, the knock-on effect is reduced stress, burnout, illness and, ultimately, absences from work.
The importance of structure and culture
Getting to know the ins and outs of the personal needs of every employee in an organisation made up of thousands of people is sure to be the worst nightmare of HR managers everywhere. That’s why it’s really important that this personalised approach is baked into the culture of an organisation at every level. Managers need to receive it from senior leadership, and in turn need to pass it on to their teams.
Again, we can look to the NHS approach towards personalised healthcare for inspiration, with health professionals making the following recommendations:
- Keeping the focus on the individual, and involving them in a meaningful way. Approaching everyone’s needs in a different way is a step in the right direction, but if you’re making the assumption on what that approach should be it’s one step forward and two steps back. Employees need to have their say in the workplace – and changes should actually make an impact.
- Things need to change on a cultural level. Personalising your approach to employee wellbeing will require a lot of change to the way you do things, and it’s easy to get so bogged down in the process of how this will happen. Instead focus on creating a culture where individuality is important, and the processes will follow.
- Take your time. Don’t expect things to change overnight – and once things have changed, don’t expect everyone to be on board with them straight away. Take things slowly, let things evolve naturally, and make sure that anything that already works well is kept intact. This is a long-term evolution in your staff culture, not a quick fix.