Employee Experience in 2022 and Beyond: Q&A with David Ostberg, Medallia’s New People Scientist

Employee Experience in 2022

The world of work is changing faster than we’ve ever witnessed. Here’s what employee experience expert David Ostberg predicts will be the top priorities and challenges related to employee experience in 2022.

As business leaders try to navigate mounting challenges like increasing burnout, high turnover, and decreasing employee satisfaction and morale, many are trying to predict what current and prospective employees want and need from their workplaces. 

While the world of work remains uncertain, one thing is clear — leaders that stop trying to predict the unpredictable and simply listen to employees will be able to build personalized employee experiences to ultimately meet workers’ unique needs. 

David Ostberg, Medallia’s new people scientist and industrial psychologist, shares his perspective on how organizations can navigate the uncertain world of work to create employee experience strategies based on what employees actually want and need. 

Tell us about your background and why you joined Medallia.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been continually interested in science and human behavior. As I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life after college, I got a job in sales and started to see a few disheartening trends among my clients and coworkers: Almost everyone complained that they didn’t like their jobs, their managers didn’t know what they were doing, or the culture at their company was unhealthy and demotivating. 

I thought, “There’s gotta be a better way to understand what makes employees happy and productive and what makes organizations great.” And while doing some research, I learned about the field of industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology. Because I’m a bit of a math nerd, I wanted to focus on how to measure and predict employee behavior and job outcomes, and I earned a masters degree in I/O psych and a Ph.D. in systems science, the study of how to use data, modeling, and scientific inquiry to solve complex problems. 

Over the past 20 years, I’ve loved working in technology and having an impact on the world of work, and when I learned about what the great minds at Medallia were focused on —  harnessing the power of continuous feedback and behavioral signals to remove obstacles and improve experiences across both the employee and consumer domains, which are inextricably linked, I was hooked. 

What will change about the employee experience in 2022?

The world of work is changing faster than we’ve ever witnessed. We’re seeing entire industries reshaped, the way we communicate and collaborate shift, and traditional work models and the employer-employee relationship get redefined. Organizations that both listen and respond to changing employee needs during this time of rapid change will come out on top. 

One shift I expect is a greater focus on personalization when it comes to employee experience. This refers to creating a workplace that accounts for the unique needs and preferences of each employee and delivers a work experience that reflects that. Organizations can start by bringing together data sources from the employee lifecycle and business units to inform experience strategy. By combining things like people analytics, customer feedback, idea factory data, and IT and service data with employee experience signals, organizations can begin to understand the unique needs of individuals and different employee groups. 

For example, working parents have experienced unique challenges over the last 18 months. With the right tools in place, we can gather actionable insights into how to specifically support working parents and ensure they have what they need to succeed at work. Other personalized programs or policies may include personalized onboarding experiences, work hour flexibility, work perks, and more.

Aside from the ongoing pandemic, what other disruptions will have an impact on how people want to live and work — and what should employers do to be prepared to meet those new employee expectations and needs?

This is an important and challenging question. It’s challenging because none of us can accurately predict what significant disruptions are in store for 2022. What we do know is that the pandemic will likely still be raging over the next year, we will continue to see catastrophic weather events due to rapid climate change (and these can directly impact business operations, worker safety and physical mobility), and employees will continue to carry higher workloads and more stress than they did prior to the pandemic. While other unforeseen regional and global events may occur, organizations can prepare for the unknown and bolster their employee experience in several ways by:

  • Driving resilience and commitment by building a foundation of trust and clarity of purpose. These critical factors can only exist when leaders demonstrate they truly care about and empathize with their people and are aware of the stressors they are facing due to rapid change. 
  • Creating a culture of transparency and open, two-way communication. During times of unexpected change, many employees will experience high levels of anxiety and uncertainty. Leaders need to communicate more frequently and create channels for “always on” feedback, so people can share their frustrations and fears along with their successes and ideas for how to make things better. 
  • Offering timely, relevant action based on feedback employees provide. Implementing changes as a result of employee input demonstrates that your organization is responsive and that your leaders care about your people. When employees see even small changes happening, they feel more encouraged and valued and are thus more willing to keep contributing throughout turbulent periods. 

Thinking about employee experience in 2022, what should businesses start and stop doing in order to design an employee experience with the same rigor as customer experience and user experience practices? 

We often hear that leaders aren’t sure where to start when it comes to employee experience. The good news is many of those same leaders have a great blueprint that lies with their customer experience colleagues who have already successfully been doing this work. Though there are many important differences when it comes to customer and employee experience, they are inextricably linked. 

  • Stop guessing. Employees leave breadcrumbs — or experience signals — everywhere. With the right tools in place to turn signals into insights, leaders can begin to identify employee experience challenges and opportunities to inform a comprehensive experience strategy. 
  • Start investing. The customer experience discipline has seen major growth over the last decade. Companies have realized the value of investing in great customer experiences. Employee experience demands the same mindset and resource shift from leaders. Start investing in the people, the practices, and the platforms that can drive employee experience forward. 
  • Continue listening and responding. Many organizations we work with conduct annual or biannual employee engagement surveys, while gathering omnichannel, 24/7 customer feedback. Identify new listening opportunities based on the experience goals you’ve set. This might look like “always on” feedback surveys, employee ideation platforms, or sentiment analysis of performance reviews. Then, ensure you have a plan in place to enable continuous response — that is,  earning employee trust by taking quick, effective, and continuous action based on feedback and experience signals. 

In response to the shift to remote or hybrid work for many, how does our view of productivity need to change?

Multiple studies conducted over the last 18 months have shown definitively that remote work does not have a negative impact on productivity. In fact, employees that work remotely are just as, if not more, productive. As leaders begin to redesign workplace processes and policies in response to lessons learned since 2020, this fact, coupled with a clear demand for more flexible remote and hybrid virtual working models, cannot be ignored. 

First, leaders and people managers must evaluate any biases they may hold about in-office vs. remote work. Recent research from Gartner shows 64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home. Next employers need to rethink how productivity is defined and measured. Time spent on Slack and Zoom calls is not indicative of productivity. Instead, leverage asynchronous communication channels and platforms that allow you to support and assess employee progress in new ways. 

It’s also critically important to consider the diversity and inclusion dimensions of remote work. Some groups, like primary caregivers or people with physical disabilities, can benefit from more flexible work options. In one survey, Black knowledge workers reported a 50% boost in their sense of belonging at work once they started working from home. When created with input from and alongside employees — with a specific lens to D&I — new policies around hybrid and remote work can enhance employee experience and in turn productivity.

What’s one other top people-related challenge and opportunity you see businesses facing in the next one to two years?

As organizations continue to respond to changing employee expectations accelerated by the pandemic and demands for racial justice and pay equity, employees, investors, and consumers have called on organizational leaders to create more equitable workplaces — one where all employees are valued and feel that they belong. Many leaders have made ambitious public commitments and are being asked to report on progress to both internal and external stakeholders. 

Thoughtful organizations will continue to broaden their understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion using tools, such as text analytics, to uncover possible unconscious biases or pay gap analysis. Companies that are more progressive will dive even deeper to gain an intersectional understanding of access to and use of tools, systems, interpersonal relationships, and opportunities for development and promotions. The organizations that are best able to harness employee feedback and signals to move from promises to meaningful action and measurable progress will come out on top.  

Get ready for another year of change and unknowns — and insights on what to expect for employee experience in 2022. Download Medallia’s 22 Bold Predictions for the Future of Experience.