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Nearly half of customer experience (CX) employees globally say they hate the time pressures, inconsistent expectations, and health and safety concerns related to their jobs. They crave clearer expectations, better working relationships and more support.
And new research shows employers are beginning to respond to those preferences.
Roughly 74% of 800 global CX leaders surveyed by MIT Technology Review Insights for a new research report say their organizations are providing CX employees with access to mental wellness tools and resources. They’re also aiming to become more flexible — offering job sharing, four-day workweeks, hybrid working and access to co-working centers.
Despite these efforts, the research found that for 75% of organizations, low morale/engagement among CX staff is a top challenge. Too many companies aren’t making enough effort to create an environment that fully supports CX employees’ well-being.
What factors are most important to customer experience employees regarding their well-being at work? A Valuegraphics Project survey of 16,000 contact center agents worldwide discovered that relationships, health and well-being, as well as belonging at work, are all high on the list of personal values. And one powerful way to address those needs while increasing engagement and retention is to create a culture of belonging — where employees feel heard, understood, supported and valued.
A culture of belonging is foundational to building relationships, ensuring well-being and providing meaningful support to contact center employees. Eric Thomas, Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Genesys explains that a culture of belonging is one where employees can be their best selves and show up in an authentic way, no matter their background.
“If I can come to work and be my best self, I’ll be engaged, excited about what I’m doing, and excited about how I’m contributing to my organization’s abilities to hit its goals,” said Thomas.
“Contact center agents are there to provide your customers the best experience possible. And if they’re not feeling engaged or if they don’t feel a sense of belonging, that contributes to how they show up with customers,” he added.
As a contact center manager or supervisor, it’s essential to understand the diversity of your team and have an appreciation for each person’s unique lived experiences and background, explained Thomas. This enables leaders to better accommodate their team’s needs, treat employees with empathy, and provide more equitable opportunities and solutions.
Doing this doesn’t have to be difficult. Many managers already use emotional intelligence to understand how different employees are motivated. Then they use that information to engage and inspire them.
In a culture of belonging, CX leaders also need to view employees through a diversity lens and consider their backgrounds when determining the best ways to motivate and support them.
CX employees long for camaraderie and collaboration. And diversity builds community.
Thomas explained that when someone feels like an outsider — an “only” in a group where everyone else is alike in an obvious way — it creates loneliness and stress.
“It puts that individual in a position where they feel they have to be on guard against microaggressions, whether intended or not,” he said. “And it inhibits that person from showing up in their best way.”
Conversely, a diverse organization emboldens employees to be their most authentic selves; have a relaxed frame of mind; and become more collaborative, engaged and innovative. They’ll be more positive and productive individually — and as a team.
And within that culture of belonging, these diverse employees also can find common beliefs, connections and challenges to further unite them.
David Allison, founder of The Valuegraphics Project, recommends identifying a team’s shared values and using them as a rallying point. The Valuegraphics survey found, for example, that personal responsibility — taking ownership of their success in the workplace — is the number one shared value of contact center agents globally.
When employees from diverse backgrounds see they have shared values, they see connection points. “They’ll think, ‘Now, I can see what we have in common and how we’re connected’,” said Allison, adding that this makes employees feel more united and collaborative.
Managers don’t have to do all the community-building. Some of the most powerful communities are built by employees — for employees. The most common are employee resource groups (ERGs), which Thomas defines as self-organized groups that come together based on a shared affinity or common set of beliefs or challenges.
Not only do these groups build community and inclusivity for members and allies, but they also help create connections throughout a company.
“ERGs can play a critical role in educating the broader organization on the different lived experiences of different groups, as well as provide opportunities for colleagues to help one another enhance their competencies and traverse their career path,” said Thomas, adding that he’s seen attrition drop when organizations support and enable ERGs.
For many CX leaders, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of community at work, particularly with the shift to remote working.
“We’ve built empathy muscles that we need to keep working,” added Thomas. “We’re using collaboration tools to support ERGs and work teams. We’ve provided more flexibility. And we’ve found new channels of communication.”
Employees now expect these provisions; the MIT survey finds that offering flexibility is the top benefit of hybrid and remote work — and it’s a great way to retain employees. They expect a more humanistic approach, like time to recharge so they can show up for customers in the best way possible. And they want open lines of communication and expect to be valued for their unique contributions.
“This is one of those moments where you need to recognize that different people look at the world in different ways,” said Allison. “If we’re going to create that culture of belonging, and be truly inclusive, we also have to be truly equitable.”
Understanding employees’ diverse backgrounds and experiences, as well as the values that unite them, creates a powerful foundation for a culture of belonging. In that environment, employees excel, customers are delighted — and companies see their humanity pay off as real business results.
A version of this article was originally posted on Customer Experience Magazine.
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