Unis that lift employee experience attract, retain, and empower prized talent

Male university lecturer looking at his Microsoft laptop in the lecture hall with students in the background

By Thomas King, Industry Executive – Higher Education, Microsoft Australia

Australia’s universities employ 128,000 staff and educate 1.4 million students. In recent times, there has been a significant focus on enhancing the experience of those students – in the same way that private sector businesses have worked to create compelling customer experiences – but I’d argue that it’s just as important to create exceptional experiences for staff.

There’s never been a better time for it.

Universities Australia has estimated that because of COVID and ongoing economic challenges, more than 17,000 jobs were lost from the higher education sector in 2020. It’s more important than ever that universities strive to rearchitect the staff experience and use modern technology to support new and improved ways of working.

The pandemic has accelerated the changing nature of work – we are now working in ways that we might have expected to experience perhaps by 2025 – but everything has been accelerated.

That has created huge pressure, anxiety and worry among university staff who are juggling the need to be present at work, at home and to manage a raft of competing priorities. Those organisations that can provide staff with valued workplace experiences – regardless of whether they are working on campus or at home – will set up a virtuous circle, because empowered, loyal and fulfilled staff deliver compelling experiences for students, which drives demand and fosters success.

In the same way that universities have polished the student experience by mapping student journeys and personas, they can do the same for staff. Consider the needs of teaching staff, lecturers, course conveners, program convenors, researchers, community outreach and community engagement teams, administrators, even the students who work part time on help desks – and ask yourself ‘how can I make their lives easier and their work experience richer?’.

Female university staff member assisting a female student working on a Microsoft Surface Studio computer

Universities are facing huge financial strain. By creating a better staff experience we can help people be more efficient, more effective, engage in meaningful professional development and learning, manage complex issues using streamlined systems, and grow their networks in Australia and internationally. Not only will they be set up for success, but they are also likely to be more engaged, less likely to switch institutions, and primed to deliver a better experience to students, industry partners, research collaborators and alumni.

There’s strong evidence backing this: research shows that 94 per cent[1] of employees would stay with a company if it invested in their learning and development; staff can gain up to 14 per cent[2] more productivity if they have better knowledge-discovery tools; and profits can be boosted 21 per cent[3] in organisations with highly engaged personnel.

Microsoft Viva has been developed specifically as an employee experience platform bringing together in one location all the features, functions and facets that will allow staff to achieve their full potential and get real satisfaction from their work.

Just like enhancing student experiences, this transformation doesn’t exist as a one-off project. Employee experience is a consideration that must become embedded in culture and processes. Success demands institution-wide commitment; helicoptering in a technology and hoping for the best won’t work.

But by understanding staff needs, defining their pain points and working with them, it’s possible to totally recalibrate the employee experience and provide support for everything from professional development and connecting with fellow researchers and academics, to compliance training. Broadly, employee experience hinges around four key areas, engagement, wellbeing, learning and knowledge.

Streamlining access to personalised content around those areas is important, so too are tools to support increasingly hybrid work expectations, and platforms that drive rich communications and collaboration with colleagues.

For universities focused on attracting and retaining the highest calibre staff – who in turn foster exceptional student, research and partnership outcomes – elevating the staff experience must become a priority.

[1] LinkedIn 2019 Workplace Learning Report

[2] https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?linkid=2153940

[3] https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?linkid=2153552

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