Employee Experience in Energy (Part 2): Embrace the Whole Human

In part one of this blog series we made the case for energy firms to strategically invest in their employee experience.1 North Highland’s strategic point of view of Employee Experience (EX) outlines 5 key principles that differentiate an organization’s employee experience.  In this blog we’ll share details about one of the principles especially relevant to the employee experience in the energy industry today—Embrace the Whole Human.

During the last 15 years, colleges and universities have seen a 50% decline in the number of graduating engineers2, a skillset that all energy companies require.  Couple that with the current aging workforce, and the energy industry is faced with a very real threat regarding the people required to effectively operate and innovate for energy’s growing global demand.  Unfortunately, just getting employees in the door might be the simpler part.  Disengagement was a theme seen in all U.S. industries last year as the majority of workers—50.8%—were not engaged in their work, and another 17.2% were actively disengaged3.  So, where are employers missing the mark?

We have to remember that employees are “more than employees.”  Each employee is an individual with a unique personal story that influences how they interact with the organization. When you think about it from your own personal perspective, this is easy to understand as we all have goals, schedules, activities and commitments that require our attention and focus outside of our professional lives.  When organizations take an interest in, and intentionally design experiences rooted in the notion of the whole human - a differentiated employee experience emerges.  Embracing the whole human provides employees the opportunity to have their higher-level needs satisfied while at and through their work.4

To deliver a differentiated employee experience, organizations need to develop empathy and rich dialogue with employees to understand their needs – both emotional and functional. While it can be tempting for employers to start with realigning benefits packages and adding more ‘perks’, that strategy fails to address the fundamental intent of Employee Experience – which is to improve the quality of the experience.  If employers begin by adding in more employee perks, they miss the opportunity to have real conversations with their employees and gather meaningful insights.  In addition employers are likely to spend significant resources without actually understanding what matters more to employees.  Benefits packages are not the fix to embracing the whole human—understanding the employee and designing human-centered solutions to improve the quality of their experience is.

For example, an upstream field engineer might value the opportunity to work a rotational schedule for 6 months out of the year over 12.  Perhaps the engineer is interested in a 6 month rotational schedule because they would like to pursue a graduate degree while remaining a full-time employee—a goal that would not easily be achieved in a remote field location.  It might not be possible for this situation to play out immediately, however, an employer could potentially lose a valuable employee by failing to understand the need.  In this scenario, engaging the engineer in a conversation provides them the opportunity to share their needs and the employer an opportunity to embrace the employee’s desire for continued education.  The engineer needs to build field experience, yet can also pursue a graduate degree that will prepare them for managerial responsibilities later in their career.

An alternative example displays the challenges the energy industry faces with an aging and retiring workforce and a gap in available mid-career professionals—often referred to as “The Great Crew Change”.  As highly experienced individuals leave the workforce, there is a risk that valuable information will be lost when they retire.  For an employee nearing retirement, there might be a desire to work a reduced schedule for a period of time, instead of exiting the company as soon as they are eligible to retire.  In this scenario, the retiree’s need might include a reduced work week and shifting the employee’s core responsibility away from day-to-day operations to one of knowledge sharing.  Of course, another employee in this exact situation might prefer to satisfy the same need in a different way, so the employer should seek to understand the individual(s) in this situation.

The candidate and onboarding experiences should also be top of mind.  With fewer engineers graduating and entering the workforce, the competition is higher for securing and retaining top talent.  Do your current recruiting and onboarding experiences have insight into what employees need, want and what motivates them during this stage of their journey?  Research can be conducted to understand the needs and motivations of employees, which can be used to generate a strategy for designing compelling candidate and onboarding experiences.

In seeking to understand employee needs, employers should engage a wide audience that includes present, potential, and even past employees.  By engaging in these dialogues, organizations can learn to lay the foundation for a more meaningful relationship with employees. Current employees are inclined to stay with a company that proactively addresses their needs, and new talent is attracted by the opportunity to be a part of an organization that embraces them as more than an employee. These dialogues build trust between employee and employer while enhancing engagement, resulting in higher-performing people and teams.

As we close out this blog series we’ll detail one more principle—Put Employees First—and provide suggestions for how it can be implemented.


1  Patel, Amisha.  (2016) The Case for EX in Energy, Part One. North Highland.

2 Bennett, A. (2014). Combatting the Utility Skills Shortage. Breaking Energy.

3 Harter J., O’Boyle, E. (2013) State of the American Workplace. Gallup.

4   Morris, L., Roylance, J., & Sherrell, R. (2016). Employee Experience Redefined: Driving Growth and Differentiation through a New Kind of Relationship, North Highland.