Create A Meaningful Employee Experience: Workday’s Global Impact & Employee Life Team

Employee Experience (now called EX) has become one of the biggest priorities in business. Faced with skills and people shortages in every industry, companies are bending over backward to make employees’ lives better. And this has set off an enormous industry of consultants, tools, and books focused on the topic.

Let me give you a hint: this is not a “problem to be solved,” but rather “a journey to undertake.” An EX program starts with a certain focus, then it expands to more areas over time.

Employee Experience is a Journey, not a Solution

We must also remember that “employee experience” problems in one part of the company are different from those in another. Take the example of a global beverage manufacturer:

The sales teams had problems with online ordering, road fatigue, and poor internet coverage. The Mexico-based manufacturing employees had problems getting basic first aid and medications at work. And the German software and engineering organizations needed better solutions to enable older workers to perform. Each needed different types of workplace solutions.

The problem is not one of simply “buying a new system” or “building a new onboarding program.” It takes a continuous effort, and must be addressed with local solutions not just corporate programs.

As I’ve studied this space, I want to point out three important findings.

First, EX is not an HR problem – it’s a company problem, one that must be addressed by HR, IT, Finance, Facilities, and often Safety and Operations. And the problems are local, so they have to vary by workgroup, location, and business unit.

Second, EX solutions must be human in focus and far-reaching in scope. They cross all aspects of HR and daily work life.

Facebook, for example, provides a one-stop concierge for all employee issues (from a broken PC to fertility problems) and offers valet parking. ING Bank has created a platform to teach people the ING Way of Working, which includes education in agile and day to day work practices.

Coca Cola studied their employee experience (using ONA technology from Microsoft) and found that managers were wasting as much as $24 Million a year on overlapping talent reviews so they simplified the process. And companies like LinkedIn, Nestle, and IBM are rethinking how they create an “Employee Voice” so they can identify new issues and solve them in days, not months.

Third, EX solutions evolve. You start with one problem, and then you build a larger team and focus to expand.

This the focus of my story. Let me explain.

The History of Workday Foundation, Well-being, Citizenship, and Employee Life

Workday has become an iconic company. Not only have they disrupted the HR Tech market, but they are also a large organization ($4 billion in revenue) now growing at nearly 30% per year. Workday competes for the best talent in Silicon Valley, so from early on the leadership team set out to make Workday “the best place to work” in the world.

I remember watching Dave Duffield stand up in front of 7,000 customers and say to their customers “You are not my most important priority, my employees are.” He understands that when the employees feel good, they take good care of the customers.

Software companies sound like great places to work, but actually they can be brutal. While there are no heavy boxes to lift or machines to operate, there are constant challenges in engineering, sales, marketing, and strategy. Customers are demanding and competitors are relentless. So if you build a software company you have to decide: are you a competitive, hard-driving, stay up all night type of place?  (the old Microsoft culture). Or are you a “feel good, develop people, work together” type of place?  And if you want to be the second type of culture, can you pull it off while you still compete with some of the toughest competitors in the world?

Workday competes with many of the world’s most successful software companies:  Oracle, SAP, Microsoft (LinkedIn), ADP, and hundreds of small companies. Yet when I visit Workday I find the place filled with smart people working hard, having fun, highly passionate about the company, products, and customers.

Late last year I had the opportunity to interview Carrie Varoquiers, the president of the Workday Foundation and vice president, Global Impact & Employee Life. I also attended her team’s global organization’s Local Leader Summit, a meeting of employees who volunteer in local offices to bring sustainability, volunteering, philanthropy, and wellbeing to workmates around the world. Their integrated organization is called “Global Impact & Employee Life.”

workday employee experience

This organization include the Workday Foundation, Workday’s sustainability programs, Workday’s wellbeing program, Workday’s employee volunteer programs, and programs for perks, fun, and celebrations.  It’s all about the Employee Experience. By bringing these groups together, Workday gains the flywheel of synergy. The company’s investments in “doing good” are coupled with employees’ desires to meet each other, develop a purpose at work, and contribute to their community in a healthy way.

This organization is sponsored by HR but led by 290 local ambassadors in 54 different locations. This lets each geographic team localize programs, making them highly relevant to employees and communities. The team in Boulder Colorado takes hikes and embarks on outdoor volunteer activities. The team in Paris gives to homeless shelters and contributes to local climate change initiatives.

This structure has enormous advantages. When an employee has an issue, they go to their local ambassador to get it addressed. If the problem is endemic across Workday the central team can create a new standard program. The global programs include wellbeing benefits, donations, and Opportunity Onramps®, a workforce development program for disadvantaged youth, veterans, and caregivers who have put their careers on pause. But as I listened to each geographic team present I realized they each built innovative programs of their own.

This federated model is a secret to Employee Experience. All these programs (wellbeing, citizenship, volunteerism) are both local and global. While global systems and tools save money and provide consistency, local programs let employees pursue their own passions and interests, creating customized career experiences.

How This Organization Evolved

Carrie told me the history of the Foundation, and I think its important to consider. She started at Workday five years ago, coming from deep experience in CSR programs at other large companies. Dave and Aneel, the founders of Workday, wanted to invest 1% of their pre-IPO stock into the foundation, so it became big pretty fast. She was tasked with forming a giving strategy unique to Workday’s start-up roots and HCM expertise, so the Foundation Board focused on workforce development with the aim of creating economic opportunity through skills development and career paths. 

Workday’s Workforce Development program is inspiring. It focuses on reducing income inequality and also helping Workday to hire. The Foundation provides grants to non-profit service providers supporting people who face barriers to employment, with a focus on careers in technology. They focus on people who may not have won the “Zip-Code lottery” at birth – people who have the capabilities to succeed but never had the opportunity to learn tech skills. Today the Opportunity Onramp program supports more than 130 veterans, mothers and fathers returning to work, and young adults from under-resourced communities.  Workday hires these people, relaxing degree requirements, and gives them internships, training, and mentorship to succeed.

As the organization grew, Carrie then focused on sustainability. How does a software company impact the environment?  Workday consumes massive amounts of energy in its data centers, so the company has pledged to be net-zero carbon neutral by 2021. They do this by using 100% renewable energy, purchasing carbon credits, and make sure that 100% of all waste is disposed of responsibly.

As this part of the Global Impact & Employee Life team got started, Carrie wanted to bring her passion for wellness to employees too. As those of us in California know well, without meditation and a focus on our own health, it’s hard to survive the relentless business climate. So, Carrie started a series of wellbeing programs focused on four areas: movement (getting up and moving around), health, nutrition, and happiness. Through the global ambassadors, these programs are localized in each city.

workday global impact and employee life

As you can see from this chart, wellbeing is coupled with emotional support programs too. Celebration and recognition, giving back, and sustainability programs are all considered part of wellbeing. After all, nothing makes you feel better about work than feeling like people really care.

What This Teach Us About Employee Experience

Workday wins a lot of awards for its employee experience. Late last year Workday was rated the #4 best place to work by Fortune. It was rated 14 out of the top 100 in Forbes Most Just Companies. They are #10 in Great Place to Work’s list of Best Workplace.

I visit the company regularly, and I’m always amazed at people’s energy, enthusiasm, and diversity. And this, of course, attracts great candidates, drives high levels of performance and attracts great customers.

Remember what I mentioned earlier. The essence of creating a great EX Is not just developing a fancy mobile app. It’s understanding the emotional, physical, and career needs of your people. It’s not a “solution” it’s a “philosophy,” and one that must evolve, blend, and extend over time.

I always wonder why Southwest Airlines flight attendants are in a good mood. I get on those crowded planes and always feel stressed, tired, and a bit cranky about the whole experience. Well, they, like Workday, believe in taking care of their people. And they empower local managers who understand what front-line workers need.  

The software industry is one of the most “people-driven” businesses in the world. When people don’t feel inspired, healthy, safe, and well trained – they cannot build great products. Workday’s integrated approach to citizenship, recognition, wellbeing, philanthropy, and sustainability is a model to follow.

I know you want to build a “wellbeing program” or a new “onboarding program” to focus on “moments that matter.” I encourage you to look at what Workday has done, think both global and local, and start on a journey that really makes work-life better.