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The emergence of the concept of Workplace Experience is probably now the single most important aspect in achieving sustainable success in the new world of work. Employee experience is now of even greater importance in the Workplace due in part to their role in elevating and maintaining the positive engagement of employees and providing a compelling reason to return to the Workplace even if it is only part-time.

How organisations treat their employees has an impact on how employees treat the company’s customers. It makes sense for organisations to treat their employees as customers (and possibly better than customers), as motivated employees will have a positive impact on their paying customers.

Employees need to be served too, but all too often the cliché “ our employees are our most valuable asset”  is spewed out by organisations without any solid evidence to back it up. If you really want to see how much a company values its employees; look no further than their Workplace.

So, the delivery of Workplace services need to impact on ‘employees as customers’

One of the definitions of a service is that the recipient of that service has to be present during the delivery of the service. So, for an employee to have an experience of the Workplace it holds true that they need to be present in that Workplace. This of course is a key question on most people’s lips right now in the ‘return to work’ debate.

So, two important questions arise

1.         “How do employees contribute to their own satisfaction in terms of the delivery of services?”

2.        “What is their ability and willingness to be able to help themselves to a great Workplace experience?”

Service delivery is a two-way street and poor service is often wrongly assumed to be the sole fault of the provider. Whilst the Customer (employee!) is always king …they are not always right!

In my experience, employee’s often misunderstand and underplay the distinctive and irreplaceable role that they play in either creating or detracting from their own satisfaction as well as the value they ultimately receive from the service. This is due to the fact that employees participate at differing levels in creating the service they receive and thus contribute either positively or negatively to their own satisfaction.

This is a thorny issue for service providers to address. In many cases, they have to rely on their Client’s employee to perform a distinct and pivotal role in the delivery of a service they are responsible for. Consequently,  they may be judged to have failed in the delivery of that service by the very same Client who is blissfully ignorant of their own employee’s role in the less than satisfactory outcome they complain about.

Despite this, the tendency exists for service providers to see employees, as mere recipients of the service not as a producer or co-creators in that service. In many services, employees themselves have vital roles to play in creating their own service outcomes.

In this article, I will present two frameworks related to employee participation in service delivery.

1.        The first framework examines three different levels of participation required of employees 

2.        The second framework presents three major roles played by employees in service delivery.

1)   Levels of Employee Participation

The level of employee participation required in a service experience varies across services as shown in the table below. The table captures the three levels of participation required giving examples of each type of service typical in Workplace services.

The effectiveness of employee involvement at all levels will impact organisational productivity and ultimately quality and employee satisfaction.

2)   Employees’ Roles in Service Experience

Within the levels of participation just discussed, employees can play a variety of roles.

These roles are not mutually exclusive, meaning an individual’s co-productive behaviours in a specific situation may apply to more than one of the three roles. So, elements of each role may be at play in any given service transaction

a)   Employees as Productive Resources

In many service experiences, the Client’s employee contributes inputs to the service in much the same way as a service employee does. The quality timing and scope of these inputs will impact the service providers productivity and consequent quality of the output generated. In this scenario, the Client’s employee effectively becomes a temporary member of the service provider’s organisation or a ‘partial’ employee.

For example, when an employee calls the service desk to report a fault or a service outage the employee is contributing information and effort that enables the service provider to identify the issue and location and to set in motion the process to rectify the fault. An employee is, therefore, part of the service production process.

If the employee provides accurate information in a timely fashion, the service provider has the ability to be more efficient and accurate in their corrective action. Thus, the quality of the information that is provided can ultimately affect the quality of the outcome and there will be less likelihood of a repeat occurrence, further increasing productivity.

Participation in the production of a service raises a number of issues for service providers. As we have seen the Client’s employees can influence both the quality and quantity of production and so the service provider could take the view that he should distance himself as much as possible from the employee’s input in order to reduce the variability that they can bring to the service process.

Ultimately this could mean that the service provider may seek to distance himself from direct contact with the employee so as to control the input and improve the chances of operating at peak efficiency. This of course does not bode well for greater customer satisfaction, indeed in this era of closer collaboration with clients brought about by the need to develop innovative solutions, this is anachronistic and likely counter-productive.

Service providers need to find a way where employees can be truly viewed as partial employees and where their participative roles can be designed to maximise the service creation process in both parties best interests.

If employees can be utilised to perform at least part of the service themselves in a uniform and predictive fashion then the desired organisational productivity and cost efficiencies can be maximised.

b)   Employees as Contributors to Quality, Satisfaction and Value

In the above example, a careful balance has to be reached whereby the employee is not imposed upon in order to actually create the service.

The role that the employee plays in the service delivery process is a huge contributor to their own satisfaction and ultimately the quality of the services they receive. The greater and more effective the degree of employee participation in the service the greater the likelihood that the employee’s needs are met and that the benefits the employee is seeking are actually attained.

Whilst service level agreements should be clear over roles and responsibilities for service inputs, in practice, it can be tricky to convince a client that their own employee’s inability to perform has resulted in service failure. But with potentially large monetary penalties at play, this can become a major source of contention.

c)     Employees as Competitors

In Professor Clayton Christensen’s book ‘Competing Against Luck’ he refers to non-consumption as an active competitor to consumption. In other words, an employee’s willingness to do nothing is a real competitor to the ability of a service provider to deliver competent service.

In the Workplace Management industry, it is unlikely that an employee is a total non-consumer of Workplace services. Clients have a choice of purchasing services in the marketplace or producing the service themselves either fully or in part and so become competitors in a very real sense to service providers. 

In the facilities management industry in South Africa only approximately 13 % of workplace management is outsourced to a service provider. In contrast over 90% of service delivery like cleaning and security are outsourced. So in a very real sense, the integrated FM service providers greatest competitor is not the other FM companies but very the client themselves who believe they are better equipped to do this work themselves.

One can only conclude that the outsourced FM providers have done a poor job of convincing clients that they are the experts and that they know best in how to manage the Workplace. They would be well advised to take the time to reassess what Client's really want in the post-pandemic Workplace and pivot accordingly.

People  I  Place  I  Performance

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