Employee personas: The what, why and how

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Bronwen Bartlett HCD, Design Thinking, The future, Employee Experience

The workplace as we have known it for the last several decades no longer exists, and it’s never going to be the same again. But there’s one fundamental thing that will never change: if you employ people, you want them to be as productive as possible. There are, of course, many ways to boost productivity, but most of them come down to one core principle – really understanding the humans who work for you.

Happy = Productive

We’ve all heard the expression, happy employees are productive employees. It’s not just a cute saying, it’s a stone-cold fact. Happy employees care more about their work and the company, are more loyal and more likely to innovate. They are also physically healthier, which leads to more productivity gains.

Yet, somehow, many people still report that they are unhappy in their workplace. In most cases, it’s due to their employer not understanding what they need and want. This lack of understanding can lead to employers adopting all the wrong ways to make people happy, without ever finding out what would really work.

Imagine, for example, that your team wants fewer unnecessary video meetings, because they find these to be a time-suck. Imagine then introducing a video after-work-drinks session, where the whole team can… stare at their screens while drinking? This isn’t a solution, it’s a misunderstanding of what your people need. It’s not a recipe for happy employees. 

Employee personas and the art of understanding

Employee engagement is absolutely vital to understanding what your humans need in order to do their best, most efficient work. You cannot expect to make your workplace, whether it’s remote or in-office, a happy one without it. But what if your workplace consists of hundreds, or even thousands of people? In that case, it’s not quite as simple as sitting down with every person individually to discuss their needs and wants.

Employee personas can help streamline the process of understanding your employees’ experience and making it better. An employee persona is, much like marketing personas, a fictional person who shares the same traits, desires, priorities and needs as a larger group of real people. Within any large company, you will find several such groups of people, who can be represented by these personas, and this can help you create a happier workplace experience.

Individual engagement vs personas

In an ideal world, company leadership would be able to sit down with every individual employee and gain an understanding of  their needs. If you own and run a small business of fewer than twenty employees, we, in fact, highly recommend doing exactly this. However, the bigger the company, the more impractical this becomes.

This is where personas become useful – they help to group people together based on a variety of factors, like demographics and workplace experience. A persona includes a detailed breakdown of this group of employees’ pain points, positive experiences, and overarching needs. This can immeasurably improve management’s understanding of what their employees need to be happy and therefore productive.

Once you have a better understanding of the personas that make up your workplace, you can more easily find solutions to their challenges. You can see trends emerge, similarities between groups, and even identify issues within management. But how do you go about creating these personas?

Getting personas right

Creating accurate, representative employee personas can be a challenge in and of itself. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because every workplace is unique. That’s why it is critically important to engage your employees along the way. You can’t create personas by guess-work, and you certainly can’t use a generic set. Your employee personas will be unique to your company, so that’s where you need to begin gathering information.

One of the most effective ways to collect and analyse the information necessary for creating accurate personas is an employee happiness survey. These surveys can help you pin-point the pain points your humans experience. Furthermore, it can sort them into the personas to provide a deeper understanding of solutions for these pain points. 

Remember that employee happiness isn’t something that can be fixed with a sticking plaster. It’s something that has to be worked on continuously, a conscious effort made by the company, management, and employees themselves. These personas are not static; they are dynamic and will change over time. That’s why you should refresh them regularly – just like you should monitor employee happiness regularly.

It’s important to remember that pain points and solutions may differ. That’s why we advise never trying to find just one solution. If you do, it will likely end up being a compromise that doesn’t really suit anyone. That’s how we end up with ping-pong tables instead of flexi-time!

At Tenaka, we believe happiness can be created by hearing what your humans have to say. Talk to us about engaging with your employees effectively and efficiently.

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