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What Do People Need to Thrive at Work?

A new generation of employee experience technology is helping employers create the conditions that low-income young workers—and, in fact, all of us—need to thrive.

March 31, 2021

At a Glance

A new generation of employee experience technology is helping employers create the conditions that low-income young workers—and, in fact, all of us—need to thrive.

Alex Swartsel Managing Director

What do people need to thrive at work? That’s one of the most important questions any employer can ask, especially when they’re doing business in an economic landscape upended by a global pandemic that’s reshaping how we all live and work. And that question is doubly important for companies that employ young workers from low-income backgrounds.

Too often, despite their immense talent, resilience, and promise, these young people face barriers that make it difficult to not just find, but also stay in, stable jobs that offer economic mobility. Losing or leaving a job after just a few days, weeks, or months can throw anyone’s life into disarray; it can be catastrophic for young people who have fewer resources and less access to supports than other workers. But when a new employee soars, lives and businesses alike can be transformed.

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Today, a new generation of employee experience technology is emerging to help employers create the conditions that young workers from low-income communities—and, in fact, all of us—need to thrive.

With generous support from Prudential Foundation, JFF took a deep dive into this fast-growing marketplace, identifying solutions especially well-suited to young workers from low-income communities and the companies that employ them. Along the way, we identified promising trends, emerging innovators, and exciting new opportunities.

Our research pinpointed nine technology segments in this dynamic landscape:

  • Performance management systems, like 15Five’s platform, that allow users to post and report progress on personal or team wide goals, provide feedback to peers or direct reports, and create templates and agendas for one-on-one check-in conversations or performance reviews.
  • Recognition and rewards platforms, such as the one offered by Zestful, whose team works with employers to design and manage formal or informal programs to acknowledge on-the-job achievements and personal or professional milestones.
  • Nudging and microlearning technologies like Eskalera, Humu, and Thrive Global, which support scalable approaches to learning and behavior change that infuse training and professional development activities into employees’ day-to-day routines through simple suggestions and bite-size micro-lessons that people can complete in the course of work.
  • Innovative systems such as Fuel 50’s talent platform that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to help employees spot pathways for advancement within their companies, uncovering vital information workers need to chart paths for growth with their current employers.
  • New platforms that are democratizing access to coaching and mentoring services, using algorithms to match employees to internal company mentors or outside coaches who are available to meet remotely at any time. BetterUp, Bravely, Imperative, and Tribute all offer these kinds of systems.
  • Best-in-class predictive scheduling tools like Sling, which set fair workweek policies as the floor and help employers understand the benefits of these practices for workers and the bottom line.
  • Innovative “total rewards” tools, such as those developed by WorkLife Partnership and Even Responsible Finance, which help employees lead more balanced lives, going beyond traditional compensation and benefits packages to offer access to trained resource navigators, financial wellness tools, transportation demand management platforms, and mental health solutions.
  • Groundbreaking employee voice platforms, including CultureAmp, that use AI to power more robust and more personalized assessments of employee experience.

While these technologies can be powerful tools for impact employers eager to do as much as possible to support young employees from low-income communities, innovators still have tremendous opportunities to do more.

We hope entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, and businesses will embrace the following strategies:

  • Design and deploy for and with young workers from low-income communities. Any employee experience tool is only as strong as the assumptions its developers are creative enough to make about the day-to-day lives, aspirations, needs, and potential of every employee. Vendors should seek out low-income young workers and members of other overlooked groups and invite them to share insights to ensure that their products fully capture the richness of all employees’ experiences.
  • Integrate capabilities to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), rather than treating these as “add-ons” or optional features. The rich analytics engines and learning tools embedded in human capital management platforms make it possible to infuse DEI goals and lessons into every element of the employee experience, from team dynamics to managerial relationships and individual and organization-wide performance goals. Systems with embedded DEI capabilities support much more effective approaches to this essential priority than those that only address DEI through a separate feature, filter, or “lens.”
  • Team up with local community-based organizations (CBO) to develop talent pipelines and supports. As my JFF colleague Mamadou Ndiaye writes, “CBOs typically serve as the ‘front door’ to opportunity for young people seeking to re-engage in education and training, and they are experts at serving youth from low-income communities.” CBOs can be essential partners in building and deploying solutions that really work for the young people they serve.
  • Invest in young entrepreneurs from low-income communities to build the tools they need. As the amount of capital and number of entrepreneurship opportunities available to businesspeople from underrepresented populations and low-income communities rightly begin to rise, we strongly encourage investors, incubators, accelerators, and others in the innovation ecosystem to actively look for young workers from underrepresented communities who have smart ideas about revolutionizing the employee experience. As we’ve seen in this scan, the insights they have to offer may be especially helpful for other young workers from similar backgrounds—and at the end of the day, they’re good for all of us.

Most important of all: Recognize that supporting employees to ensure that they thrive at work is all about empathy.

The more we can understand and relate to one another as people in the workplace, the more effective we’ll all be at work—and the longer-lasting and richer our connections to one another will become. For young workers from low-income communities, who particularly benefit from long-term relationships, tools that encourage the growth of human connections are especially powerful.

As we enter the second year of what has already seemed like an endless pandemic, it’s encouraging to think that there are tools out there that can help all of us work together to make work just a little more human. We can’t think of many other technologies that will be more important for the future of work, our economy, and the people they are built to serve.

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