October 17, 2023

Why tech companies need to rethink their employee value proposition

Imogen Barber

Since Amazon, Google, and Meta announced mass layoffs, it seems like not a month goes by without another headline about tech redundancies. Joining the list this autumn are Qualtrics, Bird, and Talkdesk. However, a closer peek behind the numbers reveals that the picture is often more complex than it first appears. 

Large numbers of roles from commercial and business support functions are being cut in big tech. But when it comes to technical talent, companies are still facing a struggle to recruit from a very shallow talent pool. 

And with more recently launched tech companies coming to maturity, ironically the competition could increase. Gartner research from earlier this year reveals that 81% of CIOs expect to grow their IT team in 2023.

The talent shortage has implications for how tech companies attract, nurture, and retain employees.  Companies that invest time and effort into defining and improving their employee value proposition (EVP) can gain significant competitive advantage, even against more established players. 

So just what, exactly, do tech employees value at work? And how can you, as a people team leader, ensure your EVP reflects this?

🤝 The EVP: Your brand’s promise to its people

Your employee value proposition is just as important as your customer value proposition. It is, after all, the promise you make to your employees. It’s the reason they first decide to accept a job offer, it defines how engaged and productive they’ll be in their roles,  and is the reason they’ll stick around to grow with you. 

Defining your employee value proposition might not be easy, but it is essential. A strong EVP can reduce employee turnover by 69% according to Gartner and improve new hire commitment by almost 30%. 

Stacey La Torre, People Leader at Nextdoor, observes, “If you’re a fast-growing startup, there’s a big temptation to build the ship as you fly it. But there’s a lot of value in taking the time to define your employee value proposition.”

Your EVP should be what sets you apart from other brands. Stacey recognized that a key part of Nextdoor’s EVP, for example, was the ability for people to shape the direction of emerging teams and work alongside senior executives: "Even though Nextdoor has over 700 people, there are still opportunities to be on founding teams within the functions we already have. That's a key differentiator for some people." 

Reflecting on your company’s vital strengths and working out what needs to be changed, nurtured, or enhanced with an additional benefit or initiative is challenging. So where do you begin? 

A good place to start is taking the time to understand what you already do well. To do that, it’s helpful to get insights from your existing team on what they value about their work and the company. This will give you an understanding of what’s already working and where the potential areas for improvement are. 

❓Has what matters to tech employees changed since the pandemic?

The pandemic caused employees everywhere to pause and reassess how and why they go to work. First, that resulted in a flurry of post-Covid resignations that quickly became known as The Great Resignation. While the current economic climate means workers may not exactly be handing in their resignation in droves any more, the underlying renegotiation and scrutiny of what we really want out of work continues.

This has thrown the EVP into the spotlight like never before. And while salary still matters, it turns out so too do all the other things that are harder to quantify. A survey of 500 workers at tech companies conducted by Bain & Company at the end of 2022 revealed the top reason employees were looking for a new job was a lack of learning and growth opportunities.

“Our conversations with employees suggest a two-part decision process: dissatisfaction with their role may lead them to start looking, and once they do, they often find new jobs at higher salaries that help confirm their decision to move on,” explains Will Poindexter who leads Bain’s enterprise tech division, writing in Harvard Business Review.

Meanwhile research from Deloitte carried out earlier this year also revealed that flexibility, meaning, and purpose, together with the ability to chart your own career path were other key priorities for tech sector employees. 

✅ Making the intangible tangible: How to define and refine your EVP

The truth is that while the core of your employee value proposition might not change, elements of it will need updating over time.

When you’re working through your EVP, the temptation is to just add more material rewards. But without being able to show how they translate into meaningful company rituals or your wider purpose and culture, they can lose their potency.

As an example, consider the difference between simply advertising an individual learning stipend in a job description, verses implementing something like an online learning marketplace where employees can browse a vast library of books, courses, articles, audiobooks, and other e-learning materials.

In the latter scenario, the barriers to continuous learning have been actively reduced and employees are proactively encouraged to actually engage with learning and development (L&D) programs, use resources, and form learning communities. 

With this in mind, here’s our own take on some of the most important components of a modern EVP:

1. 🪙 Compensation and recognition:

Although this is still an important part of your EVP,  it’s certainly not where it starts and ends. And when it comes to rewards, initiatives are increasingly being tied back into your wider culture and purpose. For example, GoPro empowers people managers to send employees on adventurous experiences as a reward for behaviors that evidence their values.

2. 📈 Investment in continuous learning and career development:  

Employees want to see evidence of learning opportunities that aren’t one-size-fits-all and that help them meet personal career development goals - as well as specific upskilling requirements for the role. Unmind, for example, provides every employee with an individual learning budget. They can then choose how to spend that budget on Learnerbly’s online learning marketplace, which has resulted in a 400% increase in learning engagement.

3. 🙌 Being well together (and apart): 

This means not only offering wellbeing as a perk, but also encouraging employees to make use of the services and activities available. Companies are also looking for more novel ways to tie wellbeing activities back to rewards. For example, tech company Vanti gamified activities such as team walks at lunchtime and daily meditation, so employees could earn points towards social initiatives or perks. Providing this in combination with things like virtual doctor’s appointments resulted in 81% engagement with wellbeing benefits.

4. 🚀 Culture, purpose, and CSR: 

Culture and purpose are more important than ever when it comes to driving meaningful engagement at work. In fact, a feeling of greater purpose at work can triple intention to stay. Many companies are also taking a bolder stance on social issues. Yelp, for example, publicly came out against the overturning of Roe v Wade, while reducing the possibility of misdirection in its directory listings for pregnancy advice services and covering travel costs should female staff need to arrange an abortion.

5. 🔄 Connection and community: 

How employees feel connected to one another at work matters. According to a BetterUp study, 43% of employees don’t feel a sense of connection to their co-workers after the pandemic, but a sense of connection is a key commonality among companies with higher Glassdoor ratings. Creating a strong community is important for nurturing resilience and belonging, as well as building a network for career advancement.

6. 👊 Trust, transparency, and flexibility:  

Flexibility is still a huge draw after the pandemic. Employees value having greater control and clarity over when and where they work, particularly when it comes to working abroad or taking flexible parental leave. In the current uncertain economic climate, people value transparency more than ever before. They are also looking for signals that their employer trusts them and is invested in their long-term growth.

🧠 Key takeaway: Each company’s EVP combination is unique and not every single one of your benefits will fall under one of those categories. That’s perfectly fine! The important thing is that you challenge yourself to identify what in your offer makes your business truly unique or enjoyable for your employees. 

Using your learning proposition to stand out from the crowd

A strong learning proposition has always been essential for tech companies to stay ahead, especially given the strong business case for hiring smart generalists and the decreasing half life of technical skills. 

Yet the traditional top-down approach to learning is no longer enough to make people stay. As soon as employees feel they’re no longer growing in their roles, they may question what’s really in it for them.

If you’re hiring people for both their technical skills and their growth mindset, you want to keep feeding this and giving them opportunities to expand their knowledge. 

Here are some ways to do this:

Let people explore learning to navigate their own career development

Providing individuals with more flexible ways to grow within your organization might mean supporting lateral career moves, creating clearer pathways for both individual contributors and managers, or offering talent mobility programs for opportunities to work on different projects.

Whatever path people choose, supporting it with self-directed learning will signal your trust and investment in their future development. Employees should be encouraged to learn for personal holistic goals as well as to address short-term skill gaps. A relatively quick and easy win for small to mid-size tech companies is to provide access to personal learning stipends through an online learning marketplace like Learnerbly. This allows people to pick resources like books, audiobooks, videos, and more.

Interlace asynchronous learning with expert coaching

Many employees find value in coaching, mentoring, and reverse mentoring, especially for aspiring leaders, graduates, or first-time managers. The problem is that once the course is over, they often need more support implementing what they’ve learned, testing new strategies, and sharing results. This is where teach-back methods can help as well as learning communities, for example groups of first time managers. By making asynchronous learning resources accessible in parallel, people can dive deeper into the topics raised on courses and continue to learn and share knowledge in the flow of work.

Create a scalable and sociable learning culture 

Creating a great learning culture involves addressing structures and processes to create psychological safety, setting aside time for learning and incorporating it into personal reviews. But there are other tactical ways you can help embed learning into your organization. 

Signifyd, for example, who have a 4.8 rating on Glassdoor, has seen 95% of the business engage with learning materials made available through Learnerbly’s online marketplace. The marketplace helps with onboarding, knowledge sharing, personal development, and even supporting lateral career moves. Virtual book groups have been set up by colleagues with common interests and employees often send each other books to celebrate key career milestones.

So to sum up…

Fine-tuning your EVP is time well spent. The challenges of recruiting technical talent aren't going anywhere. And while you may not be currently inundated with resignations - just how engaged are your current workforce really? 

But enhancing (or indeed defining) your EVP will only be a value-add exercise if done right. That requires focusing on delivering initiatives that become adopted into your culture and shape how people actually feel about the work they do at your company - rather than just creating processes and schemes that nobody wants for the sake of it. 

Employees in the tech industry care deeply about career development and the chance to learn and innovate. That’s why many of us got into the sector in the first place. Offering an attractive, well-defined learning proposition that puts people in the driving seat of their careers is a clear differentiator in today’s market.

To find out more about Learnerbly or take a tour of the marketplace, request a demo today.

Make learning a key part of your EVP: Engage your workforce by aligning their goals to bigger company objectives. Watch the Talent Activation Blueprint webinar 

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