How we apply the Employee Experience model for a happier workplace at Zone

9 min readSep 22, 2022

Zone’s Employee Experience (EX) Strategy team — Harriet Bucklow, Jacquie Leitch, and Joss Anderson — discuss what happiness at work means and how Zone applies an experience-led approach when creating the feel-good factor for its own employees.

Happiness has a huge positive impact on people at work, and a wealth of evidence demonstrates that happy employees are up to 12% more productive than those who are not. There is also a positive correlation between happiness and creativity at work and affective commitment; when employees stay in a job because they feel emotionally attached to the company culture, the people, or the work itself, it can drive employee retention — a top priority for many businesses right now.

But happiness is a largely subjective concept. We all have different personalities, motivations, and expectations, and we are at various stages of our lives and careers. What makes one person happy also may not make another person happy — so how do organisations create working environments and practices that will suit everyone all the time?

The Meaning of Happiness at Work

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” In his book Flourish, Martin Seligman, a pioneer of positive psychology, has identified five core elements of happiness and well-being in his PERMA model. PERMA stands for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. Seligman notes that while there may be some variation across individuals, these elements are universal regardless of a person’s age, life stage or circumstance and that it is natural for people to continuously seek what makes them happy.

For many of us, work plays a significant role in our lives, but there are other dimensions to consider as well: our health, family relationships, finances, and our contribution to wider society. Our internal “happiness calibration” mechanisms take all these into account, and those organisations that recognise this and enable their people to integrate all these aspects of work and life will be the ones to attract, engage and retain their employees.

How Zone Creates a Happier Work Environment for Employees

As an experience consultancy with a dedicated Employee Experience Strategy team devoted to supporting our clients to build employee-centric workplaces, we understand the vital role happiness plays at work — not just for our clients but for our own people. We share some strategies we’re working on at Zone to ensure our employees have the best and happiest experience at work.

We make our people feel welcomed and included

Ensuring our people feel welcomed and included is woven into the fabric of our business. It’s not just written in our values; it’s part of our DNA. Cultivating a sense of belonging and inclusion are hugely important to ensuring our people feel valued (and happy) at work and is something that we are committed to continuously improving at Zone.

Zone consists of a diverse workforce with varied opinions, backgrounds, and ways of thinking, and we actively seek this out in a fair and inclusive interview process. We’re also proud to have a history of supporting people’s early steps into the industry, and just last year hired 12 apprentices across our Engineering, Design and Delivery capabilities. Hiring is just the beginning of a continuous journey to ensure our people feel welcomed and included and is followed by an onboarding experience that aims to give new employees optimum encouragement, motivation, and support.

We’re developing a series of initiatives to demonstrate our commitment to new employees before their first day at Zone. We ensure Zoners (what we call our staff) feel prepared, ready to start and valued, not only by their team but by the entire business, through orchestrated moments of celebration and learning opportunities to support their understanding of how their role fits into the wider business and our parent company (Cognizant). We also facilitate connection through a buddy system so that new starters begin building their networks from day one, can easily find the answers to their questions through curated content on our systems (e.g., training, checklists and how-to guides), and finally, they feel excited to be a Zoner!

Sadly, orchestrating an exceptional onboarding experience is often overlooked by many businesses. According to a report from Gallup, only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organisation does a great job in onboarding new employees. By contrast, effective onboarding has promoted feelings of strong connectedness at work, and those who receive this experience are 30 times more likely to have high job satisfaction.

We listen to our employees and give them a voice

Very few organisations foster open and productive debate and conversation between their employees and leaders. But Zone believes it’s impossible to commit to building a fulfilling work environment without the input of our people. We go beyond the obligatory engagement and pulse surveys to really engage with our teams and understand what they want and need, their pain points, and what delights them about working at Zone. We prioritise getting to know the individuals that make up our unique organisation to show that we trust and value their opinions in decision-making and company progression, such as by asking the right questions to understand what happiness and well-being means to them to help us implement the right initiatives to promote these feelings.

We have a rotating group of Zoners known as ‘The Round Table’, who provide a listening forum and safe space for employees to share ideas and concerns through anonymous feedback forms, email, and in-person or video-call conversations. These discussions ensure our leadership team are well equipped with the knowledge to implement solutions to create a happier workplace for employees. The Round Table monitors and shares progress on these actions, closing the loop to maintain progress. Our leadership team make themselves available to every Zoner to listen and understand.

Employees discussing and planning with sticky notes on board

We are flexible beyond just working from home

Our Zone Employee Experience Strategy team co-create with our clients to achieve moments that matter in the everyday working life of employees.

According to the Future Forum in July 2022, within the knowledge workers community, 80% of employees want location flexibility, while 94% want schedule flexibility. Post-pandemic has also seen personalisation and choice becoming more prevalent in employee engagement offerings with associated satisfaction and loyalty. This flexibility manifests in choosing certain company-enabled benefits that match lifestyle and outlook, such as working at a time and place that is best for the employee and business or client, or having the right equipment and tools that support productivity, no matter where or when employees work.

At Zone, we have a history of working flexibly, even before the pandemic. We have Zoners who work predominantly for one client to gain a deep, intuitive, and enduring understanding of client culture. Some of our team work in concentrated sprints or workshops to gain a deep dive into a specific client problem or opportunity: we call these accelerators. There are also Zoners who work in multi-faceted teams building relationships across many disciplines, countries, cultures, and time zones.

This flexible mindset, combined with our listening strategy and manifestation of our purpose, is how we blend business and personal needs. Rather than lead with when and where employees work, we focus on what our people achieve and what they accomplish, with and for our clients. Our listening strategy helps us to iterate our approach, hear about what choices our employees value, and measure which elements of personalisation and choice are having the greatest impact on the happiness of our teams.

We encourage our employees to have fun

The positive emotion of having an informal chat and having a laugh with colleagues at the end of a busy day is cherished by many workers. A way to decompress, gain perspective, and engage with others is an enormous part of belonging that goes beyond being part of a work team. Lockdown and remote working, however, tested ingenuity to create spaces to authentically engage, especially as there was a real wish to connect in-person. Yet, for many, returning to the after-work pub scene now feels humdrum, or shall we say ‘pre-pandemic’, as the pandemic has inevitably transformed company culture. It’s apparent that what some people consider “fun” does not appeal to others, which can sometimes make employees feel isolated.

At Zone, we know that social belonging is a fundamental human need, and we are reimagining our work environment to enable events and interactions where we choose to be together. We believe that promoting eudaimonic well-being through encouraging connections at work is an important part of the feeling of belonging and happiness at work.

We use our customer experience methodologies in an employee experience context to gather data, opinions, and perspectives to help create key principles to design the work experience that Zoners desire. We have also generated a lot of ideas to build multi-faceted opportunities for connection and belonging; that’s the beauty of working with creative, solutions-driven people. We constantly listen, measure, iterate, and try new ideas because we are serious about fun.

We provide real opportunities for our people to grow

One of the most crucial elements of employee experience is opportunity for growth, development, and progression. According to Gallup, 60% of employees say that the ability to do what they do best is important to them and in line with Seligman’s PERMA model (mentioned above). A key aspect of workplace happiness involves having meaningful opportunities for continual learning and skill development, enabling employees to capitalise on their strengths and build their careers simultaneously. Our Growth Framework sets out the skills and knowledge people need to succeed in their roles, and provides employees with a practical tool to help decide what to base development conversations on with their managers.

We see development not only about improving job-related knowledge and skills, but also as a driver of engagement. When employers give people the freedom to choose and develop in directions that interest them personally and professionally, they feel empowered to take responsibility for their growth and progression.

As part of the Cognizant family, Zone employees have access to a vast learning library, which includes on-demand eLearning, webinars, and workshops on a wide range of topics. Employees can create their own personalised learning paths, allowing them to curate content that is relevant to their development needs and interests. We are working hard to connect people to the right information and tools to enable them to take an active role in managing and developing themselves and their careers.

At Zone, we deliver exciting, innovative client projects and endeavour to match people to projects based on their interests as well as their competencies. Project teams built this way create real opportunities for people to learn and grow from each other, cross-pollinate ideas, and deliver excellence. In addition, strategy and design masterclasses are held regularly as a form of experiential learning whereby people can hone their craft, share knowledge and experience, and network with peers and leaders in an atmosphere of “serious fun.”

What Zone Want You to Know

Creating a positive EX isn’t easy, but it’s foundational to happiness at work and business performance. At Zone, we realise it’s a continuous work in progress, and that’s why we are dedicated and persistent in putting EX at the forefront of what we do. We take the happiness of our own employees just as seriously as we do our clients.

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