‘One size never fits all’: Why hyper-personalisation will change the way you work

Imagine walking up to your manager and saying, "Next year, I only want to work from home — or maybe even from a different city."

Or, "I want to work different hours because 9 to 5 isn't when I'm most productive."

Or, "I'd like to do more of A in my role and less of B."

These are all examples of the hyper-personalisation of work — and they may not be as out of reach as you might think.

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As companies work to attract and retain staff amidst a skills shortage in many industries, the 'employee experience' is increasingly important.

Aaron McEwan, vice-president of research and advisory at tech consultancy Gartner and a coaching psychologist, says many employers now have to sell the work to their employees.

"The balance of power has shifted towards employees. They've got a golden opportunity to say, 'This is what I want from this job. To what degree can you meet me here?'" he tells ABC RN's This Working Life.

The human connection matters in the employee experience: a recent survey by Gartner found 85 per cent of job candidates felt it was important to be seen as a person and not just an employee.

And this is where hyper-personalisation can play a powerful role.

Wait, what is hyper-personalisation?

Hyper-personalisation is usually associated with marketing products and services to individual consumers — think about how Netflix builds up a profile of what you like to watch and uses that to suggest content to you, or the way Spotify serves up new songs based on what you've listened to before — but it can also be applied to the workplace.

Allowing employees to choose when and where they work best can help them to feel happier and more engaged. (Pexels: Andrea Piacquadio  )

The pandemic gave many workers a chance to dip a toe into the hyper-personalisation waters.

The percentage of Australians working from home jumped from 8 per cent to about 40 per cent over the past two years, and this is expected to continue at high levels after the pandemic ends.

If you have worked from home, think about the way you were able to customise your workspace — choosing to sit or stand, to be in a quiet space or play music, to decorate your desk with plants or photos, or take breaks when they suited your work-flow. That's hyper-personalisation.

It's a shift away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the past, where the work is designed (complete with open-plan offices, fluoro lighting, 9am starts and a five-day work week) and then people are squeezed into it.

Job crafting can lead to greater happiness and job satisfaction, according to researchers. (Pexels: Anthony Shkraba  )

But one size never really fits all.

So, instead of trying to change ourselves to fit into work, hyper-personalisation offers a chance to ask how we might change the work to better fit us.

It will look different for everyone but it can include having more choice about when and where you work, the type of work you do and how you do it, and how you communicate with colleagues and managers.

"It's about doing the right work, at the right amount, at the right pace, at the right time, in the right location," Mr McEwan says.

It can also involve employees having greater choice in their benefits (dental care vs leadership courses vs yoga classes, for example), being able to customise their work interface and technologies, and having access to personalised development programs.

'When we do this, everybody wins'

Mr McEwan believes hyper-personalisation can help tackle many endemic problems in the workplace, including issues around gender, accessibility and inclusion.

Workplace neurodiversity specialist Emily Russo points to the example of workplaces that are more inclusive for people who are neurodiverse, including those with autism or ADHD.

She tells ABC RN's This Working Life that traditional workplaces need to be flexible in terms of working environments, communication and management to help people contribute to work in a way that plays to their strengths.

Customising the workplace for a neurodiverse person could include favouring written over verbal communication; appointing a buddy or mentor to help them navigate a company; providing softer lighting or noise-cancelling headphones; positioning them in a quiet area of the office; or genuinely supporting remote work.

Workplaces need to be flexible and inclusive so that everyone can contribute in a way that plays to their strengths. (Getty Images)

Dr Russo says it's important for firms to partner with neurodiverse individuals on this journey — not every neurodivergent person is the same.

"I think inclusivity really is about offering people choice," she says.

Mr McEwan says that can help create work that enables more people to do it.

"I often think about my son who is autistic, and he might grow up into a world that doesn't have offices. And if we don't have offices, you don't need to have a master's degree in emotional intelligence to get through your day. That, to me, is incredibly encouraging," he says.

"When we create these more inclusive environments, we actually improve outcomes for everybody. When we do this, everybody wins."

Hyper-personalisation and job crafting

To start thinking about how you can hyper-personalise your job, consider:

  • When and how you work your best, and in what environment
  • What you find engaging and meaningful
  • Where your strengths lie
  • The ideal pace of work and your desired mix of responsibilities

From there, you can have a conversation with your employer about how they can support you to individualise your work.

"If your job allows, if the work can be done that way, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do it that way," Mr McEwan says.

Aaron McEwan said the movements in the workforce will be different to anything we've seen before. (Supplied: Aaron McEwan)

There's long-term research on the benefits of job crafting, a term coined by organisational psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, which is similar to hyper-personalisation.

In a 2001 study on hospital cleaners, they discovered that the people who were the most fulfilled had found a way to add something to their work beyond what was set out in their job description, to add meaning and satisfaction.

This could take different forms, including adding or dropping responsibilities, changing the nature of relationships at work or changing the perceptions of the tasks performed.

The study showed this could make a significant difference. The cleaners who found their work the most meaningful saw themselves as a vital part of the healing profession, not as part of a cleaning team.

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Job crafting has been associated with higher job satisfaction, commitment and attachment to an organisation.

It can also boost happiness, drive up performance and facilitate mobility to new roles.

Rearranging work and environments to better align with the needs of employees does require a mindset shift, but Mr McEwan says organisations actually do this all the time.

"We do it with our high potential employees. Every organisation has teacher's pets, and we often adjust the work for those individuals in order to help them perform even better," he says.

What does it mean for employers?

Mr McEwan says employers need to think about their value proposition to employees, beyond salary.

"When we design work around the optimum performance profiles of each individual employee, we end up with, obviously, much better productivity, but also happier and more engaged employees," he says.

Gartner research has found employee attitudes have shifted as a result of the pandemic, with 65 per cent of the employees rethinking the place work should have in their life, and 62 per cent longing for a bigger change.

Additionally, Gartner found 75 per cent of hybrid or remote knowledge workers say their expectations for working flexibly have increased, and four out of 10 employees are at risk of leaving if their employer insists they return to an in-person office environment.

If work can be done in a hyper-personalised way, there's no reason why it shouldn't be, says one expert. (Pexels: Ivan samkov)

In fact Mr McEwan believes many of those switching careers as part of the movement dubbed the Great Resignation are trying to hyper-personalise their jobs and careers.

"Essentially, you've got people saying, 'I want to align my work with what I value, what I'm good at doing and what I draw value and enjoyment from'," he says.

"If the organisation can help that employee find the right balance for them, why would they leave?"

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