With employment levels at a record high in an ever-increasing employee-driven market, the challenge is on for HR leaders when it comes to retaining and nurturing talent with so many organisations on the lookout for new recruits to join their team, says David Chandler.

Employee expectations around work-life balance, company culture, career progression and support are higher than ever before. For HR leaders, there’s an increasing need to improve retention and overall employee satisfaction in every aspect of the employee experience in order to remain competitive.

Investing in digital, investing in people

Investing in digital can play a significant role in helping to retain talent. With more people working remotely or in a hybrid environment, digital employee services offer workforces an effective way to collaborate and connect with their employees, regardless of their physical location. This helps to make them feel more valued and connected to their company or organisation.

Digital tools, such as employee apps, can create efficiencies by automating repetitive tasks, acting as a single point of reference of enquiry, as well as optimising routine administrative processes. Together, these tools can combine to decrease the employee frustrations resulting from time-consuming, mundane tasks that can make an employee feel like a number on a database, rather than an important part of an organisation’s ecosystem.

These kinds of employee empowerment platforms can also facilitate real-time feedback and offer visibility for recognition of achievements, positively reinforcing certain behaviours or outcomes. They also can host online learning platforms, track and guide career progression and support the skills acquisition in order to take those all-important steps up the ladder.

But before any investment can be made into digital solutions, it is crucial to run a discovery and research process to understand the specific friction points within an organisation that need attention. There are some expensive SaaS platforms out there which promise the world, but these off-the-shelf features have a risk of staying firmly on the shelf gathering dust if they prove of no real value to the employees for which they were intended.

Run a design sprint to de-risk your digital investments

One effective method to test how digital products and services can be implemented, while de-risking your digital investment, is through workshops or ‘design sprints’. This structured, time-constrained process helps teams rapidly tackle complex problems, generate innovative solutions, and make informed decisions. Whilst the outcome of a design sprint is not necessarily a fully developed and finalised product, the insights gained from it provide a tested and validated prototype which can be used as the basis for further iteration and development.

By bringing together a cross-functional team – including designers, developers, product managers, stakeholders, HR teams and most importantly, users – this problem-solving process encourages collaboration, inviting different multi-disciplinary perspectives to find a solution to the problem at hand over a matter of days. This process of ideating and then testing a problem provides real-world, informed insight on how to move forward with a challenge over a short period of time.

Over the course of the design sprint, the days are broken down systematically:

Day 1: Mapping the problem – zooming in on the areas you are trying to solve and asking ‘how might we…’ questions.

Day 2: Ideation – sketching out rough ideas and story boarding.

Day 3: Decision Day – which idea is the best and which will be taken forward.

Day 4: Prototyping – replicating a real-world experience.

Day 5: Testing – face to face with users

In the case of employee retention, HR teams play a crucial role in the design sprint process, offering insight into real-time challenges and shedding light on employee frustrations based on real-life feedback and observations. In this way, the proposed digital offering can be designed to suit the needs of the employee, offering a user-friendly solution rather than putting up with clunky tech that they’re not going to get much use out of.

Insights from the aviation industry

One industry that could benefit from digital investment is the aviation industry where 63 percent of pilots globally plan on changing jobs in the next 12 months – a concerning statistic which indicates a problem within the employee experience.

Our own research, talking directly to employees within the aviation industry, found employee burnout, punishing hours, reduced wages in some cases, and job security were concerns which had left pilots and other airline staff feeling like their status, treatment and working conditions had worsened.

As a dispersed workforce who are rarely in the same location as their colleagues and who work long and unsociable hours, introducing a tailored digital solution to make them feel connected and engaged could help to relieve some of the issues they currently face.  A digital tool designed to better connect airline staff to the company they work for, and to their peers, could help to make airline staff feel more appreciated and to alleviate the common frustrations that are amounting to a dissatisfying career.

These types of factors are a common and ever-increasing occurrence for lots of organisations, as we found when working with the Royal Navy to help them tackle their employee engagement and retention issues. Working collaboratively, we developed an employee empowerment tool, the MyNavy app, which enabled Royal Navy personnel at all stages in their long Naval careers, to feel more connected to their employer through personalised announcements, tailored development and onboarding resources. All whilst allowing the Royal Navy to address and resolve on an ongoing basis, any frustrations personnel experienced.

In order for HR teams to meet the expectations of employees today, a user-centred digital service needs to be in place to ensure the needs are met of all types of workers, in particular dispersed workforces who are being left behind in the changing face of work. With the aftermath of Covid-19 still leaving a trail of chaos in its wake, the demand for airline staff is particularly high given the issues the industry is currently facing with regards to training new pilots. With a design sprint-style process, HR teams can quickly temperature check their industry to hear the needs of their staff and retain talent.


David Chandler is the Division Director at Great State.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.