When the pandemic hit and lockdowns limited movement across the world, few industries were hit as hard as the travel sector. That was certainly true for Berlin-based travel comparison and booking platform Omio Travel which, in 2019 was thriving, but in March 2020, lost practically all of its business overnight. Investors kept the company alive in the early days of Covid, but even as the acute crisis period of the pandemic drew to a close, its effects were still being strongly felt. Attrition rates were high, engagement was low, belonging suffered, and there was a palpable sense of fear among the remaining workforce about returning to the office. This wasn’t just an issue of morale or lacking the people, it was hard to get anything done at all. Omio successfully navigated through this challenging chapter and continues to focus on people-centric OKRs and an engaged workforce. Here’s how.
Challenge: High attrition, low engagement, and employees that lacked a sense of belonging
Omio was going from strength to strength before the pandemic but when travel ceased, its business ground to a halt. Rival companies began poaching their talent, and operating at all was a struggle among those that remained.
Even when the pandemic started drawing to a close, and travel returned, these issues remained. Chief People Officer of Omio, Dr. Barbara Zesik, understood the organisation needed to rebuild its whole employee experience from scratch if it was going to recover, repair the damage to morale, and restore the missing sense of cohesion and teamwork.
So, she turned to Culture Amp for help her gather the data and insights she need to begin taking action.
In the first survey conducted at the end of 2021, annual talent attrition was at an astonishing 40%, while engagement scored only 41%.
“We had a real uphill battle, and we had to tap into our optimism and resilience to overcome it – we knew we just had to do something,” said Zesik.
With Culture Amp, Omio had all the data it needed to make changes – and once the results were in after the initial survey, wasted no time in taking action.
Solution: Gathering data with Culture Amp to completely rebuild the employee experience
The engagement survey provided quantitative data to measure employee engagement. It also delivered qualitative data and provided Zesik and her team with more detailed information about what people were really thinking.
After such a tumultuous period, job security was on a lot of people’s minds. Others were concerned about what the return to the office would look like, and how the remote or flexible working policies would play out. And leaders were concerned about how to attract talent, with companies in the decimated travel sector prime for poaching from.
Armed with the data about how staff were really feeling, Zesik was able to speak to the CEO to clearly articulate the opportunities around building new people initiatives. She had the tools to create the business case on how the organisation would benefit from these initiatives – but also communicate the missed opportunities if they failed to take them – and set out crystal-clear rationales, all backed by data points driven by the Culture Amp surveys.
Initially, Zesik and Omio took both a proactive and reactive approach to addressing the issues that emerged.
From listening to employee concerns, they introduced a new €5,000 Euro referral bonus for bringing new staff to the organisation, which would be paid upon successful completion of the probationary period.
While the flexible working policies of most organisations only allowed for a few days a week of remote working, Omio went a step further. Recognising that employees often hadn’t been able to see friends or family throughout the pandemic, they introduced a six weeks working from anywhere policy – and because there are more than 50 nationalities among its 300+ workforce, also allowed staff to work from their home countries.
A sabbatical policy was also introduced after employees had worked at the company for two years, allowing staff to take a four-week unpaid break. And Omio started to give their employees a day off for their birthday – a small initiative with a huge impact. In short, they weren't just remunerating employees with money, they were giving them their time back.
“Spreading a little bit of positivity was a really critical thing to do,” said Zesik. “As well as acknowledging that people were still in pain – physically and emotionally.”
"We used a lot of the data from the engagement scores to give us an idea of what was really on people's minds," said Zesik.
They acknowledged this by putting the employee assistance program for mental health support at the forefront of people’s minds, so that they knew that they had support if they needed it, and weren’t alone as the world emerged from the crisis.
To address the lacking sense of belonging, Zesik understood that people had to feel a sense of loyalty to the organisation beyond the day-to-day work. Omio decided to start an all-company event called Spark, where employees gather together in Berlin to better connect with one another, and although it was hybrid, it saw 140 people attend in the office at the inaugural event in September 2021, with the others attending remotely.
At the departmental level, small subtle initiatives could make a big difference – even down to just figuring out what kinds of soft perks would benefit smaller teams and managers.
“Whatever floats your boat,” says Zesik. “You want to order a pizza on a Friday? Great – order a pizza. We’re just giving people a little more freedom to figure out what works for you or individual teams, as well as the bigger things we can fix at a company level.”
At the same time, Omio spent more time with managers to help them understand how they could support their people with employee assistance programmes, especially during and after the difficult pandemic period.
Along with tangible action, Culture Amp survey data led to impactful change at a broader strategic level. Omio made people engagement a cornerstone of its strategy, something where many businesses “miss a trick” according to Zesik.
Omio, like many other organisations, works with the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology, and for the first time in 2022, it introduced a people-centric OKR called ‘We Are Omio’ to track its progress.
Results: Lower attrition rates and improved employee experience for a more engaged, happier, healthier workforce
This people-centric OKR focused on a few key areas around concrete deliverables for Omio to measure and report on, especially engagement score and talent acquisition metrics. Having the ability to measure progress is something Zesik attributes to the success of the new employee experience initiative as a whole.
The organisation reported these metrics on a monthly basis, including on the all-hands calls, around how they were progressing on talent acquisition. Additionally, they reported on engagement scores and the progress individual departments were making against their own action plans that emerged from the engagement survey.
Tracking these key results and reporting on them gave people a greater sense of security and comfort; staff could see that leadership was taking people experience seriously, and crucially, was moving in the right direction.
Step by step, they were fixing what they could, and with each step, they felt empowered to be bolder and more courageous about what they could achieve next.
The results couldn’t have been more clear by the time the next engagement survey closed at the end of 2022.
Through their strategic actions, Omio successfully reduced its attrition rate by 20%, going from a 41% annual rate to 21%. And it finished 2022 with an engagement score of 74 – a 33% increase from their 2021 results.
At the heart of this success was Culture Amp and the unique insights it provided the leadership team.
"We rely quite heavily on our engagement score data, and our partnership with Culture Amp gave us some incredible insights in terms of where the love points and the pain points are for our people," said Zesik.
But their journey isn’t finished.
Zesik recalls how Stephen Hawking once said: “Remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet.”
Armed with employee insights and just a little bit more courage having navigated this challenging period, Zesik and her team feel empowered to focus on what they want to achieve, and to keep improving, even when doubts set in.
“If you don’t see an immediate impact, doubt can creep in but when that doubt hits, just persevere a little longer,” she said. “Sometimes you’ll see immediate results, and other times it takes a little longer, particularly for anything related to cultural change which is ultimately what Omio is going through.”
“It’s about trying to stay true to what it is you're actually trying to do, and sticking with it long enough to test whether it works – but also having the courage to step away from something when it’s not. Just keep that big picture in mind and look up from time to time because there's a whole world out there that you can learn from.”
Want to learn more about Omio’s Culture First approach?
Check out Barbara’s Culture First 2023 session, How employee experiences help Omio Travel scale through crisis.