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Employee experience and why it's critical

Posted by Hannah Price | 9 min read

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If you neglect your employees’ experience, you do so at your own peril. I didn't write that to be dramatic; employee experience impacts everything in your business—productivity, retention, your workplace culture, and more.

If you’re not already, it’s time to sit up and take a good, honest look at it.

This article will give you a comprehensive breakdown of everything to do with employee experience; what it is (what it isn’t), whether it’s actually important, who’s responsible for it, and how to improve it. Let’s jump right in.

What exactly is employee experience?

First off, let’s be clear about what “employee experience” means. It’s a nebulous term that's hard to pin down.

Essentially, employee experience refers to everything an employee experiences at work—their interactions with their boss, their software, their teams, and hundreds of other things. It’s a holistic term that considers the full spectrum of an employee’s experiences throughout their entire time at a company.

One easy way to understand employee experience is to think of its popular counterpart, customer experience. Think about everything that falls under the wide umbrella of customer experience, then simply replace the concept of customer with employee.

 “As employees, we’re all on a journey with our employer. Our experiences on this journey will strongly influence our attitudes; our attitudes in turn form our behaviours which ultimately drive outcomes. A poor Employee Experience (EX) naturally results in a poor outcome.” Oracle

 

What employee experience is not

The meaning of employee experience is commonly misunderstood. To clarify further, I’ve included a few things that employee experience is not:

Perks & Committees: Casual Fridays and free beer are fun perks, but they’re not the sum of employee experience. They are, by definition, perks; the cherry on top of the ice-cream sundae. However, if the ice-cream sundae is awful, the cherry will not make up for it. Your employee experience is like the sundae, it runs so much deeper than perks and social committees.

Employee Life Cycle (ELC): ELC is the chronological journey of an employee at your company; onboarding, development, offboarding, etc. The ELC is part of employee experience, however it’s just a small piece. It’s also commonly the responsibility of the HR department, whereas employee experience is the responsibility of every leader in your company (and, in part, every employee).

Employee Value Proposition (EVP): Your EVP is centered around what your organization provides (beyond remuneration) in order to attract, engage, retain, and delight people.

“It [EVP] has become closely related to the concept of employer branding, in terms of the term EVP being used to define the underlying 'offer' on which an organization's employer brand marketing and management activities are based. In this context, the EVP is often referred to as the Employer Brand Proposition.” Wikipedia


Thus, EVP is part of your employee experience but it’s not the whole thing. It doesn’t encapsulate all of those small moments and deeds that impact the employee experience.

When we talk about employee experience, “we are also talking about days where there are difficult performance reviews, or how well did a manager support an employee the day she learned her son had cancer? Or consider whether the company really did anything to address its employees’ concerns following its last employee engagement survey.” - DecisionWise

How important is employee experience?

In a recent study by Deloitte University Press, Josh Bersin et al found that almost 80% of executives worldwide rated employee experience as important or very important.

This is hardly surprising when you consider its impact. When the employee experience is good, employees are happy, engaged, and able to get their work done efficiently. That delivers better bottom line results. In an academic study, Alex Edmans determined:

“Companies listed in the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For in America’ generated 2.3% to 3.8% higher stock returns per year than their peers...”

Who is responsible for employee experience?
This is a fascinating question, and the answer appears to be: employee experience is the work of most (if not, all) of the people in your organization.

In a nutshell, those at the management level have a huge influence on the organization’s environment. They’re in a position of power that can start a positive (or negative) spiral.

However, other employees are not without power. When faced with challenging situations, it’s the employee’s decision as to how they react. Do they fly off the handle, gossip about the issue, bottle everything up, or take measures to seek out the source of the problem and fix it? In this way, every employee affects the experience for other employees.

Thus, improving the employee experience will most likely start with the leadership and management level; they lay the groundwork of putting employees first. However, it’s up to employees to work within a genuine framework and positively contribute to the overall experience. (Here’s a detailed article from Hppy on this topic.)

How to improve employee experience

Although people recognize the importance of improving employee experience, 59% of the respondents to the Deloitte survey (mentioned above) didn’t know how they were going to tackle the problem. Delivering a great employee experience can be elusive and challenging.

On this point, Ryan Scott (CEO of Causecast) has some great words of advice:

“The employee experience may be broad in scope, but it starts by optimizing every touchpoint that an employee comes in contact with, to create an integrated experience that feels holistic throughout every stage.”

The key word here is holistic. A great employee experience is holistic. It seamlessly takes you from end to end, starting from the first day you encounter your new employee.

Herein lies one of the big challenges for improving employee experience. Its components are dispersed across many different people, tools, files, and forms. The first step to changing this, is to glue these pieces together and make your employee experience consistent and enjoyable.

How do you do this? Get the right people and the right technology. The next section explains what to look for. 

4 tips for improving employee experience

1. Get good technology

Good technology (specifically, a good communications tool) will enable you to streamline communication and processes, and improve your company culture and engagement. It will help you stitch your employee experience together and approach it holistically. If you want more details, check out how intranets improve employee engagement.

However, while good technology can make life easier, it can’t do all of the work. Once you’ve laid the groundwork for a positive employee experience—given people the tools and processes they need to effectively get their job done—the rest is down to the humans in the equation.

For example, it's up to humans to take part in using the communications platform to achieve the overall company goal. Whether this is communicating more through chat, recognizing others publicly for good work, or simply keeping files updated and available to all. It's up to the users—the people—to improve employee experience via the technology.

2. Encourage honest dialogue

For dialogue to occur, there needs to be open channels for communication (whether that’s through technology, over the phone, or in person). Everyone needs to know how to connect with each other (and who to connect with on certain issues).

For the dialogue to be honest, employees need to feel safe. They need to know they can voice their true thoughts and feelings, without negative repercussions. For this, there needs to be a healthy dose of trust and respect throughout your workplace.

When employees have trust in their employer and colleagues, they’ll be more willing to provide honest feedback. As an employer, this will allow you to find out what’s working (and what’s not) for your employees, which in turn will enable you to make effective changes that improve overall experience. (If you’re interested in learning more, check out this actionable article on ways to build trust in the workplace).

3. Make every moment count

As mentioned earlier, employee experience is holistic. It’s not simply about following processes that have been previously laid out. Interactions with employees should be empathetic and thoughtful, regardless of where you are or what you’re discussing. Your employee experience should be genuine and you should take every opportunity to deliver an excellent experience for all.

4. Enable your managers

We discussed previously that leadership and management teams have a large influence on employee experience. If you’re an executive, ensure that the leaders below you are empowered to take positive action and know what’s expected of them. (Check out this article on empowering middle managementor forward this piece to your HR team.)

Gallup’s Chairman, Jim Clifton, comprehensively explains why this is so important:

”While the world's workplace is going through extraordinary change, the practice of management has been frozen in time for more than 30 years. [...] What the whole world wants is a good job, and we are failing to deliver it—particularly to millennials.

To summarize Gallup's analytics from 160 countries on the global workplace, our conclusion is that organizations should change from having command-and-control managers to high-performance coaches.

Why "high-performance coaches"? Because millennials demand development over satisfaction. They demand ongoing conversations over annual reviews. They demand strengths-based discussions over weakness-based "gap" discussions that produce zero results.”


Conclusion

If you want a thriving workforce, successful business, and happy customers, you need to start with your employees. How you treat them will have a knock-on effect that ripples throughout your company. It’s time to examine your employee experience and, where necessary, get started on making positive changes. Today.

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