Employee experience means everything to your people, so it makes sense that you’d want to find ways to ensure that their experience is a positive one.
But because employee experience is so vast and nebulous, companies need to come to terms with the fact that their employee experience can’t really be managed or controlled with an “employee experience strategy.” There’s simply too much that’s out of their hands.
Which is not to say that your organization in particular can’t find ways to facilitate a more positive employee experience. You can (and should)! It just requires a change in how you think about employee experience.
In this article we’ll take a look at why an employee experience strategy can’t begin to address your people’s experience. We’ll also talk about how their experience can be understood and improved upon for the benefit of your people and your business.
The foggy nature of employee experience
“But wait, hold on. What’s employee experience again? It’s all a little foggy.”
Glad you’ve asked. (And yes, it is foggy, which is exactly my point.)
“Employee experience” refers to anything and everything an employee experiences over the course of their employment at a company: from the interview process, onboarding, development, everyday processes and workflow, the tools they use, the conversations they have, all the way to offboarding.
As put by DecisionWise, employee experience is “the sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work.”
Jacob Morgan delves even deeper into the complex nature of employee experience, explaining that it comprises every interaction and/or experience within three distinct workplace environments: cultural, physical, and technological. What do these mean?
- The cultural: how employees feel when they’re inside an organization, which is impacted by “the organizational structure, leadership style, compensation and benefits, etc.”
- The physical: “anything that can be seen, heard, touched, and tasted like desks, chairs, art, and meals.”
- The technological: the overall experience of “the tools an employee needs to do their jobs, including the user interface, mobile devices, and desktop computers.”
Because there are so many different factors at play, measuring the employee experience in a meaningful way is almost always going to be difficult. You can run employee surveys, polls, ask your people to describe in depth what they like best (or least) about working at your company, or, if your company is too large to talk to every employee, you could use tools like a net promoter score. (If you do decide to use an NPS, I recommend proceeding with caution.)
And an overarching, company-wide strategy to “solve” or “manage” the employee experience will probably fall flat. Why? Because employee experience is something ongoing and enduring that you’ll need to work at constantly. It’s time to abandon the notion that employee experience can be completely controlled.
So what can you do?
You can try to understand your people’s experience through their eyes, and adapt accordingly. The first step is to embrace design thinking. Deloitte Human Capital Consulting explains design thinking rather well: “Study, listen to, and learn what employees are doing every day and discover new ways to simplify work and improve productivity, performance, and engagement.” This can be done with journey mapping or empathy mapping.
If you’re versed in customer experience, you know about journey mapping. If not, it’s basically a way of mapping out a customer’s experience with your company. And it’s a process that can very easily be adapted to map your employees' experience as well.
What does a typical employee’s journey from onboarding to offboarding look like at your organization? What about an atypical employee’s journey? Forget sweeping generalizations and personas: what about each individual employee’s specific, personalized journey?
Journey mapping, especially if done well, can give you a good sense of your employee experience from beginning to end. But, it’s important to remember (and acknowledge in your mapping) that there are variables that you’ll never have access to, and individual needs to understand, which means you’ll never have the complete picture.
How do you go about understanding the employee journey?
You’ll need to collect information through surveys, interviews, casual and formal conversations, social gatherings, formal and informal feedback sessions, and 1:1 meetings. You’ll also need to listen intently to conversations about your company taking place on social media and platforms like Glassdoor to gauge the pulse of your people.
The extent and depth of your research and journey mapping will depend on your resources, of course, but this is a crucial step in beginning to understand how your employees interact with your company at each point throughout their career paths. It’s also going to affect how your company hires for roles in the future.
As you interview your people and learn about their personal employee experiences, keep these tips in mind:
- Try to keep your people front and center: Transparently share your objectives for the surveys and polls, and keep them informed at every step along the way
- Explain why employee journey mapping is necessary and how it will help you improve upon their individual experiences
- Reward and/or celebrate employees for sharing their experiences and perceptions of the organization
- Encourage complete honesty without repercussions. The last thing you want is a workforce that’s afraid to provide accurate, honest feedback
What to do next
First, look for common threads on a case-by-case basis to identify potential issues with the employee experience at your organization. If you’ve designed your surveys correctly, a lot of these issues will have already been identified by your people, so how you approach these will depend on a number of variables specific to your company. But the goal is to make quality of life improvements that address the feedback you’ve received.
For a look at some companies that are making huge improvements to their employee experience, check out Jacob Morgan’s list here.
Some would argue that the data you've mined should be used to create a persona for the “ideal employee” to help you understand who you want in a particular role and begin to theorize “how that person thinks and feels.” It’s here that your organization may be tempted to develop an employee experience strategy for existing employees or new hires.
But again, it’s best to avoid relying on employee personas whenever possible, mainly because doing so severely limits your understanding of your people and reduces them to dehumanized personality types as opposed to complex individuals with legitimate concerns and impactful experiences.
Employee experience is about a growth mindset
Employee experience, even once it’s improved upon, is never a fixed concept. Rather, it’s always in flux and constantly changing each day depending on factors that are fundamentally out of your control. And this is precisely why a mindset bent on “solving” a static problem or constellation of issues cannot work. A strategy, no matter how in-depth and nuanced, can’t ever contend with the kinetic nature of employee experience.
It’s best to approach employee experience itself with a growth mindset. Outline journey maps, but constantly be questioning and reiterating on them to find out what works best for your organization. Rely on your people for regular feedback and your employee experience will evolve along with their needs and concerns.
Gaining an understanding of your organization’s employee experience is invaluable to your company and its people, not to mention your customers. It'll require a lot of research and analysis, but in the end it's more than worth it.