What is employee experience?

Last month I was a Judge at the Employee Experience Awards. This got me thinking, what really is employee experience and why does it matter?

Defining employee experience

Predictably, organisations with a highly engaged workforce are more profitable than those with low employee engagement. Employee experience has shown to be a vital part of any business strategy designed to drive productivity and performance.

The data driven revolution has enabled businesses to understand their people – who they are, where they are, what they want and where they want to go. With digital advancements, companies can now provide content that’s relevant, informative, exciting and delivered through innovative channels in a way the suits the individual. However large or small, most companies have a diverse workforce with varied demographics. It’s therefore easy to think of this as a market place, an environment that needs the right communication strategy to generate ‘buy-in’. So, perhaps the first place to look for shaping the engagement strategy is the successful results organisations realise from their customer experience (CX) strategy.

CX leaders, especially those working in traditional bricks and mortar businesses, such as high street retail or the restaurant and hospitality sector, are beginning to realise that improving the employee experience is a key component of improving CX.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity of visiting a major supermarket’s multi-million-pound investment into a virtual reality (VR) store. The premise of this VR store wasn’t to check the validity of the product, but to ensure that the customer experience was right. Product placement and layout is critical, but so is the atmosphere that encourages shoppers to purchase what they came in for, but also to be enticed to buy more.

While CX leaders are driving the commercial argument for investing in improving the employee experience, the changes also reflect what is happening in the HR function; the consumerisation of HR makes an employee experience approach very compelling.

What is employee experience?

Drawing on the supermarket parallel, of course the products offered to employees are critical and need to reflect the ‘customer’ demand. The Reward proposition, benefits, recognition schemes, training and development et al, are all essential products offered to increase employee buy-in. However, successful companies are now seeing the experience that an employee considers important is far wider than just the products on offer. Culture and environment are important emotional considerations along with the ethics and values of the brand they want to be part of. We have seen now that HR and Reward represent the people strategy - and where data and channels are used effectively, supported by a ‘marketing-led’ communication plan, this attracts and retains talent, and builds competitive advantage.

The evidence for this is out there. With arguments being made for greater investment in employee engagement initiatives by both the business and HR, it’s little wonder that Accenture has found that 59% of U.K. business leaders plan to create individualised employee experiences comparable to their consumer experiences.

It also states that employee experience is now, “the new battleground for competitive advantage”. Yet, there seems to be considerable confusion over exactly what the term ‘employee experience’ exactly means.

Organisational culture is important: a survey by Deloitte found that 73% of employees who say they work at a “purpose driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23% of those who don’t.

However, Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, reflects my own views - he argues that there are three aspects to employee experience: cultural, technological and physical.

He claims that while culture was once the main focus for engagement initiatives, the pace of technological change and a renewed focus on the physical environment in which we work means employee experience initiatives must broaden to encompass all three aspects.

Learning from customer experience initiatives

According to The Active Job Seeker Dilemma study from The Future of the Workplace and Beyond, practical employee experience initiatives currently being pursued by HR leaders include investing more in training, improving workspaces and giving more rewards.

While these initiatives are laudable, and will no doubt positively impact the employee experience, they miss some of the key learnings that HR leaders should take from the discipline of CX.

Tim Wade, Co-Founder at CX Lab, makes the point that to design a really strong CX, work must begin with a deep insight into what customers value. This research should focus on four key areas:

  • Fix what’s broken
  • Intentionally design in the emotional peaks (or feel-good moments)
  • Create really strong endings
  • Impact positively on the experience

This approach to designing CX is entirely applicable for any HR manager seeking to develop employee experience.

And, when it comes to implementation, more of Tim’s advice holds true: he advocates organisational culture as the way to deliver the programme: “without that embedded culture, your initiative becomes a series of tactical things and, over time, those tactical things have reduced impact and become less”.

This means, to be really effective – as with so many HR programmes – employee experience is a "work in progress” and requires an attitude of continuous improvement.

If you would like support in understanding your employees’ current experience or developing initiatives to improve the employee experience and ‘buy-in’ at your organisation, contact our team of experts.