Definition

employee experience

Contributor(s): Diann Daniel; Kevin Ferguson; Kate Brush

Employee experience is a worker's perceptions about his or her journey through all the touchpoints at a particular company, starting with job candidacy through to the exit from the company. The company's physical workspace, culture and technology are all important components of the employee experience, which is often abbreviated as EX. 

Benefits of a positive employee experience

Strengthening the employee experience has numerous benefits that are all associated with employee job satisfaction leading to higher profits and better marketplace positioning. These include the following:

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  • More engaged, productive employees. Disengaged employees can cost companies billions of dollars each year due to repercussions such as lower productivity and profitability and increased absences. In contrast, engaged employees are more productive and bring other advantages such as improved retention rates and workplace safety.
  • Lower absenteeism rates. Unhappy employees are more likely to be absent from the workplace, in turn negatively affecting morale, productivity and finances. Happy employees have lower rates of absenteeism.
  • Increased quality of work. Happiness levels influence job success more than IQ or skill set, according to research from Harvard University psychologist and happiness expert Shawn Achor and others. For example, a "happy" brain sees more possibilities and is more creative.
  • Improved customer relations.The employee experience affects all areas of the business, including the customer experience. Indeed, many industry experts believe CX is a direct result of EX. Happy employees are more likely to convey better moods and emotions while interacting with customers. They also tend to exhibit more dedication to and understanding of products and services, which in turn enables them to give better support to customers.

Why is employee experience important?

The benefits of employee experience above encapsulate why employee satisfaction should be such an important priority. Here's a more detailed look at why.

The most successful organizations attract and retain top talent. When the economy is good, the competition for top talent is highly competitive and the need for effective talent acquisition and retention grows. During difficult times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, attention to employee experience can help companies become more competitive and prevent the worst repercussions.

In general, companies that have positive employee experience, as indicated by barometers such as high scores in research studies and inclusion in top places to work lists, also have high customer experience scores and positive revenue growth. Numerous studies show a direct link between employee experience and customer experience.

Employee perceptions and experiences will affect every other aspect of a company's processes. Happy employees who perceive their experience as good are more engaged and complete tasks more effectively and efficiently.

Employee experience directly affects other specific aspects of the workplace. For example, employees who have positive experiences are more likely to commit to and stay at an organization than employees who have negative experiences. They are also more likely to promote the company as a great place to work, leading to more referrals for open positions and increased fill rates, since most job seekers are easily swayed by employee perceptions of the work experience and company culture. This is one reason why company review sites -- such as Glassdoor -- have grown in popularity. Bad reviews will turn candidates away from a company, while good reviews will draw them in. Employee experience also affects worker engagement. Higher engagement levels improve company culture and increase productivity, ultimately creating a positive impact on the company's revenue and profits.

Employee experience vs. employee engagement

The difference between employee experience and employee engagement lies in the difference between experience and engagement. Put simply, employee experience is holistic and encapsulates everything an employee thinks, feels and sees. In contrast, employee engagement refers to how positively an employee is occupied with or committed to the job. Employee engagement is one result of the overall experience and tends to be much more specifically associated with productivity.

Employee engagement -- versus employee experience -- tends to be associated with a narrow focus on technology tools, measurement or perks such as free food. These types of factors can be a part of an employee experience strategy, but they do not supplant a holistic and long-term approach to creating happy, loyal and productive employees.

It's important to note that there are many variations of the definitions of employee experience and employee engagement and associated differences. Vendors and industry watchers may all have their own specific definition. Regardless of these variations, after a decade-plus of the employee experience term coming to prominence and companies focusing on the idea of employee engagement, many studies show the majority of companies are not making progress, and employees are not happy at work.

How to create a great employee experience

Employee experience is not a one-and-done prospect. To that point, creating a positive employee experience is arguably even more important with the sudden expansion of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies known for qualities such as a commitment to employees and a business strategy that focuses on values, mission and higher purpose tend to provide a better employee experience. Employee experience exemplars also provide great compensation and benefits and an environment of trust and respect between workers and their leaders where even negative feedback is encouraged. This fosters more honest feedback from employees that human resources and business leaders can then use to make improvements.

Designing an employee experience strategy

Because physical workspace, culture and emotional well-being, and technology all serve a role in creating a great employee experience, business and HR leaders need to give all three areas attention. For example, workspaces support productivity, investments in culture and work-life balance are clear, and technology is both effective and user-friendly.

Performance management can also help create a strong employee experience. Successful managers understand that this goes beyond performance management software. For this reason, leadership development is a critical component of improving employee experience. Here are three factors in successful performance management:

  • Leaders and managers focus on syncing an employee's personal and career goals and values with the business's purpose, values and mission. A sense of purpose is a critical factor in a positive employee experience.
  • Leaders and managers provide ways for employees to unleash passion through their work to create a sense of fulfillment and become more productive.
  • Leaders and managers foster employees' ability to gain new skills and knowledge that are necessary for them to not only complete their work but excel in their performance and contribute more to the company.

Similarly, employee recognition also has an impact on the employee experience. Managers should celebrate employees when they hit their key performance indicators (KPIs) or sales goals. Recognizing hard work helps employees feel like they are a valuable, essential part of the company and what they are doing matters.

Employee feedback is also important. Opportunities for gathering feedback start with applicants and job candidates going through the hiring process on through to exit interviews. Gathering continuous employee feedback yields important information, such as the following:

  • the point at which candidates decide to work for a company;
  • the effectiveness of onboarding processes;
  • changes in employee experience as a company grows;
  • employees' ideas for improvements; and
  • different ways management can connect with employees.

Employee experience framework

An employee experience framework is essentially a structure or strategy to improve EX.

Employee experience borrows heavily from the field of customer experience (CX) management, on which it's based. Because of that basis, EX framework creation generally uses design thinking strategies to optimize the company's work environment, culture, HR services and events. Just as marketers have worked to understand the total customer experience at touchpoints across the entire customer journey, business and HR leaders can create employee journey maps, which are graphical representations of an employee's organizational path, possibly aligned with the employee lifecycle. Employee journey maps typically focus on "moments that matter," the junctures that most profoundly affect the experience. They can also focus on a specific type of employee persona or a particular part of the journey. These maps are key to building a successful framework.

The journey often begins with the recruitment and interview processes, then advances to touchpoints such as the offer letter and the employee's first month within the company. As a result, a positive onboarding process and easy assimilation into the work environment are essential to the creation of a strong employee experience framework. Other major touchpoints that affect the framework include first year reviews, employee talent development and professional development opportunities and promotions.

In addition, how a company responds to employees' personal milestones, such as marriage and childbirth, should be taken into consideration when designing the employee experience framework. Not only should time off plans and offerings be considered, but processes to ease transitions back into the workplace after extended time away should be implemented as well.

Surveys, people analytics and talking to employees one-on-one or in small groups can boost the accuracy and effectiveness of a company's employee experience map. Employers should not make assumptions about what their workers might want or need, and should hear from the employees directly. The only people that will clearly know how to elevate the employee experience are the employees themselves.

The leader's voice is an essential element of the employee experience framework. Leaders, such as executives and managers, are responsible for creating the company culture and confirming business values. Employees should be able to relate to their leaders. Executives should provide managers with clear guidelines of what is expected of them, while also providing the relevant skills and information needed to take positive action and strengthen the employee experience.

Employee journey map template

Employee experience tools

Feedback software, including pulse survey tools such as TinyPulse and Subcurrent -- which support running polls on the Slack collaboration platform -- and employee net promoter score surveys can highlight areas of the organization that are working well or need improvement.

Software vendors have started offering cloud-based employee experience platforms. They include ServiceNow, Willis Towers Watson's HR Portal Software, Deloitte's ConnectMe and Ultimate Software's PeopleDoc.

Employee experience tools
This was last updated in July 2020

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