Employee Experience (EX) has emerged as a significant focus in the management sphere. While it’s often associated with employee engagement, they are distinct concepts.
EX encapsulates the entirety of an employee’s journey within an organization, influencing their level of engagement with their work and the company culture. This journey begins with recruitment and spans the entire employee lifecycle, including onboarding, work, growth, and eventual exit from the organization.
The premise is that a positive EX is essential for fostering conditions conducive to employee engagement, which subsequently drives superior business outcomes. A 2019 survey by BetterUp involving 17,000 U.S. workers across 18 industries found that the correlation between EX and productivity was six times stronger than that of engagement alone.
Research by the Harvard Business Review underscores the tangible impact of EX on business growth and success, revealing that companies investing significantly in EX were 2.1 times more likely to feature in Forbes’ list of the world’s most innovative companies.
To identify effective strategies for fostering a positive EX and reaping these benefits, it’s crucial to understand the components of the employee experience and the factors influencing it.
The elements of EX fall into three categories: physical, cultural, and technological. Key elements within these categories include recruitment, onboarding, quality of work and culture, technology, flexibility, communication, growth, and the employee’s exit from the organization.
In today’s volatile business world, against a background of war, COVID, and rapid technological advancements, all facets of work, including EX, are evolving. What was effective yesterday in successfully managing EX may no longer be suitable today.
This article underscores several elements of EX that are currently undergoing significant transformation.
What Are the Elements of EX?
Numerous studies underscore a variety of factors influencing EX, including company culture, the physical work environment, flexibility, opportunities for learning and development, communication, team dynamics, and leadership quality.
For example, BetterUp’s EX index encompasses six elements: authenticity, engagement, optimism, purpose and meaning, social connection, and a sense of belonging.
McCallum et al. (2023) discuss the influence of a Global Positive Climate (GPC) on EX. The GPC, which includes perceived organizational support, psychosocial safety, organizational mindfulness, worthy work, and an inclusive climate, is used to predict employee engagement and job satisfaction.
Workplace culture significantly impacts the employee experience. The most positive experiences stem from core values upheld and exemplified by senior leaders within well-structured cultures. These fundamental values foster mutual understanding between leaders and employees, facilitating trust and confidence.
In essence, a positive employee experience is inclusive, equitable, and enjoyable, and it empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds to reach their full potential at work. The key is not the creation of more sophisticated tools or surveys, but fostering a culture where individuals naturally grow and thrive.
How Does EX Lead to Great Business Results?
A positive EX leads to great business results in several ways.
EX leads to a better CX.
Research indicates that EX and Customer Experience (CX) are interconnected. Employees who have positive experiences within an organization tend to perform optimally, thereby delivering the best possible CX. Engaged employees are often more innovative and utilize their skills effectively, leading to increased customer satisfaction and profitability.
Brands aiming to enhance their CX and achieve a corresponding rise in ROI should prioritize creating an optimal employee experience. Companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%.
Similar to the customer journey, where specific ‘moments of truth’ influence a customer’s satisfaction with the company, the employee journey is typically shaped by leaders, managers, and HR teams. This shaping can have positive or negative impacts, underscoring the importance of mindful leadership and management practices.
EX helps attract and retain the best talent.
In the face of talent shortages and heightened competition, attracting and retaining top-notch employees is becoming increasingly challenging. Younger, more diverse generations of workers are unlikely to remain loyal to their organization unless their experience is positive.
EX not only bolsters employee retention but also significantly influences employee morale, well-being, productivity, culture, change management, colleague relationships, empowerment, and much more.
For example, in the CIPD’s Good Work Index, engaged employees report fewer days of sickness absence (2.69 days compared with 6.19 days), are less likely to leave an organization voluntarily (disengaged employees are four times more likely to leave an organization than an average employee), and are more likely to foster increased productivity and performance.
While engagement strategies may vary as individuals have different needs at different stages, a good employee experience likely fulfills basic human needs such as a sense of belonging, fairness, and security.
The transition to remote or hybrid work models presents challenges as employees may feel emotionally disconnected due to physical distance. Some may fear missing out on crucial opportunities if they are not kept abreast of developments by their manager.
Employees are more productive and innovative.
When employees find joy in their work, they tend to be more engaged, productive, ambitious, and innovative, especially if they believe in their organization’s social purpose.
A survey by Gartner Global Labor Market revealed that 18% more employees showed high levels of discretionary effort working for employers who are authentically vocal on societal issues than at companies that were not committed.
In 2016, Airbnb was recognized by Glassdoor as the best place to work globally. This accolade was attributed to three fundamental principles: cultivating a welcoming culture, inspiring a mission that transcends individual interests, and fostering trust and autonomy.
Airbnb’s commitment to creating an inclusive and welcoming culture is evident from their inspiring mission statement – “to create a more connected world” – and is reflected in their ‘belong anywhere’ office environment.
Their social purpose is manifested in their volunteer program, centered around giving back to the community. This program enables employees to volunteer four hours per month, interacting with hosts and guests in local neighborhoods. For example, they can collaborate with non-profit organizations to assist community residents in overcoming homelessness.
The Need for a Better EX
EX is a dynamic concept, and its quality can wane over time. A 2019 ServiceNow survey of approximately 1,400 workers across more than eight industries found that employee enthusiasm declines by about 22% after six months on the job.
According to the company’s Employee Experience Imperative Report, this decline is often due to employers not adequately addressing employees’ fundamental needs daily. For example, during significant events like a leave of absence, onboarding, promotion, job transfer, or when dealing with salary issues or seeking increased flexibility, many employees do not have a positive experience.
As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, a fresh perspective on EX is needed to ensure that company practices continue to meet organizational and employee needs. While the duration of each digital employee experience may vary, the critical moments of truth within the journey are likely to remain similar.
In a world where work arrangements are constantly evolving, it’s more crucial than ever to adapt your workplace to ensure a positive experience for every employee. For instance, hybrid working, now a mainstay in the post-pandemic work world, has altered when and how we work and communicate.
While some employers have mandated a return to the office, others believe that flexible work models will become the norm, making it essential for business leaders to implement their hybrid strategies.
Optimizing the EX throughout the lifecycle is a shared responsibility among leaders, managers, HR, and employees themselves, who may have varying needs at different times and from each other.
Creating employee personas, for example, by age or preferred work pattern, can effectively gauge what your employees want and shape the employee journey accordingly. The goal is to enhance the EX and make employees feel valued by the company.
The challenge for leaders and HR is to create a positive human experience at work that fosters natural engagement, regardless of where employees work. It’s important to consider whether your current processes and procedures align with your organization’s core values.
HR professionals should reinvent their workplace services to provide seamless, personalized, and quality services, regardless of where or how employees choose to work. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the impact of every new business change on your staff’s experience.
Research indicates that most change initiatives fail due to employee resistance and poor management support if employees are not involved. Hence, any change strategy should begin with honest and transparent conversations. A well-thought-out plan and strategy can help navigate challenges as they arise.
EX Throughout the Employee Lifecycle
Let’s look in more detail at how the employee lifecycle experience can become and remain positive. The lifecycle encompasses (pre-) recruiting and onboarding, learning and growing, performing, paying and promoting, engaging and retaining, and finally exiting.
The employee experience begins at the recruitment phase. If your organization is reputed for its exceptional culture and employee experience, it should be capable of attracting high-caliber talent.
It’s crucial to foster a welcoming, transparent, and adaptable approach throughout the recruitment process and to convey your organization’s values and the quality of the employee experience to prospective recruits.
Effective communication entails deliberate choices about the timing and method of communication, along with honesty and openness about your organization, the role, expectations, key responsibilities, required experience, compensation, and benefits. Failure to do so could lead to early departures.
According to Workday Peakon Employee Voice, 30% of job seekers have left a position within the first 90 days.
Given the cost of recruitment, it makes good business sense to invest in initiatives that attract potential recruits, keep employees happy, and make them less likely to leave quickly.
The main objective of onboarding is to integrate employees into the corporate culture. Those first 90 days are crucial to nurturing your new hires, showing them the basics, helping them build relationships, and equipping them with the tools they need to succeed, so a longer onboarding process can bear dividends.
Taking a people-first approach to the onboarding process builds the foundations for a positive employee experience. A personal note from their manager and a team buddy helps make new employees feel special and valued. At such an early stage, it is everyone’s responsibility to reflect their culture and values.
As new recruits start their employee journey at your organization, they may have questions and even fears. How you respond to these questions is one of the moments of truth in the employee experience.
Induction, where you make introductions and get all the paperwork done, should supply what new recruits need but, sadly, 45% of employees still struggle to obtain information and answers to basic questions, such as finding a company policy or resolving an equipment-related problem.
Look at what is important to employees and aim to include that information in conversations, literature (i.e., policies and procedures), training, and any other areas where you might communicate with new or potential new hires. Aim to answer or allay these concerns before they have the chance to fester.
An employee experience platform can help create a personalized digital workplace for employees filled with everything they need to succeed in their first few weeks.
Good Work and Culture
There is evidence to suggest that ‘good work’ (or high-quality jobs) and employee engagement can have many benefits for individuals and organizations.
The CIPD’s Good Work Index survey found that the quality of relationships and managerial support is consistently related to various aspects of engagement, including job satisfaction, enthusiasm, effort, and the intention to quit.
However, different aspects of engagement are most closely related to different factors of job quality. For example, job complexity (how stimulating, interesting, and novel one’s work is) is most closely related to enthusiasm and effort.
The CIPD argues that autonomy or self-determination—that is, being empowered to shape one’s job—makes it more meaningful and enjoyable. And terms of employment (for example, job security and development opportunities) are most closely related to overall job satisfaction and the intention to quit.
Employee engagement is paramount in maintaining a workforce that is not only happy and healthy but also productive. Core values play a significant role in various aspects of a company, including updates and employee recognition, thereby becoming an integral part of the company culture.
According to a study by Gallup, doubling the number of employees recognized each week could lead to a 24% improvement in work quality, a 27% decrease in absenteeism, and a 10% drop in staff turnover.
Establishing a culture that values recognition and praise can boost motivation and performance. This can be accomplished through peer-to-peer feedback and by encouraging managers to provide more positive feedback, both publicly and privately.
Increasingly, technology is an essential component of modern jobs. Employee experience and digital transformation are intertwined, especially in a hybrid or work-from-anywhere situation.
There are many established technologies that have the potential to help your employees work faster and smarter. Platforms such as Slack, Teams, Zoom, Outlook, calendars, websites, learning management systems, and scheduling tools help people communicate and organize their workday.
When employees have the tools they need to do their jobs more efficiently, their employee experience is improved. And this improved employee experience means they’ll be more open to any digital transformation initiatives that lie ahead.
Among the emerging technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) is already impacting the employee lifecycle. Others include virtual reality, robotics, augmented reality, and machine learning. The potential to utilize these kinds of technology to enhance the employee experience, augment work, automate time-consuming tasks, and boost productivity is considerable and growing all the time.
However, given the raft of apps being adopted at a rapid pace by the global workforce, technology also has the potential to be overwhelming, further blurring the lines between a person’s work and personal life and risking burnout.
To reduce digital burnout, it is essential to understand the challenges employees face. Leaders should focus on the employee experience of technology just as intently as they do the customer experience.
They should focus on the key ‘moments of truth’ of the digital employee experience—for instance, how information is stored and distributed—to ensure the best possible experience that eliminates repetitive tasks and actually makes work easier rather than more complex.
One outcome of the pandemic was the rapid adoption of new working patterns. It became widely recognized that when employees are trusted and able to work flexibly, they are happier, more productive, motivated, and inclined to stay in their roles.
Flexibility looks very different across organizations and sectors, but it is important to find a way to offer it in a way that works for your people. This might be achieved through flexible working arrangements, hybrid work models, work-from-anywhere capability, or more flexibility outside of core working hours.
In the UK, 61 companies took part in the world’s largest trial of a four-day work week organized by thinktank Autonomy. Most of the companies taking part in the trial have opted to continue with the new working pattern, which has been hailed as evidence that it could work across the UK economy. Staff at these organizations report a better work-life balance.
While digital tools can help employees work efficiently, when your workforce is physically fragmented, people may feel disconnected from their colleagues and the company. Fostering a sense of connection and understanding between teams is essential.
This means creating an experience that goes beyond tasks to include the deliberate building of colleague relationships and recognition so that people feel part of the team no matter where they’re working from.
Whole-company away days can help people get to know each other informally. Making time for teams to chat with each other as part of normal digital practice, as well as to collaborate across teams, helps reduce the loneliness and isolation that are so often associated with working away from the office.
Effective communication is a vital element of the employee experience since it should ensure that teams can pull in the same direction toward shared goals, reinforcing a sense of community and belonging. However, among a distributed workforce, communication can be more challenging, particularly if people work asynchronously.
Poor communication can result in employees feeling overlooked and deprived of opportunities for growth. Additionally, it can cause employees to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, leading to a sense of disorientation.
To avoid overwhelming people, managers must make a deliberate effort to ensure people have the relevant information they need to do their jobs and feel included. At each moment of truth, employees should feel acknowledged and heard, with their input considered in any changes being made. Technology can be a valuable aid in this process.
A robust internal communication tool or system will ensure that you can put relevant communications in front of the right people at the right time and encourage more open communication. Generative AI can be used to customize employee communications, development plans, and growth options based on vast quantities of data.
Designing specific support programs for each lifecycle stage is important for a positive employee experience. Communication tools that promote mental health and well-being can provide support at the point of need, rather than waiting for someone to reach a crisis point. The internal communications strategy should be as much about facilitating two-way conversations as being in ‘transmit’ mode.
When it comes to enhancing the employee experience, one of the best ways to refine and adjust it to meet the needs of your people is to ask for feedback on your employee experience.
This means encouraging and welcoming feedback, actioning it, and communicating that action back to your people. This demonstrates that you are listening and value their input and employees will feel that their contribution really matters.
Getting feedback from your employees can be done through one-to-one meetings with managers or using online employee surveys. Many employee experience platforms also offer insights into the success of employee initiatives and how much your staff is interacting with certain tools or internal communications.
Employee feedback isn’t a one-off exercise. Instead, it should be a continuous process built into your employee experience framework that gives you key insights at the different stages of the employee lifecycle.
Growth and personal development are significant elements of the employee experience. Once a new starter has settled into the business, their mind will soon turn to growth and development. In a rapidly changing landscape, employees need the right skills to keep up so prioritizing learning and development in your organization is key to the employee experience.
Many employees will want to be challenged and to progress in their roles but developing in your role should not mean having to leave the business.
Regularly upskilling and reskilling your workforce as technology evolves means that employees can learn and grow in their current role or into another role in the business instead of leaving to seek that development. This will improve retention, increase workforce capability, and make organizational growth more seamless and relevant.
Some companies may find that their current learning and development (L&D) strategies and methods of training aren’t fit for purpose in a hybrid or remote working environment. While e-learning may be useful, people may also need mentoring and tailored training courses, formal qualifications, on-the-job experiences, regular meetings with their managers, and space to grow and apply their new skills.
In some cases, a company-wide overhaul of the L&D strategy might be needed, starting with identifying new, more relevant learning and development goals for employees. This starts with an understanding of what your people need.
Have open, two-way conversations with individuals to define success and help create a learning roadmap that employees can work from. Are there any areas that people would like to grow and develop in specifically? This is likely to include accessing the resources and expertise you already have, such as online learning resources, that are flexible and accessible from anywhere.
With workplace technology such as AI-powered learning experience platforms, machine learning, and gamification, you can extend the offering to deliver a more personalized and enhanced digital learning experience that trains employees in new ways and in multiple skills.
Generative AI can produce micro-learning based on talent intelligence, prompt employees to learn more, and produce AI-generated career paths.
Continued learning and development are critical to business productivity and employee retention since, as employees gain new skills and knowledge, they feel more confident that the business is investing in them.
While a great employee experience helps reduce employee turnover, some people will inevitably move on. And that’s fine! But this final lifecycle stage should still be a positive one.
Carrying out exit interviews that take an open, honest approach demonstrates that your organization is keen to know why someone is leaving and what could be done in the future (if anything) to change that. If you treat departing employees with respect, they can become your strongest advocates and even clients!
As the future of work arrives, employee experience will become an even more important driving factor in attracting and retaining talented individuals. Employees perform best when they are engaged, empowered, valued, and have a voice. A flexible, people-first approach is needed and should be designed to get the best out of people.
When it comes down to who is responsible for employee experience, it is the duty of the whole organization. A good employee experience is one that everyone owns. It starts with leaders, managers, and HR teams who drive the initiative and is actively taken up by employees who want to learn and give their best.
If you care for people and want to help them realize their potential, building a dynamic employee experience is a win-win for them and the organization.
Dr Linda Holbeche is an independent coach, developer, consultant, researcher and author in the fields of HR, strategy, organization design and development and leadership. She works with UK and international clients in many sectors. A recognized thought and practice leader and voted one of the UK’s HR Most Influential, Linda was previously CIPD’s Director of Research and Policy.