Employee experience (or, “EX”) has become a bit of a buzzword lately, but it’s not just a new term for an old idea. There’s a critical link between EX and employee engagement, and companies with high engagement have seen a 4% increase in sales growth. A thoughtfully designed employee experience is swiftly becoming a necessity to compete in the war for talent. With AirBnB and Nike creating dedicated Chief Employee Experience Officer roles, it’s safe to say the concept of EX is here to stay. Understand exactly what EX is, how HR can influence it and the benefits in store for HR, the business and, of course, employees.
What is employee experience (EX), exactly? According to Bersin by Deloitte, it’s “the sum total of all the touchpoints an employee has with his or her employer, from the time of being a candidate (active or passive) to becoming an alumnus or alumna.” The employee experience is often comprised of three main areas of work, according to the widely-accepted model attributable to Jacob Morgan. They include the (1) physical, (2) cultural and (3) technological workplace environments. If any of the three pillars of EX is weak, it can drastically affect how employees are engaged at work.
Across these three areas, the individual touchpoints an employee has with his or her company shape their overall experience and satisfaction level. These “moments of truth” can be intentionally shaped and designed, which is a concept that comes from other areas of business. User experience (UX) is a key ingredient in great software design, and customer experience (CX) plays a big role in how you feel about the things you buy and choose the companies you do business with.
Employee engagement and employee experience are not interchangeable terms. EX influences engagement. If employees have a great experience at work because of the culture, technology or physical space, they are much more likely to be engaged. But, if they have a bad experience, even if they like the work they do, it becomes much harder for them to stay motivated and work hard. Of course, some individuals are less engaged by nature or due to external factors outside the company’s control, but focusing on EX can help mitigate the impact.
Because engagement is a byproduct of a positive EX, HR can be more effective if they focus their efforts on EX instead of engagement because it’s more actionable. HR can directly impact EX, whereas engagement isn’t as easy to control. Intentionally designing a positive EX can lead to sustained employee engagement (and therefore performance), which is much more impactful than simply reacting to employee grievances or issues revealed in a survey.
Think about the technologies you use today and what makes them so great. Amazon provides personalized product recommendations. Google gives fast and accurate answers. Uber makes a painful process simple. All of these tools provide a great customer experience. Now, think about your own company customers. Would they put up with outdated, frustrating technology to buy something from you? Of course not. So why would it be any different for your employees?
The secret to employee experience is treating your employees like your best customer and giving them the same great digital experiences. In turn, they’re more likely to provide better customer service. Research has shown that engaged employees positively impact customer experience, and we know experience impacts engagement. Marriott International founder, J.W. Marriott, sums it up best: “Take care of associates and they'll take care of your customers.”
As we mentioned above, a focus on the employee experience can result in improved employee engagement. But there are several other benefits of a solid EX, including:
As with UX and CX, employee experience (EX) requires design thinking—a mindset that focuses on crafting a solution or desired outcome rather than simply getting rid of the perceived problem. This helps avoid putting in effort to fix the wrong problem or a problem that’s actually a symptom of something else. Below is a process for improving employee experience that’s rooted in design thinking:
Today, employees expect their experiences at work to mirror their experience outside of work. They want to be able to search for information on their own, whenever and wherever they need it, like how they use Google. They want the information to be personalized, in the same way Netflix and Amazon makes tailored recommendations. And most of all, they want to be able to get things done quickly. In the workplace, processes and tasks are designed with long runways and multiple steps to help make them feel human or personal, but from an EX perspective, those processes are only time-consuming and cumbersome.
Designing for the digital employee experience (EX) is about closing the gap between how people get things done in their personal life and how they get things done in the workplace. If an employee doesn’t have to wait for information they need at home, why should they have to wait at work? Employees want to be able to take action on information once they have it, without having to go offline or log into another system.
Looking back at Jacob Morgan’s model, digital EX is part of the technological work environment. But even though digital experiences are only one component of EX, they can make their mark faster than the others. The physical takes time to build and make a lasting impact, and the cultural takes even longer. But digital experiences produce a point-in-time feeling that can leave a lasting impression—for better or for worse. Whether an employee has an easy, delightful experience requesting paternity leave—or a frustrating, confusing one—that one-off interaction for such a major life event can define his or her experience at your company.
To understand the future of the employee experience, just look at the technology in your own home. Today, instead of typing our question into Google, we ask Siri or Alexa. Virtual assistants may soon be how employees get help from HR. Though it can seem strange to talk to a device at first, these conversational experiences provide a much more natural, human experience.
But voice isn’t the only way HR transactions are becoming more conversational and human. Think about how we communicate through text. We have asynchronous (or real-time, if we choose) conversations within a single channel that threads together all exchanges with a certain person on a certain topic. In HR, providing employee service using this conversational style is part of a positive digital EX because it mimics the way employees communicate outside of the workplace.
So how can HR lead the future of employee experience? First, be sure to get comfortable with emerging technologies, such as AI and RPA—they’re not going away. Second, keep an eye out for any employee touchpoints that are complicated and messy. Technology is getting better and better at helping reduce manual, repetitive actions that bog down HR and employees. The result? HR is free to focus on strategies that support engaged and productive employees, who in turn can better focus on making an impact on the business and their career.