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Employee experience is the accumulation of an employee's feelings, interactions, and perceptions throughout their employment journey at an organization. For example, a comfortable and collaborative workspace contributes to overall employee experience as do personalized recruiting and onboarding practices.
Jeanne Meister, a workplace visionary and activist, and founding partner of Future Workplace, provides a compelling definition of employee experience: "Your last best experience as a consumer becomes the minimum expectation for the experiences you want in the workplace."
We dissect the employee experience into three domains: procedural, textural, and emotional. Procedural relates to the tasks an employee performs, including processes used to accomplish tasks. The physical realm focuses on the environment and how it benefits the work requirements. And the emotional employee experience is about an employee's interactions, feelings, and perceptions.
Employee experience is not about perks, parties, benefits, traditional HR functions, improved HR, technology, company branding, pay, open floor plans, the employee lifecycle, or treating employees as customers. These elements impact an employee's experience as they contribute to employee success or improve culture. Programs that focus on environmental factors, engagement, inclusion, development, and performance also contribute to the overall employee experience.
The difference between employee experience and employee engagement is not always clear. Employee experience is the overall design of the organization that puts employees at the forefront throughout their entire employment journey. Their experience covers all touch-points, including physical environment, technology, and cultural interactions. Employee engagement contributes to employee experience and is much more than a perk or promotion. Engagement is the fulfillment of an employee's psychological, emotional, and social needs that contribute to their behavior at work. Their level of engagement directly impacts their motivation to contribute to the business. If an employee has a great experience at your organization, they are more likely to be engaged.
One way to look at the relationship between employee experience and employee engagement is that employee experience is the input that leads to the desired output, an engaged employee. Providing an experience that is purposeful, inclusive, happy, full of achievement, and energetic will lead to a positive attitude, passion, connection, commitment, and performance.
The employee experience includes the employee's entire journey or lifecycle at a company, from pre-hire to termination. Meister states, "The experience begins with sourcing and screening, continues through onboarding, offering mobility in the organization, personalized career development, coaching, and finally exiting the organization."
The employee lifecycle consists of seven stages: attract, hire, onboard, engage, perform, develop, and separate. Most employees spend their time in the engagement, perform, and development stages. There are several touch-points at each of these stages, including meaningful work, interactions with management, environment, growth opportunities, trust, and well-being. They are all critically important to the employee experience.
While the employee's interactions after employment begin to impact their overall employee experience profoundly, it's the first few weeks after hiring that set the stage. For example, intelligent technology can facilitate onboarding by checking in with new hires to see how they are doing, and guiding them as they become more comfortable with the organization.
Below are examples of activities or tactics that contribute to a positive employee experience at each stage of the employment journey:
The employee experience may terminate when the employee departs the organization, but it is important to have a positive exit experience. The former employee will remain a promoter of the brand's reputation.
In order to attract and retain A+ talent, the experience at each stage of the employment lifecycle is critical. Employees have choices, and they demand an end-to-end, holistic recruitment-to-exit experience.
A high-quality experience during the onboarding stage sets employees up for success. For example, if the organization proves their investment in the employee through career development and promotions, employees tend to care more about their performance and contributions, ultimately impacting the customer experience, which contributes to a business' success.
When employees are happy and enthusiastic about their job and the organization, they tend to be better employees, which comes with many benefits, including:
Jacob Morgan, founder of The Future of Work University, best-selling author, keynote speaker, and futurist, said in a Harvard Business Review article, that companies that "invest most heavily in employee experience were included 28 times as often among Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies, 11.5 times as often in Glassdoor's Best Places to Work, 2.1 times as often in Forbes's list of the World's Most Innovative Companies, 4.4 times as often in LinkedIn's list of North America's Most In-Demand Employers, and twice as often in the American Customer Satisfaction Index." Even more, "experiential organizations had more than four times the average profit and more than two times the average revenue. They were also almost 25% smaller, which suggests higher levels of productivity and innovation."
When an organization invests in its employees, it can expect the same type of investment in return. For some organizations, this is enough of a reason to develop an employee experience team or committee that develops useful and compelling employee experience solutions.
Employee experience projects or initiatives typically start with HR, sometimes based on a C-level mandate. In some cases, employee experience may become part of titles, such as Chief Employee Experience Officer or Head of Employee Experience. These people are empowered to create a team with roles that focus directly on the employee experience. What's most important is that employee experience involves everyone, HR leaders, IT, management, and employees.
The team or committee members are responsible for the employee experience from start to finish. They will gather data, identify areas ripe for improvement, make recommendations and implement improvements, share insights, recognize patterns, plan for the future, and identify risks.
One of the employee experience committee's first tasks is to create an employee experience framework. An employee experience framework helps you identify the key areas that contribute to employee experience and how to measure success.
As you develop your unique employee experience framework, keep in mind the key contributors from leadership and programs that feed a purposeful and happy employee experience. You can measure the results of these initiatives in employee performance.
The following employee experience framework or plan demonstrates how different organizational attributes feed employee experience. For example, leaders who inspire and programs that invest in career development help provide a purposeful and happy employee experience. Use this employee experience framework to plan a successful and measurable employee experience.
Today's employees have high expectations of the experience their employers can deliver. They see Facebook's impressive campus, that Netflix has paid maternity leave, friends' flexible work-from-home schedules, other companies' simple and healthy work-life balance - and they want it all.
Meister highlights several companies, discussed in her book, The Future Workplace Experience, that offer programs benefiting the employee experience. For example, SunTrust found that financial concerns are the number one cause of workplace stress. In response, they developed a financial wellness program that organizations can incorporate into employee benefits. The program inspires, educates, and equips employees with financial best practices, demonstrating dedication to employee's financial health. Both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Fidelity offer loan repayment benefits for employees. With "86 percent of young workers agreeing to commit to their employer for five years if they helped pay off their student loans," according to an American Student Assistance® survey, this is a tremendous way to attract and retain quality employees.
Meister has also worked with clients that prioritize workspace, technology, and cultural aspects of employee experience. She says, "Workspace is not simply the chairs and desk, but the air quality, access to natural light, and comfortable temperatures. Forward-looking companies are trying to personalize workspace, similar to how employees personalize their homes. When it comes to technology," she adds, "Many organizations are incorporating AI into HR to enhance the employee experience. In fact, we see so much demand for this that Future Workplace created a five-week online course, UsingAI4HR, profiling 12 HR leaders from different industries. They share how they are using AI to re-imagine recruiting, on-boarding, mobility, and learning."
And, finally, Meister says, "The cultural aspect of employee experience touches on the level of transparency and responsiveness in the workplace. IBM has patented a program called Proactive Retention. IBM's analytics team profiles employees that are at risk of leaving the organization and notifies management, and provides a playbook to proactively engage these employees, ultimately hoping to keep them on board."
Employee experience encompasses everything the organization does, making it a complex and challenging initiative. Although worthy, there will be obstacles along the way. Below are the top employee experience challenges and tips to overcome them.
A structured strategy, supported by various technology solutions and resources, can help with employee experience management. Technology solutions are popping up daily, claiming to help organizations create the best employee experience. These tools include employee surveys and feedback tools, collaboration apps, performance management solutions, health and wellness apps, employee service and e-learning platforms, and countless mobile solutions are available.
Additionally, tools that marketing professionals use to understand customer experience are making their way into employee experience management. Journey maps provide visibility into the process that an employee follows at any given time. They use the map to identify pain points during a specific journey. Creating personas help leadership understand employee characteristics, motivations, and demographics.
Use this customizable employee persona template to create unique personas for each segment of your workforce. This template helps you understand who your employees are, what motivates them, their emotions, interests, and what's important to them.
Journey mapping is also a useful method for identifying critical moments in time and areas of improvement. Each journey map applies to a different stage of the employment journey. For example, if the organization focuses on improving the new-hire's employee experience, they should create a journey map for the first day or week of employment. Detailed accounts of what the employee experienced and felt during those days will help reveal pain points.
Download this customizable employee journey mapping template and apply your unique employee experiences to identify gaps between intended and actual outcomes. For example, evaluate the new hire experience on the first-day employees start their new job. For each activity, have employees share their sentiments and note what was going on at a specific time. Use this feedback to create a more positive employee experience in the future.
Employee experience is proven to impact customer experience directly. However, the complexity of the employee experience, as discussed above, requires creative problem-solving. According to Gartner's research, "Only 29 percent of employees today believe HR understands what they need or want." An employee experience strategy that applies design-thinking makes perfect sense. Design-thinking's emphasis is on understanding people and developing innovative, iterative solutions to problems. This practice fosters an environment that focuses on the people.
The first step to developing your employee experience strategy is putting yourself in your employee's shoes. Imagine yourself as a new employee who is fresh out of college or a new parent just returning from maternity/paternity leave. What would these individuals want? A new employee who has never worked in a formal office environment may require more care, attention, and hand-holding to get started. A new parent returning from leave may find flexible start times and extra time to adjust to work activities important. This focus on their needs will make them more comfortable and productive, quickly.
Meister echos the design-thinking approach and references its use by marketers to empathize with and walk in the shoes of customers. She provides three employee experience ideas and tips for developing your employee experience strategy:
Employee experience will only continue to grow as a business priority by dedicating people, time, and budget to improvement programs and initiatives. As these forward-thinking organizations focus on the employee experience, they will internalize traditional customer experience practices such as personas and journey mapping.
Meister says, "Employee experience is revolutionizing the HR function. Every forward-looking company will have a Chief Employee Experience Officer in the next two years. This step will move HR from a one-size-fits-all service provider to a team that offers a personalized employee experience expected by consumerized employees."
Employees expect a consumer-like experience throughout their entire employment journey. From frequent check-ins that improve engagement while recruiting, to on-demand answers to benefits questions and assistance with learning and development, AI-driven chatbots augment HR teams by creating value throughout the employee's journey. Conversational AI in HR uses natural language, multi-channel capabilities to enhance employee experience. 30-, 60-, and 90-day new hire check-ins and proactive communication and reminders are just a few ways automation is helping organizations create a world-class employee experience.