Employee Experience: What Is It And Does It Matter?
Employee experience (EX) is the sum of activities, perks, technologies, relationships and development opportunities an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to an organization, from recruitment through to end of employment. It can encompass everything from social events to engagement programs and workplace wellness programs.
Summary by Lisa Schmidt for The World of Work Project
Derived from the concepts of ‘user’ and ‘customer’ experience, the term employee experience has gained traction in recent years. It’s used as a way to build and boost organizational culture initiatives, and ultimately the bottom line. Employee Experience plays a big role in shaping Employee Engagement, and can really affect employee wellbeing as well.
Declaring 2018 The Year of Employee Experience, Forbes defined it as a catch-all term for the broad array of satisfaction, productivity, retention, engagement, diversity, leadership and well-being programs and initiatives that have captivated HR professionals and bloggers for the past few years.
In essence, employee experience (EX) is the sum of activities, perks, technologies, relationships and development opportunities an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to an organization, from recruitment through to end of employment. Josh Bersin, a writer on all things HR, sums it up by saying: “Your employee experience is your company.”
Employee Experience and Organizational Culture
One immediate question springs to mind on the heels of these definitions. In what ways are EX and organizational culture related, or are they the same thing?
Workplace culture is hard to define. We can think of it as the sum of beliefs, values and attributes that represent how employees work and interact. Put simply, it describes “what’s it like to work here”. Edgar Schein’s Culture Triangle proposes that culture is made up of artifacts, espoused values and underlying beliefs. Employee experience could therefore be interpreted as one outcome of culture. Heathy cultures may lead to healthy experiences, and vice-versa. But this does not tell the full story.
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A more expansive picture of EX emerges when we consider who owns it.
Typically, organizational culture is owned by leadership, particularly at the top. Human Resources then deliver specific programs (on-boarding, engagement and various development programs) that help shape it.
EX, though, has no clear owner across a majority of organizations. This is in part because it touches on so many factors (such as office design, technology systems, remote working, wellness schemes and advancement opportunities), and in part because most engagement surveys limit data collection to assessing leadership, ability to apply one’s strengths to one’s role, and net promoter scores.
In other words, organizations are not measuring EX. Further, unless specific activities are designed to address gaps in EX when they are surfaced, employees are left feeling they have not been listened to, and once again, efforts to provide thoughtful feedback are ignored.
Some might argue that EX is really a warmed over and gussied-up approach to retention; that by providing latte machines, lunch-and-learns, access to coaches, the latest iPhones and more plants per square metre of office space, organizations are trying to address issues that have far deeper roots.
Why does Employee Experience Matter?
There are good reasons organizations should focus on improving the overall experience of employees. One key reason is the shifting demographics of the labor market.
Recent research on younger workers reveals high levels of anxiety and dissatisfaction. This stems in large part from leaders enforcing practices that privilege results and productivity over employee mental and physical health. Further, employees in all age groups seek opportunities to grow and learn. Unfortunately many employers see employee development as an expense and not the investment it is. As a result, workers vote with their feet, seeking purpose and growth elsewhere.
What’s more, talented and mobile workers are no longer willing to conform to the rules of previous generations when it comes to where they work, the hours they work and how they dress for work. Organizations more interested in rule-followers than creative professionals driven to make meaningful contributions will lose out to those who value these latter traits.
In some corners, cases have been made that a focus on EX should supersede customer-centric approaches for the simple reason that if the boss takes care of the workers, the workers will take care of the customers. Others have countered that if the customer is not at the heart of your business, you have no business.
What Employees Want
Employees for their part, are looking beyond compensation and benefits towards other measures of satisfaction at work. The latest reports in this regard highlight two other critical factors that impact EX: one is having effective processes and technology (to prevent or mitigate repetitive or time-wasting tasks), and second is reporting to effective leaders committed to being open and supportive.
This data echoes back to Herzberg’s two-factor theory, which articulates that a good salary, generous benefits and healthy working conditions keep workers from being unhappy, but it is purpose, recognition and meaning that actually provide fulfillment and, critically, a sense of belonging.
In the end, each of us seeks the fruits of our labor in the form of a reasonable pay, yet we know that unhappiness at work has tremendous costs to how we experience all parts of our lives. Employers who make efforts beyond adhering to the minimum standards of safe and healthy workplaces, and seek to create environments where work has an additive effect to one’s life, are likely to not only have happy workers, but more productive ones as well.
The Bottom Line
Lest we forget, though, the overwhelming bulk of organizations are in business to make money. And a key motivation for enhancing worker experience is to decrease the costs of getting – and having – employees, and increase financial gains for shareholders. This means a significant inducement to creating positive employee experience is the impact on net profits.
The World of Work Project View
If the only motivation to improve employee experience is a profit-motive, workers will see right through this, possibly resulting in decreased engagement and increased turnover.
As such, organizations aiming to improve EX are wise to consider the following: attempts to enhance how employees think and feel about their jobs must happen in full and active partnership with employees. Many leaders stage a big song-and-dance about co-creation and employee participation in improving how it feels to work in a particular company, but truly soliciting and acting on everyone’s perspective to build culture is frequently set aside in favor of social mixers and ping pong tables, and hiring big box consultants to design programs that take little of the actual lived experience of employees doing the work into account. If leaders really do want to listen to what their employees think, they might consider trying hosting a tell me anything session.
Finally, once staff have offered their views on making things better, employers must take action by empowering employees to bring the needed changes to life. These changes often are achieved through a program of organizational development. There is no faster route to eroded trust, and dwindling levels of discretionary effort than yet another wave of promises to change that are empty.
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LISA SCHMIDT, M.Ed. ACPC, is a seasoned speaker and organizational development consultant. She helps executives and organizations speak truth and act with courage in developing compelling and powerful strategies, along with the roadmaps to get there.
More than a coach and facilitator, Lisa is a thinking partner who leverages her experience with iconic organizations such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Hospital for Sick Children and Atomic Energy of Canada – and internationally with the Mastercard Foundation – to shift organizations from a focus on results and success, to one of impact, legacy and significance.
A former speechwriter credited with writing “the Million Dollar speech” for a hospital fundraising campaign, and the recipient of Canadian Council literary funding, she understands how language is critical to leadership, and helps leaders hone their ability to inspire and build their legacy.
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