Employee Experience: Why it Matters & How to Improve it
Employee experience. This term has been around for a while, but it’s not always well understood. What is employee experience (EX), and what contributes to it? What does it mean for your business if you have a good experience? And, perhaps most importantly, how do I improve it at my organization? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this blog so you’ll be on the right track to improve your employee experience in 2022 and beyond!
What is Employee Experience (EX)?
Employee Experience includes every touchpoint an employee has with your organization. It includes everything from interactions with their manager, fellow employees, and executive leaders to their experience with your brand, internal communications as well as.
Simply put, EX is what it’s like to work at your company.
The Employee Lifecycle
One of the best ways to understand (and therefore improve) EX is to look at the employee lifecycle:
- Hiring/Recruiting. This is often your first impression! The recruiting process introduces employees to your culture and gives them a sense of what it’s like to work at your company.
- Employee Onboarding. This is where you set your employees up for success with the systems, tools, and training they’ll need. It’s also where relationships start to develop and where they start seeing the culture and values in action.
- Work Time. This is the day-to-day of a job. It’s impacted by your benefits package (or lack thereof for hourly or part-time workers). And it’s where the relationship with an employees’ direct manager really sets the tone. Managers cause 70% of the variance of employee engagement because they are such a big part of an employees’ daily experience.
- Employee Exit. This is a stage that a lot of companies miss. After an employee puts in their resignation, is laid off, or fired, there is still a lot of time to impact the lasting impression that employee will leave with. Will they feel jaded or burned? Or supported and impressed? This all hinges on the exit interview and how an employee is treated after they decide to leave.
You need to look at all of these stages. How you start and end that relationship is just as important as the day-to-day. For well-known brands, you also have to consider that your future employees may have interacted with your brand as a customer. If they had an amazing customer experience but a lackluster employee experience, this can create dissonance.
Even if you haven’t consciously thought about the experience at your company…there is one. And it can be good or bad for different employee groups.
What is Digital Employee Experience (DEX) and How is it Different?
You may have also heard about the digital employee experience or DEX. This refers to the experience employees have with your company on digital platforms.
Because the way we work is increasingly moving online—including how we meet, communicate, and collaborate—it’s important to consider your digital touchpoints in addition to the in-person and on-site ones.
- The company intranet
- If communication and resources are housed behind a VPN
- HRIS system and how it’s accessed
- If your channels and websites are mobile-optimized
- The accessibility of your communication, resources, and websites
What is the Difference Between Employee Experience vs. Engagement?
Employee experience and employee engagement are very interrelated. While employee experience is the journey of someone through your employee lifecycle, employee engagement is a state of being.
Gallup defined Employee Engagement as “the basic psychological needs that must be met in order to perform your work well.” Specifically, companies look at how committed and involved an employee is at work, which is why it’s become such an important buzzword in recent years.
So much emphasis has been placed on engagement that we often overlook the employee lifecycle and the experience at each stage. While it’s true that some employees can be engaged even in toxic work environments because of their personalities, typically, if EX is poor, engagement also suffers.
Let’s explore that link. Gallup says it best: “Engagement is not an event, an incentive program, or a fun perk.” It’s mostly driven by our relationships at work. We’d argue that one of the biggest influencers for your experience at work is also these relationships and if you feel supported, valued, and respected.
So, engagement can influence employee experience…and vice versa. Consider this:
- How engaged your employees are has an effect on how they think about your company and the experience they have working there. Engaged employees also have a positive effect on their peers’ experience. Whereas disengaged employees can bring morale and culture down (but don’t blame them—help them!).
- But the inverse is also true, right? If you have a positive work environment that’s safe, respectful, and supportive, those employees are more likely to feel good and have a healthier, more engaged mindset at work.
Since engagement and EX are linked, they should be discussed together. If you’re seeing low employee engagement scores, you have to fix the root of the problem, which is likely environmental.
Why is the Employee Experience Important for Organizations?
There are so many reasons why improving employee experience (and employee engagement) are important for your company.
Because people matter.
While there is certainly a business case for creating more positive experiences for your employees at work, this is also the decent thing to do.
Gallup has found that the majority of employees don’t have their basic psychological needs met. Only…
- 30% strongly agree they have the materials and tools they need to do their jobs.
- 40% strongly agree that they even have the opportunity to do what they do best at work.
- 30% strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week.
Those are some sobering statistics…but it somehow gets even worse. Blueboard found in their 2022 State of the Workplace Connection Report that 60% of employees are neutral or disagree that their organization is effective at helping employees feel seen and appreciated at work.
90% of frontline workers think having a valued voice at their company is important, yet 1 in 3 believe nothing will be done if they report an issue (SafetyCulture).
So, what does this have to do with EX? The way people feel at work has everything to do with it. The majority of organizations are failing to connect their employees to their mission, values, and vision (only 44% agree their company has done this effectively). And we are failing to provide even the most basic needs to our workers. This creates an environment that sets employees up for failure and reinforces the message that their organizations don’t care.
We need to change this trend! And luckily, internal comms and HR can make a huge difference. But more on that later.
Because you’ll be more profitable.
Another reason to consider revamping your employee experience is that it has some really big impacts on your KPIs. You can achieve 2x the innovation and generate 25% higher profits just by getting EX right.
Better workplace environments and relationships between workers are also likely to reduce turnover. In one study, they found that high EX scores were correlated with 40% lower turnover.
“A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is ten times more important than compensation in predicting turnover.” – Donald Sull, Charles Sull & Ben Zweig, Toxic Culture is Driving the Great Resignation
Because it will help you attract top talent.
Word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective types of marketing out there. We trust our peers. So, if you have an incredible EX where your employees are engaged and begin advocating for your brand, you are more likely to have a positive brand reputation and become a talent magnet.
On the flip side, because the recruiting process is one of the touchpoints in the employee lifecycle, ensuring that it’s a positive experience and gives the right first impression will also help you recruit.
Because it directly impacts the customer experience.
Miserable employees often provide miserable experiences. If your employees don’t feel safe, respected, or valued, it can be hard for them to show up and give best-in-class hospitality to your customers.
When done right, a great employee experience can double your customer satisfaction scores.
How Do I Measure EX?
This can be where it gets tricky because internal communications professionals can struggle with measurement. That said, we have to start measuring employee experience so we can begin making meaningful improvements that we can correlate with business success.
Surveys are one way to start measuring how good your employee experience is. Pulse surveys, in particular, can give you a better picture of EX over time. Ask your employees questions about their experience at work. This might include questions about:
- Whether employees feel physically safe and psychologically safe at work.
- If they feel they have the tools, training, and opportunities to do their jobs and capitalize on their skills.
- How employees are treated by their managers, peers, and executive leaders.
- If they feel like they have a valued voice within the company and their direct teams.
- If they feel like they are fairly treated and compensated.
Focus groups are a great way to get detailed information about a topic. Make sure your focus groups are a diverse, representative sample of your employee population. Consider employee age, tenure, roles, benefit status, etc. Ask your focus groups about their experience with your company at all stages of their employment.
- Hiring/Recruiting. Ask how they found and applied for their job. If they were recruited, ask about what that process looked like, how they felt, and the impression it left. If they applied via your website or a forum, ask them if the process was easy, confusing, or time-consuming.
- Onboarding. Ask if they received formal onboarding and training. If so, what was that like? Was it effective? How was the pace? And if they didn’t, ask how that has impacted them ever since.
- Day-to-Day Work. A LOT of things fall into this category, so you might want to break it into separate focus group sessions. But some big questions to consider:
- How do your peers and boss treat you?
- What are your feelings about your job and the company?
- How do you get to work?
- Are you able to access the tools and resources you need on the job and outside of work (e.g. HR materials for things like benefits enrollment)?
- Exit. If you can, ask employees about their experience during the exit interview. Can you share a survey or include a question at the end of an exit interview to see how that transition went?
In these sessions, don’t forget to ask employees for their ideas. You’d be surprised how often your employees have the solution to your problems. And since it’s their experience you’re trying to improve, really listen to their thoughts on how things could be better at your company.
How Can I Improve Employee Experience?
Deloitte has found that 80% of executives believe that employee experience is important, but only 22% reported that their companies were excellent at actually building a positive EX. And that pretty much checks out.
The 2022 State of the Sector asked internal communicators what best described their company’s approach to employee experience.
- 19% said there is a cross-departmental group in place to define and embed their EX
- 37% said there is no formal group, but a high level of collaboration
- 44% said there is limited collaboration between departments to shape EX
Even if you have a great plan, team, and strategy with leadership sponsorship, the data really shows us that we still have a long way to go to improve EX. I’m going to share a few strategies that you can begin implementing in your companies as HR and IC professionals.
Set SMART Employee Experience Goals & Start Measuring
No initiative will succeed if we don’t set objectives and measure our progress. Remember, whenever you’re setting goals you want them to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Basically, they need to be something concrete that you can actually measure within a period of time.
Here’s an example. Say you start a pulse survey where you ask employees: “How positive is the work environment at [our company].” With the answers: Very Positive, Positive, Neither Positive or Negative, Negative, or Very Negative.
Your smart goal might be to increase the percentage of employees who say either positive or very positive by 20% by the end of the year. This goal has a specific question and percent increase in mind. It’s bound to a timeframe so you can gauge if you missed or achieved your goal. The goal is measurable because it’s tied to your regular survey. It’s relevant to your overarching goal of improving EX. Whether it’s achievable totally depends on your starting point! You don’t want to aim too low, but you also don’t want to set totally unrealistic goals.
Be Mindful of the Recruiting and Hiring Process
The hiring process has been taking a lot of heat lately…and for good reason. There are a lot of things we do in the process of bringing employees on board that just don’t make sense.
There is no judgment, but tally up the number of these things you’re company is currently doing:
- Not listing salary ranges in job descriptions and/or withholding that information or misleading your range until an offer is made.
- Recruiters reach out to candidates they think are a good fit and still making that candidate fill out the job application.
- Having candidates upload a resume and still fill in their experience manually (or double checking the PDF autofill which we all know messes that up).
- Ghosting candidates you don’t want to move forward with.
- Taking weeks to get back to qualified employees because you want to be absolutely certain there’s no one better.
- Having candidates go through undue rounds of interviews that could easily be consolidated or restructured.
- Requiring candidates to perform unpaid work as a “test.”
These are just a few examples of things that candidates can be frustrated with. This can turn off potential employees, but other times it just sets the wrong tone. So, look at your hiring and recruiting process and figure out what you can easily change today and what you can start working towards evolving over time.
Revamp or Assess Your Onboarding Process
Did you know that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding? You’ve probably had jobs where you felt like the company totally missed the mark…or didn’t really onboard you at all. That makes this a huge area of opportunity. And because onboarding is so fundamental to future job success and retention, there’s the possibility for huge ROI here.
We recommend working with human resources and leadership to look at what your current onboarding process looks like today, and ask your employees what it’s like (focus groups!), and then make real changes. Once you make those changes, follow up with new employees who go through your new onboarding program to see if you moved the needle. And keep going until you get it right!
But don’t forget, this will also require change management and training of your people managers. It’s all well and good if you make changes on paper, but your managers actually need to implement the new protocol for this to work.
Invest in Training
The main reason people change jobs is to pursue career growth opportunities. And in the current climate, it often comes with higher compensation and better benefits. This can make it hard to compete if you don’t offer growth opportunities for existing employees. A great way to change this is to invest in training programs for your staff and to promote more internally.
Not only will this help you retain employees who otherwise would have to see learning and development elsewhere, but you also send the message that employees matter to you. That their growth is important. That they’re worth investing in.
How Can I Improve DEX?
As you work towards improving your overall employee experience, don’t forget about the experience on your digital platforms (or lack thereof). Again, starting by asking your employees about their current experiences with these systems is a great starting point and will help you make the right changes.
But here are a few things to consider:
- Making your platforms more accessible for users with disabilities.
- Optimizing channels for mobile engagement. Since 97% of US adults own smartphones (Pew Research), and 80% of the global workforce is deskless, we need to assume that mobile phones are one of the primary ways employees access information in the modern workplace.
- Auditing your channels to make sure all employee groups have access to the information, channels, and tools they need.
92% of employers worldwide reported that employee experience will be a priority over the next three years (2021 Employee Experience Survey, Willis Towers Watson).
But just because we say something is a priority or know it’s important, doesn’t always translate to taking action. Or taking the right action.
So, if you’re looking to start improving the employee experience, remember to include your employees in the process and let their input guide your strategy.
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