Employee Engagement to Employee Experience: Why HR should focus on the individual

First impressions count

“We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.”

That’s a quote from Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. In terms of employees and employers, the clarity of the statement is strong. The fragility of first impressions isn’t always appreciated.

For HR professionals, some would argue it’s underappreciated and taken for granted.

The very first interaction with a new employee matters and lasts until the last day of work for that employee. In terms of engagement, it helps nurture its strength throughout the lifecycle of employment. Employees need to see a commitment from the employer that includes the discussion of learning paths and opportunities for growth and stimulation. In short, employees, especially now are looking for the experience of work.

A shift is happening

What does that mean? In simplistic terms, employees are expecting more engaging and enjoyable work experiences. This is commonly referred to as the employee experience.

To further explain this concept, I will make a comparison to the customer experience.

Customer experience, at its most basic level, is the perception of your brand by the customer. Change ‘customer’ to ‘employee’ and you have the basic definition of employee experience.

For a long time, employers have not thought about the experience a worker has while employed by the company. Let me be clear. It’s not to say the thought hasn’t been considered, but it’s never been a defined concept. It appears 2018 will be the year where the HR community will see a significant push toward the employee experience.

The numbers appear to be trending in that direction.

A few years ago, the Temkin Group published a report that noted a correlation between employee engagement and success in the customer experience. The organization said companies that excel at customer experience have 1.5 times as many engaged employees as those that do not. To reinforce the statement, in one study Gallup has found 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged, but companies with high engagement outperform their competitors by 147% in earnings per share.

Available and emerging technology is certainly playing a part in the process. In fact, it’s part of the impetus for the change. As the race to digitize the workspace speeds up, it’s not enough for HR professionals to buy digital products. They also have to be digital.

Here’s an example.

Singapore-based OCBC Bank has developed an in-house mobile app called HR In Your Pocket. The app literally gives employees a holistic HR resource center that is handheld. Workers are able to perform tasks such as submit leave requests, track benefits, and view internal job postings. The app also houses a chatbot that can address employees’ HR questions.

In Asia, this signals a significant shift towards a more digital HR, one that could rival other, more advanced countries.

Employing experience to beat a lack of engagement

business man doing computer work

Stock Photo Secrets

As employees seek the workplace experience, it becomes abundantly clear they are looking for an individual experience. That’s a difficult pill to swallow, as HR professionals have mostly focused their strategies on a one-size-fits-all approach. The HR community has long accepted each and every employee is different. There are similarities that exist from person to person, but overall, those similarities pale in comparison to the differences that exist. That’s why an employee experience strategy must focus on the individual and not the workforce body as a whole.

Employees want to be included in shaping their workspace and they want a voice in their own career development. Employee experience is all about creating a personalized employee journey.

That can be done by applying a customer-centric approach. Just as you would outline the journey a customer takes with your company, do the same for an employee. This can be applied throughout the employment life cycle.

  1. Sourcing and recruiting
  2. Pre-boarding
  3. Onboarding
  4. Compensation and benefits
  5. Ongoing learning and development
  6. Ongoing engagement and communication
  7. Rewards and recognition
  8. Performance planning, feedback, and review
  9. Advancement
  10. Retirement, termination, or resignation

Outline the desired outcomes for the company and the employee. This will allow both you, as a HR professional, and the employee to visualize the journey.

Just as it is with the customer experience, this will help bring the company’s brand to life.

But everyone one must stay engaged.

Gap Inc. uses the concept of the touch base meeting. In fact, it may surprise you to learn it has completely replaced the concept of a year-end review. Essentially, a touch base allows managers an opportunity to find out what individual employees need and want.

“If you're talking to your employees all the time you're going to find out that what Employee A wants is very different than what Employee B wants. If you're not talking to them, chances are you're just going to apply the same solution to everybody,” Ollander-Krane said. “You have to understand where the person is and what they're doing right now in order to figure out what you need to give them. If you're not talking to them and working with them on a fairly frequent basis you'll never know.”

At least one company is stepping up its employee experience strategy. Alorica, the world’s third largest customer engagement provider, has appointed a new Chief Legal and Employee Experience Officer. Tania King’s duties include leading the company’s employee experience initiatives.

“A world-class employee experience begins with creating an emotional connection between our employees and our brand,” King said. “An important part of that connection is our culture, which centers around engaging and supporting our employees in a collaborative, family atmosphere. Other factors include utilizing technology and enhancing digital tools specifically for our employees as an investment in their development.”

Another company, Cinemark, uses employees to keep each other engaged and to positively impact the employee experience.

“Every time somebody has a question, they are in an awkward situation to ask people around them, so how do you ease life for these new employees?”

Supriya Bahri, the VP Global Head of Total Rewards and HRIS for Cinemark, says it’s a concept we’ve heard before: the buddy system.

“When you assign somebody as a buddy, they develop a relationship so that when the new employee has a question they have someone to ask,” Bahri said. “It’s really important to get your employees comfortable.”

But it doesn’t stop there. At the end of their first 90 days, new employees are invited to a breakfast and given an opportunity to discuss topics with operations leaders, including what the company has done will and what needs improvement. This allows employees a chance to connect mentally with the business and feel engaged with a positive employee experience.


As with all strategies, even the ones mentioned here, HR professionals are tasked with ensuring a single outcome: to move the company forward in a way that inspires loyalty, not only from employees, but from customers and ensure the creation of a positive environment where workers can thrive and strive for excellence.