Employee Experience: The HR Guide to Meeting Worker Expectations in the New Normal




Employee experience

The emergence of the term employee experience represents a recognition by business leaders that a need to invest in the environment, interactions and structure of what an employee experiences during their time with a company exists.

After decades of worrying about things like satisfaction and engagement, many human resource teams have turned to examining and measuring the quality of the employee experience instead as it encapsulates all of the aforementioned aspects of their employment. This approach gives employers a more holistic understanding of what workers experience during an average day as well as over the entire life cycle of their employment, from recruitment to hiring, onboarding, engagement, development and so on.

Looking at the employee life cycle through the lens of experience provides insight into how HR can help employees improve their overall health and success. 

A good employee experience has a powerful effect, as workers are more engaged, more committed to mapping out a future with the company and become evangelists for the company name when it comes time to recruit new team members.

Elements of Employee Experience

To better understand the employee work experience, we first have to understand what comprises it. The key elements of the employee experience that a company can reasonably expect to influence are laid out in the graphic below. 

These are not to be confused factors that influence the employee experience and ultimately plug into various parts of the employee work experience. Influential factors that can positively or negatively impact employee experience, sometimes falling outside of the HR leaders control, include:

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Employee personality
  • Immediate manager
  • Nature of the role

These factors are all important as they may play an important part in determining how satisfied someone is with the company or their place in it, but they’re not necessarily larger organizational issues that HR teams can or should look to address.

The Importance of Employee Experience

The value of focusing on the employee experience for the business is substantial. According to a study from Towers Watson, the link between a commitment to employee experience and organizational success is strong, backing up previous research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The study concluded that organizations who offer strong employee experiences consistently beat competitors in their sector by an average of 2-4% when looking at key performance metrics “including return on assets and equity, one-year change in profitability, and three-year changes in revenue and profitability.” 

Put simply, a commitment to experience leads to positive gains in retention, engagement, recruiting and the bottom line.

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Advice from HR Leaders about Measuring the Employee Experience

“Our annual engagement survey also provides a variety of demographic data so that we’re able to discern trends by age, tenure, job discipline and other filters. This helps pinpoint needs in specific areas, thereby giving us the ability to further customize solutions and support needs in those areas as needed.” - Vishal Bhalla, Chief Experience Officer, Parkland Health & Hospital System

“In the business world, organizations that pick up on that and build their business model on the fact that if they can create the best experience they’re going to keep their customers forever. If you apply that same methodology for employees, HR inevitably takes on an experience function and engages in the experience economy. The employee experience is going to be a competitive advantage.” – Sebastien Girard, Vice President for Workforce Engagement, Atrium Health

“Think about all the different opportunities that leaders have to be able to connect with team members around their experience, and certainly technology is going to be helpful in that. But having that meaningful interaction and creating space and capacity for leaders to be able to do that work, I believe is very meaningful for the employee experience across multiple industries.” – Olesea Azevedo, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer at Advent Health.

Creating a Positive Employee Experience

Turning back to the graphic above, let’s take a closer look at the areas HR teams should look to optimize in their quest to engage employees and improve the organization’s performance in key metrics related to engagement.

Physical Work Environment

The spaces in which we work are changing. The Future of Work conversation was leaning toward a common theme of remote work long before COVID-19 kicked the largest work from home experiment the world has ever seen into full gear. This has implications for the employee experience that perhaps only HR and immediate managers can address. Helping employees design comfortable workspaces and providing tips for productivity in that environment is a good way to show the organization’s investment in their success.

Things have never been more complex for those with employees on site as enhanced hygiene facilities, personal protective equipment for those who require it and adherence to social distancing guidelines have all become crucial factors in what employees expect to be part of their experience. Changes to the design of workplaces, be it the spacing of desks in an office or one way routes through retail establishments, are going to provide important considerations for HR professionals going forward.

READ: 5 Tips for Building Trust When Employees Return to Work

Tools and Technology

As is the case with much of the rest of our lives, the tools and technology employees have at their disposal will shape much of what they experience in their work. And much like the technology they use in their own lives, employees want the technology they use in their work to be both powerful and user friendly.

It should address challenges they face and make the employee’s job easier. If they’re sitting in front of slow computers and editing endless spreadsheets, odds are their experience isn’t going to be something they view as positive or memorable no matter where it happens.

The key here is to listen to employee feedback regarding the technology at their disposal, identify areas for improvement and tools that can help, followed by intentional and thoughtful decision-making. The result will be the adoption of technology that helps employees work smarter, not harder while developing new skills and techniques to enhance their function even further.

Diversity and Inclusion

The first thing you’ll need when it comes to diversity and inclusion is a “more than lip service” philosophy when it comes to this aspect of the business. Studies have shown that employees satisfied by their organizations approach to diversity and inclusion are more engaged and will stay with the organization longer.

Underrepresented groups are more likely to experience job satisfaction if they feel like they’re part of a diverse group, but those employees aren’t the only ones who benefit. Companies with diverse employee groups have a broader spectrum of perspectives, skills and experiences to pull from giving them an advantage when the organization needs something that is innovative, creative, well-informed or strategic.  As a result, these companies tend to be more profitable, have a better reputation and are more adept in situations that require problem solving and decision-making.

Organizations committed to diversity have to recognize that there is more to it than simply deploying diverse hiring practices. They have to continuously engage employees through the use of both traditional and virtual ERGs and view diversity as a building block of innovation. Encouraging diversity across teams will help facilitate cultural shifts that lead to diversity fueling the bottom line.

The Emotional Response

All of the elements of employee experience you see listed here can influence the emotional response an employee has toward the company and their work. The important thing is how HR teams and immediate managers then react to that response and what they do with that information.

When it comes to how someone views the company, their role and the expectations that come with it, the most important thing is consistent communication. The employee experience will be shrouded in frustration and confusion if goals are not expressed in a clear manner and employees don’t fully understand where they fit into the organization, particularly in remote environments where connectivity must be a constant theme. 

In addition to communication, feeling like they can be open with feedback is essential to a healthy employer-employee relationship. An open door policy that encourages candid feedback without negative responses or retribution will go a long  way toward making employees feel like they’ve been heard and that the company is invested in them.

Company Culture

Here again, communication is vital. In order for employees to fully understand where they fit into the organization, they have to understand what its mission is. Its values will greatly influence the way in which they go about their work and ethics plays a more important role than ever with employees.

Glassdoor’s most recent Mission and Culture Survey found that more 77% of adults working in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany consider a company’s culture before taking a job there, while 79% say they will consider a company’s mission statement before even applying. More than half indicated that culture played a more important role than salary when it came to job satisfaction.

While some of these perceptions may change in the wake of economic hardships caused by the current pandemic, the research still points to culture as an important element of the employee experience that can determine how likely current employees are to stay and what type of reaction the company will receive when the crisis is over and it’s time to expand the workforce again.

Performance Management

A source of great frustration for everyone from HR leaders to middle managers and entry level employees, performance management processes are often highlighted as an area in need of improvement. That process, like so much of the rest of the work we do, is changing with the growing prevalence of remote work. 

The key to a good performance management approach is remembering who the process is meant to serve; the employee. What they get from it will largely determine how engaged they are when they emerge from the process and how they approach their work and future at the company going forward.

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Professional Development

The result of the coaching that takes place in a good performance management process should lead to professional development. When employees feel as though they are growing, they tend to be more engaged in their work and view the company in a more positive light.

In the end, that development is central to the employee experience. Companies can get every other aspect of this right, but if the employee ultimately feels as though they’re stagnating in their current role, HR will find themselves giving another exit interview shortly thereafter.

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