Employee experience: What does it mean for the return to the workplace?
Employee Experience (EX) is being prioritised by senior leaders as people return to the workplace. Find out why it’s so important and how to create positive EX in your organisation.
Employee experience was already on the radar pre-COVID. Eighty-four percent of CHROs backed it as a priority,1 and brands like Zappos and Airbnb were exploring how to utilize it more effectively. But what we thought we knew about employee experience - and what it means for employee engagement - has shifted significantly since the pandemic.2, 3
The world has experienced a fundamental change where employees are looking for more from their workplaces than before. Working styles have changed. Money is no longer the only motivating factor for people rethinking how, when and where they want to work.
So what does this mean for people, and what does it mean for the companies they work for? Let's start at the beginning.
Returning to the workplace
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What does employee experience mean?
For people who are part of an organisation, employee experience (EX) is simply the reality of what it’s like to work there – the positives, negatives and everything in between. It runs through all stages of the employment life-cycle, from initial recruitment to the exit interview and affects the extent ex-employees will advocate your organisation in their wider networks.
EX should be designed to give employees the best possible experience while at work, creating a workplace where people want – not need – to show up. But how exactly can you achieve this?
EX can be influenced by anything from how you display your values and culture to the public to how you respond to someone’s initial application. Potential new hires make a series of subconscious judgments about your organisation from the beginning of their journey with you.
In the past, those touchpoints or ‘moments’ happened within a physical workplace. But now people are working in a variety of hybrid ways, EX includes the virtual environment too.
So how do you know if your company has the employee experience advantage? Here are nine initial questions to ask yourself:
- Are your people happy at work with a good sense of wellbeing?
- Do they feel inspired by your company, its leaders, and its vision?
- Do they trust you?
- Do they feel they have a voice and that they are listened to?
- Are they engaged with your organisation’s approach to inclusion, equity, and diversity?
- Is the work meaningful to employees of all ages and backgrounds?
- Does your company and its people have a growth – rather than fixed – mindset?
- Do people feel they are making a difference in the lives of colleagues or customers?
- Do they have access to the right tools and systems to be able to do their job effectively?
What’s the difference between employee experience and employee engagement?
The terms employee experience and employee engagement (EE) are often used interchangeably, but the two concepts are different. A simple way to think about it is that employee engagement is the result of good employee experience. So, if EE is one of your key deliverables as a manager, EX is going to be an important element that feeds into that.
It’s also useful to think of EX as being about an employee’s perception of work, rather than any initiatives intended to keep them engaged. If as an organization you’re able to achieve outstanding EX, then great levels of engagement should naturally follow.
This has been shown by researchers at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, who found that happy employees are 13% more productive, making EX a vital ingredient not just for individual engagement but for business performance as a whole.
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The employee experience advantage
Good EX can impact many areas of your business, from how hard someone works and collaborates to how invested they are in overall company performance. A few important areas where your company can gain the employee experience advantage include:
Authenticity and integrity are important elements of employee experience – and it starts at the top. Leaders need to be honest and fair and demonstrate the correct values for positive workplace culture. As some members of the team return to offices, some continue to work remotely, and others work a mixture of the two, building culture with hybrid teams will be essential.
As Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, puts it, "Culture is a thousand things, a thousand times. It is living the core values when you hire; when you write an email; when you are working on a project; when you are walking in the hall. We have the power, by living the values, to build the culture." 4
Through the uncertainty of the pandemic, many people stayed put in secure jobs despite being ready for new opportunities. Now employers are experiencing mass resignations, and face the challenge of recruiting new talent in an increasingly competitive market space. Organisations will need to focus on new ways to attract and retain the right talent, understanding what their employees want and need, and taking action to improve the experiences they offer.
EX is a key component when it comes to staff absence. If your people feel connected and committed to your company and its goals and values, they’re less likely to take unnecessary time off. This, in turn, will help prevent a dip in productivity and overall team morale.
Along with its cousin, customer experience, excellent employee experience can have a profound impact on revenue. According to a Salesforce survey, companies that prioritised EX to deliver better customer experience achieved times faster revenue growth.
A happy worker is a more productive worker. Bain & Co found that if a satisfied employee’s productivity level is 100%, an engaged employee’s level is 144%. But the productivity level of an employee who’s truly inspired by the purpose of their employer is a huge 225%. 5 So, the better your EX, the more productive your employees will be.
Innovative companies have a competitive advantage, and companies with good EX can be twice as innovative as those with low EX scores.
Did you know that an estimated 10% of people leave a new role within six months of starting? 6 It's hugely expensive to keep rehiring for the same positions. Creating positive employee experiences doesn’t stop once you’ve hired and onboarded a new employee - it’s an ongoing process that should be constantly reviewed to meet employee needs.
There's a clear link between employee experience and customer experience. Happy employees give customers a better experience. An MIT survey found that organizations with the highest EX had double the customer satisfaction scores of organizations with the lowest EX.
Employee experience management
Job titles like “employee experience manager” and “head of employee experience” show just how important EX has become. So much so, it's now a recognised discipline. So what do these people do?
An employee experience manager, for example, will work alongside traditional HR, IT and marketing teams to deliver the employee experience strategy. In a nutshell, they're responsible for positively and deliberately influencing every touchpoint or “moment” in the employee lifecycle. That said, it’s important to remember that positive EX can’t be achieved by one person. Everyone in your organisation is responsible for supporting a positive culture and maintaining the systems and values that help give employees the best possible workplace experience.
As Susan Peters, Senior VP of HR at General Electric, said: “We define employee experience simply as seeing the world through the eyes of our employees, staying connected, and being aware of their major milestones."
How do you improve employee experience?
If you want to improve employee experience as people return to the workplace, there are several essential stages in the employee lifecycle you can look at. Here are four of them:
EX starts from the moment a potential employee sees one of your job ads or hears about your company from a friend or contact. It runs right through the application and interview process, even down to how and when you respond after first meeting a candidate. Do you email immediately to thank them for coming in, or do you leave them hanging for weeks while you're interviewing other people?
By now, most companies know the importance of a great onboarding experience, so it's one area where leaders usually give EX a fair amount of consideration. Mentor and buddy schemes are well-established tools for keeping newbies' enthusiasm up and helping them feel confident, capable and part of the team.
Another tip is to make sure you tailor the tech you provide to their needs, that it's ready to use immediately and it's easy to pick up and get started.
Companies that take EX seriously invest in excellent internal communication. They tend to be moving away from traditional annual performance review structures in favour of more frequent employee experience or “pulse” surveys that give managers immediate feedback.
They're also more progressive regarding recognition and rewards, making them more frequent and a lot more bespoke. Some companies give people social recognition on their platforms which can boost happiness and motivation.
There are so many amazing things happening every day in an organisation. Taking the time to shout out and celebrate hard-working colleagues goes a long way in making them feel valued. A recent survey found recognition was most important to 37% of employees, helping create a culture of inclusion and belonging.
In short, it helps to think of employee experience as human experience. Can your people find purpose and meaning in their roles? Are they able to enjoy an enduring connection with your organisation or brand? And do you see them and treat them as individuals? Give your people the gift of a memorable and meaningful time with your organisation and watch employee engagement grow.
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