Employee experience (EX) has quickly become a powerful tool for businesses that desire to influence employee engagement and effectiveness. In addition to improving business results, an EX strategy can also help create a company culture that truly prioritizes employee needs. A recent workplace poll conducted by Gallup shows that 64% of employees in the U.S. are disengaged from their work, with 13% being actively disengaged. A lack of engagement is one of the most common reasons employees leave their employers, and these figures show that deep issues still remain.
As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and manage shifts in remote work and virtual workplaces, it’s important to understand these changes from the employee perspective. In this guide, we’ll look at employee experience and how business leaders can leverage this framework to improve business processes. Most employers will find much of this information familiar and based upon traditional HR practices. The main difference with an EX approach is the way a company uses workforce analytics and employee feedback to address gaps across the entire employee experience journey.
Our guide is broken down into the following categories, with detailed analysis and tips included in each section:
- What is Employee Experience?
- Employee Experience Journey: The Stages of Employee Experience
- Why is Employee Experience Important?
- Challenges of Providing an Excellent Employee Experience
- Considerations for Creating an Effective EX for Remote & Hybrid Workers
- Further Reading About Employee Experience
What is Employee Experience?
Employee experience describes the experiences, interactions, and perceptions an employee has throughout the entire journey with an employer. This concept has been adapted from customer experience (CX), which has become a popular way for businesses to create engaging interactions that maximize customer loyalty and profit. A major focus of both EX and CS is data analysis and the use of measurable benchmarks to both identify and track improvements. It’s much easier to optimize an experience if you have a clear picture of the critical steps involved.
Research has shown that a focus on employee experience can have a positive impact on both productivity and retention. A 2016 report released by IBM and Globoforce confirms that employees who work at businesses with high employee engagement scores perform better at their core job functions. People management is always a challenge, and employee experience helps close the gap between employee needs and corporate resources. Employee experience can be broken down into several categories:
- Work culture
- Physical environment
- Emotional experience
These categories describe the different types of touchpoints between an employee and their employer. These interactions, combined, define an employee’s experience and perspective, impacting employee satisfaction and retention. If any of these parts are frustrating to use or lacking in resources, it can cause a worker to become disengaged and less interested in creating long-term value for the organization.
Employee Experience Journey: The Stages of Employee Experience
The employee experience journey is best described as five stages that every worker experiences from their initial recruitment through to their exit. As the employee moves through each stage, they enter a new phase of the employee-business relationship. It’s important to maintain a holistic view of this journey to ensure that the entire experience is constructive. If any part of the employee journey is frustrating or lacks proper support, there is a strong potential for disengagement.
The first major touchpoint between a company and a potential employee happens during the recruitment phase. Before this time, a candidate may become familiar with the business through a purchase, brand awareness, or feedback from friends and family. After becoming aware of a job opening and submitting an application or being contacted by a recruiter, the candidate decides to pursue a career opportunity with the company.
The application process provides a candidate with a good opportunity to learn more about the business while submitting their work history, references, and experience. Job postings, interviews, and job offers also influence the employee experience during the recruitment process. An employee will often be influenced by how easy these steps are and how long they take to complete. A burdensome and ineffective recruitment process can paint a company in a negative light from the very beginning.
After an employee accepts a job offer and agrees to a start date, the onboarding process begins. This sets the tone for the employee-employer relationship going forward. An effective onboarding process will define clear responsibilities and expectations for both the employee and the employer.
An EX perspective can drastically improve a company’s onboarding process, as it ensures that business leaders and human resources representatives understand what information and resources new employees need to succeed. This often includes the completion of mandatory training, orientation, and access to leadership, mentors, and other coworkers.
Once an employee is fully onboarded, they can begin working in full capacity. During the development phase, the worker may take on multiple roles and further advance in the organization through promotions. This is especially critical during the first year or two of employment.
As an employee progresses, they may desire to learn new skills as part of an individual development plan. Performance evaluations are also an important part of this phase and may include quarterly, semi-annual, and annual reviews. Companies may also invest in employees that wish to seek formal learning opportunities through benefits like tuition reimbursement and by providing access to onsite and offsite training programs.
The retention stage can overlap with the development stage, as companies often take steps to support employee development and improve retention simultaneously. As employees improve their performance and the company has invested significant time and resources into its workforce, retention becomes increasingly crucial.
Several perks may be offered to help employees in the long-term, including parental leave, extended leave, rewards and recognition for achieving goals, and the celebration of work milestones such as anniversaries. As with all stages of the employee experience, it’s often the sum of all benefits offered that makes a true difference rather than a single perk or recognition.
Every employee that comes to work for a company will eventually leave, whether through resignation, layoff, termination, or retirement. The most important consideration for employers during this final phase is to ensure that every employee separates from the company on good terms. This includes appropriate benefits and a sincere effort to collect candid feedback from each and every worker. The exit phase should be seen as an opportunity to strengthen the company’s reputation and demonstrate its core values.
Why is Employee Experience Important?
Employee experience matters because people are the most valuable asset that a company has. While some employees will come and go over time, the collective efforts of your teams will always mean the difference between business success and failure. The goal of employee retention and engagement is to increase the emotional connection between the company and employees. Each worker desires to be heard, understood, and trusted to perform their work duties in the way they find most effective.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to implement work-from-home policies suddenly, and many employees have come to embrace the flexibility that remote working can offer. As some of these same businesses now work to transition back to the office or a hybrid workplace model, it becomes even more critical to solicit employee feedback during the process. A large number of companies are redesigning their employee experience from the ground up and, in some cases, are even shifting permanently to a fully remote work environment. These are major changes that require radical new ways of thinking about productivity, workplaces, and culture.
Challenges of Providing an Excellent Employee Experience
Employee experience is easy to understand but can be challenging to influence in real-world situations. This is due to several factors, including the fact that each employee is unique, yet companies must create corporate-wide policies that apply equally to all workers. Understanding the common challenges that can hinder your company’s ability to influence EX can help you overcome these barriers:
What Impacts Employee Experience?
With a basic understanding of the employee journey presented above, it’s possible to define specific factors that impact employee experience for a particular organization. Each company is unique, and it’s absolutely critical to identify how individual processes, procedures, and experiences influence employees. This can be done through surveys, individual conversations, and the use of advanced workforce analytics solutions.
By leveraging workforce analytics, companies can measure behavioral data from various corporate inputs to monitor and analyze advanced workforce metrics. Coupling these objective analyses with subjective tools like surveys can provide insight into how various factors impact employee sentiment and how those factors and sentiments connect with performance. These add an important dimension to traditional HR practices and enable business leaders to make data-driven and employee-centric decisions, as well as monitor outcomes and adjust quickly in order to make ongoing improvements as needed.
Hiring and Onboarding Processes
When it comes to employee engagement, many employers overlook the hiring and onboarding processes and fail to make meaningful improvements to their approach. One way to overcome this challenge is soliciting timely feedback from all candidates and new hires during and after their experience with hiring and/or onboarding.
Communication & Collaboration
Much of the day-to-day employee experience involves interactions between coworkers. A company should invest adequate time and resources to support employee collaboration and make it easy for individuals and teams to share information and organize work. Workforce analytics can also provide crucial insights into how employees are collaborating, which helps business leaders implement data-driven strategies to support seamless collaboration among and across teams.
For example, one multinational technology firm utilized the Humanyze Platform to help improve its company culture and employee experience. An analysis of data focused on team collaboration, generational gaps, meeting culture, and physical office space utilization revealed that the physical workplace design was hindering necessary collaboration between key departments, and that collaboration behaviors differed significantly between generations. The firm leveraged this data to inform a strategic seating arrangement in a newly expanded office location and introduce new processes foster better collaboration between teams and across different age groups.
Management Practices & Leadership Behaviors
It’s often said that the true values of a company are demonstrated by the actions of its leaders. One of the biggest engagement mistakes that a business can make is failing to align management practices to employee expectations. It’s impossible to have a truly engaging work culture if you expect different behaviors from your employees than you do from the company’s leaders.
Performance Management & Setting Expectations
Many employees and organizations find the performance review process tedious, and that’s because it can be challenging to do effectively. Especially for managers with large teams, it’s sometimes difficult to fully step away from daily activities and take time to reflect and have a meaningful dialogue with each individual. That said, it’s imperative to set clear and transparent goals and expectations both on a team and individual level, and providing meaningful feedback to employees is essential for employee development.
Performance reviews aren’t just for leaders to provide feedback to employees. They also present an opportunity for employees to provide feedback on processes, procedures, the work culture, and other elements that either hinder or support their work or abilities to achieve their goals.
It can be nearly impossible to create a rewarding experience if an employee feels like their well-being is not a priority, and this has become increasingly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that don’t actively solicit feedback and analyze workforce data often don’t recognize these employee sentiments and their business impacts until it’s too late. Not all employees will actively voice their true feelings, so it’s important to explore different feedback forums and tools that can help different employees feel comfortable and safe providing any feedback. A transparent and open process of continuous improvement, proactive solicitation of employee feedback, and offering benefits and opportunities for employees to maintain work-life balance and improve their mental and physical health are all key factors in ensuring that employees feel respected and valued.
For example, one leading auto manufacturer leveraged the Humanyze Platform to evaluate the impact of the shift to a remote-first work model and found that employees were struggling to find time for meaningful interactions while also finding time for focused work during the 8-hour workday. As a result, more than half (55%) of employees were working more than 10-hour days, on average, over a 9-month measurement period. The data also revealed that employees’ sense of connection and trust with colleagues and management had declined.
Data on the number of meetings and time spent emailing, as well as metrics related to interactions with coworkers and leadership, indicated that employees had not yet discovered new ways to engage with their managers and peers that provided the same connection as the face-to-face interactions they were able to have in the physical office environment. These insights enabled the company to implement data-driven strategies to modify work processes and communication pathways to better meet employees’ needs, supporting a better work-life balance, improved employee well-being, and increased productivity.
Physical Workplace/Workspace Design
Changing the physical layout and design of a workplace can be difficult and costly, but the efforts are often well worth the investment when done effectively using data. This topic has become a high priority during the COVID-19 pandemic as employees seek flexible workspace designs and access to remote conferencing and communication tools to support productivity and engagement.
Workforce analytics can help business leaders design physical workplaces that meet employees’ needs for space, proximity to coworkers and other teams that they collaborate with frequently, and health and safety goals. For instance, one large European bank leveraged the Humanyze Platform to analyze data on office layouts and collaboration to compare low-performing branches to higher-performing branches. The analysis revealed that a poor office layout hindered collaboration and opportunities for face-to-face interaction with teammates. After redesigning the office space to increase employee interactions throughout the day and implementing other strategies to improve collaboration, the under-performing branches realized increased sales of 11% over the next year.
Most companies will place at least some effort in collecting employee feedback. The real challenge, however, is what is done after the feedback is received. Companies that develop world-class employee experience collect both subjective and objective employee feedback, proactively analyze feedback and use it to inform company decisions that can improve the workplace.
A competent HR department will have access to several data sets to review recruiting, performance, and workplace practices. Many companies also conduct an annual employee feedback survey to collect additional information. As mentioned above, an innovative approach that has emerged in recent years is the use of comprehensive workplace analytics software that is becoming an important tool for EX design. Workforce analytics solutions assess factors such as the use of systems and processes, collaboration, meeting patterns and behaviors, physical workplace design, efficiency, alignment, and other metrics to provide ongoing macro and micro-views of an organization’s health and effectiveness. Armed with this data, business leaders can quickly see trends in the environment, derive actionable insights and make data-driven decisions to improve every facet of the employee experience.
Considerations for Creating an Effective EX for Remote & Hybrid Workers
While many companies may still plan on returning to the office eventually, remote and hybrid work environments are certainly here to stay. Developing an effective EX for a remote or hybrid team can present unique challenges that require a close alignment between management, IT, HR, and real estate functions. Here are three considerations to make when supporting remote or hybrid workers.
- Remote Development Opportunities. To further develop their skills, employees working outside the office may need access to additional tools that allow them to study and interact remotely. It’s helpful to define specific resources for these situations and create opportunities that are meaningful to the employees and helpful for the business.
- Alignment Between Management, HR, IT and Real Estate. Developing EX in a remote or hybrid environment requires support from management, HR and IT departments, as well as real estate. These teams and functions are the most critical to ensuring that employees are engaged and satisfied with company practices, perks, and benefits. There may also be opportunities to use AI tools and analytics when creating the EX program.
- Digital Quality of Life. Most employees in an office spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, and this can be even worse for remote workers. Having helpful workplace guidelines can help employees manage their day so they are not overcome with eye fatigue, strain, or ergonomic problems. These instructions can include how to manage virtual meetings effectively, make use of digital chat programs, and take sufficient breaks throughout the day.
- Equity in Promotions and Benefits. Remote workers don’t have the same opportunities to walk through the halls and mingle with colleagues and managers that on-site employees do. Likewise, while hybrid workers do get some opportunities for face-to-face interaction with coworkers, it’s not as frequent as the daily interactions on-site employees benefit from. An effective employee experience ensures that there is equity in benefits and promotions so that everyone is on the same level, regardless of their work environment.
Designing a highly effective employee experience is possible for any organization when business leaders consider the factors that impact the employee experience at each stage of the employee journey and leverage workplace analytics solutions to derive actionable insights. Making data-driven decisions designed to strategically target and improve the experience across the entire employee journey can have significant impacts on organizational effectiveness and organizational health.
Further Reading About Employee Experience
For more information about developing world-class employee experience, please visit the following resources:
- Improve the Employee Experience (Gartner)
- The Workspace Influence on the Employee Experience (Humanyze)
- Making Technology an Integral Part of Your Employee Experience Strategy (HBR)
- Reimagine and craft the employee experience (Deloitte)
- Designing Your Organization’s Employee Experience (Gallup)
- Employee Experience Services 2020 (HFS Research)
- Employee Experience – How to Build an EX-Centric Organization (Kennedy Fitch)
- Designing Employee Experience (IBM Institute for Business Value)
- COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment (McKinsey & Co.)
- The Employee Experience Index (IBM Analytics)