Employee Experience (EX): a project for the future of irresistible organizations

By HR Club on 12 July 2018

Anyone who’s ever held a job has had an “employee experience.” But were you to ask ten different people to tell you exactly what an employee experience is, chances are you’d get ten different answers, none of which would necessarily bring you any closer to a full understanding of the overarching concept that has become something of a buzzword in recent years. While studies show that a well-designed employee experience (or EX) leads to greater levels of engagement, enthusiasm, involvement, and employer brand commitment, the truth is that it's hard to build something that you can't even define. So just what is the employee experience? Allow us to explain.

Employee experience isn’t about any single thing, but rather it’s the culmination of countless experiences gleaned over time. And as day-to-day experiences are never exactly the same, employee experience tends to be in constant flux (and therefore in need of constant care and attention). All of this makes it even more difficult to get a fix on the full meaning and significance of what is an ever-changing process.

What can be said is that the employee experience is ultimately about people, and while it can be characterized in countless ways, it's made up of three basic elements. By focusing on these three aspects, organizations can take significant steps toward actively designing and shaping compelling experiences for their employees. 


1. An Overall Set of Employee Perceptions

Globoforce Workhuman Research Institute and IBM Smarter Workforce Institute define the employee experience as “a set of perceptions that employees have about their experiences at work in response to their interactions with the organization.” This element of the employee experience should be easy for anyone to understand, because we’ve all seen it in our daily working lives. 

One day, the EX might be defined by the traffic-jammed commute you were forced to endure; or maybe it’s the cosy cubicle where you sit with a calming view to a nearby park; it could be the way a supervisor reacted to your request to work from home, or the mentor who took you under his or her wing; it could even have something to do with the printer that’s always jammed, or your outdated desktop computer—the one that’s still running an ancient software version.

What is certain is that the employee experience, however you personally define it on any given day, impacts the way you think about the work you do and the people for whom you do it. EX is therefore a matter of crucial importance, not only for your personal and professional wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of your organization.

Successful EX design focuses on HR products and services that strengthen the emotional connections people have to their work. While such designs are often co-created so as to produce mutually desired results across multiple touch points, “there’s no magic formula" according to Sir Richard Branson. In a 2010 interview with HR Magazine, the renowned entrepreneur remarked, “The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” Think of it as the Golden Rule for creating an exceptional employee experience.


2. A Collection of Environmental Factors: Cultural, Technological, and Physical

Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, writes that “as we shift to the future of work, where organizations are focusing on the reasons why employees want to work versus need to work, it is important to understand employee experience.” Morgan has concluded that every employee experience, no matter the size or scope of an organization, is comprised of three basic environments: cultural, technological, and physical.

a) Cultural

Culture can be defined by the way an employee “feels” at work in relation to what’s expected of him or her on a day-to-day basis. It’s the aura given off by a company’s structure, hierarchy, and leadership, and it takes into consideration traditional work factors like compensation and benefits. For years, culture was thought to be the sole aspect of an employee’s experience: The belief was that if an employee showed up and did satisfactory work, he or she would in return be happy to receive a living wage and two weeks of paid vacation every summer. Needless to say, this one-dimensional, old-fashioned approach is no longer valid as employee values have shifted over time. The days of focusing solely on culture are over.

b) Tehnological

The technological environment is all about the tools an employee needs to do his or her job. If you’re working in a traditional clerical or administrative position, this means desktop computers, software, mobile devices, headsets—even paper and pens. Advancements in digital technology have greatly changed the ways that people work, and as technology continues to make exponential advancements (think about Artificial Intelligence, autonomous cars, or IBM’s Watson), it will continue to influence industry in profound ways. Consider, for instance, that more than 43% of American employees did remote work in 2016, a reality only made possible through advances in mobile technology. But no matter the setting, organizations are expected to provide the best tools available in order for their employees to do their jobs. That includes finding new and better ways to facilitate communication, collect and share feedback, and—perhaps most importantly—make data actionable.

c) Physical

The physical environment is everything you can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste: it’s your desk and chair; it’s the dusty fern dying in the corner; it’s the art on the walls; it’s the communal tables and the lunches you eat from them; it’s the noise from the street outside your window. These factors, which include temperature, air quality, and office lighting, all affect employee concentration and directly influence the wellbeing, performance, and productivity of your people. Workers who are satisfied with their physical surroundings are simply more likely to do better work. The physical environment is thus of crucial importance, especially for desk-bound employees who spend long hours inside their organizations. Those in charge of designing physical spaces need to make certain that they offer a motivational ambiance that promotes creativity and productivity.


3. A Broadening of Traditional HR Functions 

My philosophy has always been, if you can put staff first, your customers second, and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy. – Sir Richard Branson

It has long been understood that creating a positive customer experience (or CX) is pivotal to the success of a business. As a result, marketing teams have become more and more adept at creating compelling customer experiences. Some enormously successful corporate empires have been founded on the principle. But there is a counterintuitive concept behind this line of thinking: successful customer experiences depend upon putting your employees first, not your customers

Employees are on the front lines of brand representation, and organizations are finally realizing that the same focused attention aimed at developing customer relations should be shown to to their workforces. It’s something of a cliche that corporate leaders refer to their employees as being their most valuable asset; but despite the sloganeering, many continue to focus on approaches that send the opposite message to employees. The customer, it seems, is not always right, and businesses that act on this realization by actively putting their employees first, consistently see that it ultimately leads to better customer service. 

Companies are beginning to apply a consumer and digital lens to their HR functions through the creation of social, mobile, and consumer-like employee experiences. Such attempts often begin by identifying a company’s customer experience methods that also have HR applications. Efforts might start with a needs-based segmentation strategy, wherein a company will organize their workforce based on certain professional traits of their personnel rather than broader distinctions like title, department, or location. Another CX application is the journey map, which looks at various stages of the employee life cycle from the employee’s point of view so as to identify areas in need of attention, improvement, and reward. 


As work radically evolves in the 21st century, with software set to disrupt most traditional industries in the next five to ten years, it’s becoming more and more obvious that try as companies might to create engagement with their employees, it is the employees themselves who are the ultimate arbiters of whether or not to engage with their work. The bottom line is that a well-considered and wisely implemented strategy in regard to EX—one that takes into consideration employee perceptions, environmental factors in the workplace, and a consumer-style approach to HR—is certain to lead to greater levels of employee engagement, enthusiasm, involvement, retention, and employer brand commitment.


In a recent study by Deloitte University Press, Josh Bersin et al found that almost 80% of executives worldwide rated employee experience as important or very important. On  October 25th, come to EXperience Conference and find out directly from the keynote speaker Josh Bersin, Industry Analyst & Thought Leader, how you can create the type of work culture that can transform your organization into an irresistible one for your employees.


This is a shortened and adapted version of the article The 3 Essential Elements of Employee Experience Design 

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