Employee experience is kind of a big deal, and we all know it. It might not be the future of HR (though it probably is), but it’s something everyone needs to pay attention to. And while it might sound like the sort of thing that involves catered breakfasts and foosball tables, it’s significantly more complex.
So, for the uninitiated, what exactly is employee experience? And what isn’t it?
Employee experience defined
There’s no single universally accepted definition of employee experience, but everyone’s on pretty much the same page.
Basically everything about work that makes employees think or act a certain way
What an employee received during their interaction with careers’ elements (e.g. firms, supervisors, coworkers, customer, environment, etc.) that affect their cognition and attitudes and leads to their particular behaviors. Source.
Basically everything about work that affects how employees think about the company and their role
The employee experience is the sum of all interactions an employee has with their employer. It is the structure and culture of the organization and how the employee perceives the company overall and their role in the company. Source.
Basically every perception employees hold about what happens at work
Basically everything employees encounter in the course of their jobs
The Employee Experience results from the connection, meaning, impact, and appreciation employees find in their jobs. The quality of the Employee Experience depends on how much these pillars are embedded in an employee’s cumulative day-today interactions with corporate values, coworkers, management, customers, work content, tools and technology, and even physical environment. Source.
Basically every feeling employees have about what they deal with at work.
OK, so maybe it’s not just foosball tables and free breakfasts. Employee experience is everything the employee encounters during their employment: from recruitment to retirement. It’s the interactions with people, with technology, with the physical environment, that shape employee perceptions of the organization and their place in it. And these interactions then affect how they act and react in that context.
So, employee experience is basically everything to do with employees. Simple.
Employee experience models: breaking EX down
If you want to improve employee experience at your organization, “look at basically everything to do with employees” is technically correct while also extremely unhelpful. EX is a complex undertaking with strategic implications – we’ll get into the logistics of it a little later, but suffice to say it won’t happen overnight.
Jacob Morgan breaks experience into three key areas: the physical environment, tools and technologies, and the organizational culture. To create a truly positive employee experience, he argues, all three of these areas need attention – and it’s not something a whole heap of companies do effectively.
If you focus on one area to the exclusion of others then that’s obviously where you’ll be strongest: culture, tech or environment. Mixing and matching will get you different results. If you focus on culture and technology, you empower employees to deliver their best in a supportive environment. Looking at the culture and the physical environment will get you engaged employees who are happy to show up to work, and working on the environment and technology will get you employees who are really good at getting the job done. But optimize the cultural, physical and technological aspects of the organization all at once, and hey presto, awesome employee experience.
The IBM Institute for Business Value also comes up with three spheres of experience, although they differ slightly. IBM’s model includes the physical environment, employees’ connections to the work community, and work activities. As with Morgan’s model, the intersection of these spheres provide areas of focus (work + environment = tools, community + work = social platforms) and paying attention to all three is the key to employee experience.
Humankind on the other hand breaks employee experience into four quadrants: leadership, operations, tools and environment. In their model you not only need to make sure employees have the tools to do their job and feel like they belong to the team, you need to make sure direction is communicated effectively from the top and that leadership is authentic and trustworthy. More on trust later, but in a nutshell, we are generally more favorably disposed towards things and people we trust. This obviously makes building a positive, shared experience much easier.
So if you want to improve employee experience, it needs to start with and be championed by senior leadership, in a way that motivates and inspires all other employees. It needs to be a comprehensive, strategic project that covers all facets of the employee’s work, and not a quick fix of one aspect or another.
Kind of a big deal.
What employee experience isn’t
Basically everything means EX is the sum of all the things that contribute to employee perceptions, not any one of those things in isolation.
Employee experience isn’t employer brand, which is basically just marketing.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but telling everyone you have an awesome company isn’t the same as actually having an awesome company. It’s definitely not the same as having an awesome employee experience – even if you’ve asked everyone to say so on Glassdoor.
It’s not organizational culture, which impacts employee experience, but isn’t a proxy for it.
You could have the best culture in the world and still find employees who are having a really bad time of things because of job fit, or because they’re desperately trying to do complex work on ancient equipment.
It’s not slapping new tech on old processes and expecting everyone to be suddenly happier or more engaged.
Sure, everyone’s mobile now and booking sick leave via your phone is super convenient, but better technology doesn’t equal better employee experience. You might still have to sit in a sterile cubicle face a judgemental boss when you eventually get back to the office.
It’s not engagement, which is the employee state of mind measurement we’re probably most used to.
Engagement is hopefully (ideally!) an outcome of a positive employee experience, but isn’t the experience itself.
And it’s definitely not free breakfasts and foosball tables.
Perks are the refined sugar of the working world; they feel good at the time, but the buzz soon wears off and you need to find something else that has the same effect. Not that perks are to be avoided at all costs, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re shelling out a lot of money for not much return.