What are employee experiences (EX) and why do they matter? Forrester has a handy definition: “the sum of all the experiences an employee has with a company, with one simple goal: get people to be able and willing to bring their best selves to work every day and give their full attention to doing their work to the best of their ability.”
One thing I like about this definition is that it steps beyond the conventional idea that employee engagement is the be-all and end-all of employee experiences.
Don’t get me wrong. Engagement will always matter. Labour costs can account for up to 70% of a company’s total business costs, and the relationship between engagement and productivity has been proven many times over. On the other side of the coin, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity, and contribute to 15% lower profitability overall (Gallup). When that translates into dollars, you're looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee's annual salary, or $34,000 of the $100,000 they make.
Engagement means more than Productivity
We know that productivity is good for the bottom line, but that’s only part of the story. While engaged employees produce more, evidence shows us that an engaged employee also has higher quality outputs, as well as better interactions with customers and clients. In other words, the quality, not just the quantity of their work improves. And as an added benefit, they stick around longer.
Don’t take my word for it. Hear it from employees.
My agency, Critical Mass, recently talked to 24 engaged employees who hailed from all age groups, business sizes, job functions, and industries to understand why they are the way they are, and why they feel the way they feel. Our aim was to gain insights about shaping next-level employee experiences
What did we learn? Work isn’t simply a function of what they do. It’s aligned to their internal passions and motivations. Or, in other words, it’s who they are. When employees are looking for companies to work for, they aren’t simply looking at the nuts and bolts – salary, location, etc. – their top selection criteria are the culture and purpose of a company.
Contributions and Conduits
They want their work to contribute to growth - theirs and the company’s. They want to feel a part of something important. Essentially, they want to do work that matters.
“I want to be able to feel that my work is meaningful. I want to make sure that my work is being aligned with the overall organisation and being primed for how well I can do long-term.” – 38, Male, Manager Healthcare and Medical Services
Given the connection employers can form with their workforce, is measuring engagement really enough? Shouldn’t the bar be set higher?
The answer is yes. Work and the overall employee experience needs to be seen as a conduit between passion (which can mean something different depending on the employee) and impact (which can mean something different depending on the company).
Relationships and Magical Things
I recently attended Forrester’s CX summit, and, in one session, Dipanjan Chatterjee
, vice president, principal analyst, relayed a story about Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy, who was responsible for the turnaround of the company in 2012. He said: “If you can connect the search for meaning of the individual with the purpose of the company… then magical things happen.”
Our own research confirmed the truth of this statement. At the heart of everything, EX is a strategically designed summation of touchpoints that is relentlessly focused on fostering relationships. Get that right, and engagement (and productivity) will follow.
As in the rest of life, all good work relationships must be built on trust and equal contribution. The successful employee experience has to mirror this symbiosis while blending emotion with function, connection with enablement. Some key pillars include:
1. Making sure employees know what they need to do and why
2. Giving them something they actually want to do
3. Designing an easier and more enjoyable way for them to do it
Most employee experiences fall down on the last point. Yes, it’s the hardest, but employers aren’t doing their employees or themselves any favours by not prioritising it.
On a macro scale, we see a brutal irony is at work. Employers are not just competing with other employers. They’re competing with their own customer experiences! That’s because the experience people have as “employees” does not come close to the experience they have as “customers.” The disconnect signals a lack of respect for the employee-employer relationship, and it fails to galvanize employees’ passion. And, all too often, that untapped passion will travel elsewhere—to the next job search, for example.
Employees Won’t Abide Technical Difficulties
Through our research, we found that technology (both tools as well as how they’ve been implemented) is the #1 pain point for employees - above salary, training and recognition.
"They never thought how all these tools can come together and integrate and how can that make the life of my employees easier.” - 27, Female, Admin Non-profit
Employees are struggling with solutions that were designed around processes or platform capabilities, rather than their needs. They are asked to maneuver through tools that deliver more friction than benefit, and often with no straightforward way to get support.
To complicate matters further, companies often try to invest their way out of the problem by bringing more digital tools to help address these same pain points. Our research suggests that they need to reframe their effort. To reiterate: instead of solving problems, look at the potential of a digitised EX to be a conduit for and an enabler of passion.
And with that, here are three pieces of advice I’d like to leave you with.
1. Align the team. Before deciding on tools, or even mapping out the desired journey, align on an EX vision and team who have a vested interest in making it a reality. EX needs to be an extension of the organisation, not a function of HR or IT.
2. Enablement ≠ Technology. The same way that a foosball table alone won’t create a company culture, Slack can’t encourage transparent communication. Zoom can’t create effective collaboration. All they can do is facilitate it. Think of a digitised EX as bigger than platforms or tools. It’s an enabler and an extension of both the employee journey as well as your culture and brand.
3. Create with them, not for them. Creating an EX designed to ignite passion goes beyond simply mining surveys and standardised listening programs. It requires giving employees a seat at the table, a representation of all the faces and roles. All employees want to feel like insiders and contributors. Co-creation, inclusion, and collaborative thinking and processes are essential.
Shannon McEvoy-Halston is VP strategy at Critical Mass