Building Employee Engagement through Employee Experience
A what, why and how guide.
This article first appeared on Acorn Resources in late 2020.
More and more, HR professionals are recognising that the employee experience is pivotal to the continued success of their companies. Being able to offer a flexible working culture that regularly provides challenges and guidance is essential not only in attracting new employees, but in retaining and engaging your existing ones.
It's clear that HR teams now recognise the importance of taking a holistic approach to investing in their employees. But what is the employee experience in 2020, and how can it improve staff engagement at your company?
Here, we'll walk you through what exactly the employee experience is, why it's important enough for you to be reading this article, and give you some tips to build employee engagement by optimising your company's employee experience.
What is the employee experience?
Much like whether a yellow traffic light means 'slow down' or 'speed up', there are a number of ways of interpreting the term 'employee experience'.
The term amounts to companies and their talent working together to establish personalised and authentic experiences to strengthen individual, team and company performance, according to global consulting firm McKinsey. Best-selling author and futurist Jacob Morgan defines it as a combination of an organisation's physical, cultural, and technological environments. And if you ask Annette Franz, founder and CEO of CX Journey, it's the sum of an employee's interactions with his or her employer throughout the duration of their working relationship.
So unlike yellow traffic lights (seriously, people - slow down), the employee experience isn't really all that subjective in its definition. In fact, the concept always comprises these three essential elements:
1. An overall set of employee perceptions
Your employees are subconsciously (or rather consciously) pigeonholing you by the actions and behaviours they associate with your company. This can be everything from the way a superior responds to a time off request to the lighting in the office and even work-adjacent grievances, like the length of their commute.
You may not have control over morning traffic, but unfortunately any factor your employees consider related to their work experience impacts the way they fulfil their role. It's not just enough to consider employee engagement as its own entity - unpacking the full employee experience is key to understanding how to maximise engagement, and maintaining a happy, motivated workforce.
2. A collection of environmental factors
We defer to Jacob Morgan again here, who notes improving the employee experience benefits employers as much as employees: namely, by helping you understand why staff want to work for you, rather than just needing to. From the comfort of their chair to the way your choice of LMS is utilised, the combination of physical and technological factors should provide employees with the tools necessary for them to perform optimally.
3. A broadening of traditional HR functions
Your CX needs EX to thrive. Don't be put off, it's not quite the complex math equation that it seems - in fact, it's based on the understanding that people want to be treated respectfully and feel invested in a long-term relationship with their employer or a brand.
Customer experience (CX) was once at the forefront of business philosophy. But in 2020, you must have an optimised employee experience (EX) to provide the best CX. This is one factor you have clear cut control over, and recognising how these two disparate experiences influence one another is a big step towards improving your business' output.
Why is the employee experience important?
There are countless statistics we can throw at you to demonstrate how the employee experience is correlated with higher levels of enthusiasm, engagement, productivity, and long-term business growth. A study by Gallup, for example, found that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. Happy employees take an average of 15 fewer sick days per year, are up to 20% more productive, and their brains are even likely to work significantly better.
Here are some of the ways in which an improved employee experience can transform employee engagement in your organisation:
The employee experience at your company should actually begin before someone is officially an employee. Potential employees can gauge perceptions of your workplace through websites like Glassdoor, a Yelp-like review site for employers. And not to point out the obvious, but if employees have a positive experience working at your company, they'll be more likely to not just praise your company on sites like Glassdoor, but to recommend job openings to friends that they think would fit in well with the company culture, leading to shorter fill times and better team camaraderie.
Gallup describes engagement as the psychological needs that must be met in order to perform your work well. It includes things like knowing what's expected of you, having the materials you need to complete your job, and your mindset and behaviour when you come to work each day. Just as a positive employee experience leads to higher levels of engagement, higher engagement generally means a better experience and workplace culture.
It used to be the case that a company would just look externally for new hires to fill vacant roles, rather than identify a suitable candidate from within. While external searches are still common, hiring from within is actually more beneficial, as hiring people who are already familiar with and have bought into the company culture can not only improve overall morale and the general employee experience, but lead to more consistent and reliable results when undergoing expansion. Thus, having a positive employee experience is a prerequisite for high levels of employee retention.
The 2020 employee experience
Delivering an attractive and engaging employee experience is the key to differentiating yourself as an employer in 2020 - but still, the statistics aren't great.
65% of executives admit they don't have regular discussions about shaping the employee experience at their company, blaming conflicting priorities, limited time and insufficient resources. On the employee side, just 53% believe their organisations are either effective or very effective at providing them with meaningful work, and only 38% think they are provided with enough autonomy to be able to confidently make decisions.
One crucial (and easily rectified) misstep is the lack of accessible digital technology and continual learning opportunities. Providing employees the tools to upskill fosters their interest in learning, helps you develop talent already familiar with your organisation, and is a strong contributor to a positive employee experience. This leads to more productive employees which, naturally, leads to higher revenue and greater profits. (Up to three times the ROI and double the return on sales, if you want figures.)
How you can improve employee experience
You won't reap any of these benefits until you prioritise and improve your employees' experience where necessary. To get you started with this process, here are some handy tips for developing an employee experience strategy.
Determine your top priorities
Let's begin by looking at your company's strengths and weaknesses. If there's a high level of turnover at your workplace, commit resources to something like an exit survey or interview so you can better understand where it went wrong for each employee. If you are facing issues recruiting top-level talent, consult review websites (like Glassdoor) to see whether there are any consistently mentioned and off-putting issues.
Start capturing data
Next, start capturing data and feedback to paint a better picture of the current employee experience. Onboarding through a learning management system enables new hires to succeed before they even arrive at the office. A great onboarding experience can increase new hire retention by up to 82% and overall worker productivity by an incredible 70%.
Set them up with access to the company's internal server and grant access to online induction sessions. Not only will these tasks help to familiarise them with the company culture sooner, but you'll also get an indication of that employee's level of capability and what areas they are likely to excel in.
Encourage honest and open dialogue
Promoting honest communication can help identify common issues in the employee experience before they spread, especially if you regularly collect employee feedback. For employees who are possibly averse to potential face-to-face conflict, or perhaps work remotely, an LMS can come in handy here - though the first option should always be to schedule regular one-on-one meetings so each employee understands their personal experience at the company is being recognised, valued, and continually improved.
Empower your employees to learn
Creating an environment of continuous learning and development at your company is simply one of the most important factors for optimising the employee experience. This is an obvious point of emphasis when it comes to the recruiting and onboarding processes for a new employee, as it will help them to understand the company culture better in addition to their own roles and responsibilities. It'll also help your employees perform better: recent research found employees who are able to spend time at work learning are actually 47% less likely to be stressed and 39% more likely to feel productive and successful.