22 October 2019

Employee Experience: Clarifying the Philosophy – Lever 1

Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  • Discusses the 1st of 4 employee experience levers that create sustainable results – clarifying an employee experience philosophy
  • Defines terms and what they truly mean
  • Explains the key differences between employee experience and employee engagement
  • A special thanks to Medallia for sponsoring this research!

Earlier this year, we began to explore the concept of employee experience. Since then, we talked to more than 20 organizations to understand their approach to employee experience and identify leading practices. Now, this is the 1st in a series of 4 articles highlighting our findings.

Throughout our research, we identified 4 levers of employee experience to create sustainable results. This article focuses on one of the employee experience levers – clarifying the philosophy – and is just an excerpt from the main report, The Four Levers of Employee Experience to Create Sustainable Results.

A Clear Philosophy of Employee Experience

Over the course of our research, it became clear that the most progressive organizations have a very clear philosophy of employee experience – who it's for, what it is, and how it differs from employee engagement. This philosophy then guides all other decisions organizations make with regard to employee experience.

Target audience: Focus of experience efforts

Before we could get into the weeds of precisely defining employee experience, we first had to figure out who it's for. When it comes to employee experience efforts, there are 3 viewpoints that organizations tend to focus on: employees, customers, or both.

We found that a lot of organizations focus on the 2 far ends of the spectrum. Only a few consider what both employees and customers want in an integrated fashion. But those that use a blended focus tend to see some of the most desirable employee and customer outcomes.

“HR people are used to working in waterfall, slow, 18-month release cycle models when it comes to process and technology, and that’s not how employee experience works. If I see that 80% of my workforce is breaking down in a process or not being engaged at any given moment, I don’t wait a year to deal with it like in old employee engagement surveys. I want to deal with it today.”

Jason Averbook, CEO and co-founder, Leapgen

Clear definition: What employee experience is

  • “Designing an organization where people want to show up by focusing on the cultural, technological, and physical environments.”1
  • “The extent to which employees of an organization are enabled or constrained by its adaptive work environment and collective work habits to do their jobs today and reimagine their jobs of tomorrow.”2
  • “The combination of organizational culture, technological environment, processes, and physical environment that determines how employees perform and feel about their job.”3
  • “Employees’ holistic perceptions of the relationship with his/her employing organization derived from all the encounters at touchpoints along the employee’s journey.”4

While we found these definitions adequate as they capture important aspects of employee experience, we also found them lengthy and convoluted.

Therefore, we developed our own concise definition of employee experience:

Employees’ collective perceptions of their ongoing interactions with the organization.

Another important point to call out is that employee experience is fluid. It involves constant dynamic human interactions and, as such, it's an ever-evolving target. To adapt to its fluid nature, progressive organizations adopt an iterative stance. They ask, listen, and act on employee and customer feedback in a frequent, swift, and repetitive manner. Thus, they leverage real-time opportunities to capture, process, and address experience feedback.

Relationship to engagement: How experience & engagement are related

Now that we’ve clearly established our definition of employee experience, let’s distinguish it from employee engagement. It's important to do this for a few reasons. First, many people use the two terms interchangeably – and they are actually quite different. Second, the historical legacy of employee engagement has influenced how people approach employee experience. Having a clear understanding of the differences between the 2 enables us to chart a clearer path forward for developing a strong and compelling employee experience.

All that said, we define employee engagement as:

A measure of energy, involvement, and concentration that's exhibited in work attitudes and behaviors.

Employee engagement is fundamentally different from employee experience (see Figure 1). It's a measurement of what employees do – their “exhibited work attitudes and behaviors” – versus what they perceive. There are other differences as well. For example, in engagement, organizations use a top-down process to develop strategies and implement activities that impact engagement scores. In employee experience, organizations use a bottom-up process to develop strategies and implement activities that impact employees’ perceptions.


Figure 1: Summary of the Differences Between Employee Experience and Employee Engagement | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

For more on this and other levers of employee experience – and examples of how companies have brought them to life – we encourage you to download and read the full report by clicking the image below.

Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.


  1. The Employee Experience Advantage,” Morgan, J., 2017.
  2. Employee Experience: Enabling Your Future Workforce Strategy,” Dery, K., Van Der Meulen, N., & Sebastian, I.M., MIT CISR Research Briefing, 2018.
  3. The New CHRO Agenda Employee Experiences Drive Business Value,” Wadors, P., ServiceNow, 2018.
  4. Employee Experience: The New Human Resource Management Approach,” Plaskoff, J., Strategic HR Review, 2017.


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