27 June 2019

Employee Experience: What the Experts Say

Stacia Garr
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

Karina Freitag
Research Lead

TL;DR

Why is employee experience so sizzling?

Employee experience (EX) is hot. Don’t believe us? Just check out how it has trended on Google over the last decade.

While the term “EX” just sounds smart and snappy, there are more substantive reasons for the increased focus on employee experience, such as changing demographics,1 a hypercompetitive talent market,2 and business’ ravenous need for innovation.3 The heightened emphasis on EX is such that, in a global 2018 study of five hundred CHROs, 83% of organizational leaders emphasized a positive employee experience as crucial to organizational success.4

All this EX talk led us to some “burning” questions like, what exactly is this secret “employee experience” hot sauce? And if your organization chooses to focus on it, how do you approach it? And will it live up to all the hype?

To get our answers, we read the most relevant published works on employee experience, ranging from as early as 2011 to as recently as a few months ago (though the bulk of the articles were from the past three years). We also looked at related topics, such as employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and technology. In all, we examined over 60 scholarly and business articles, reports, blogs, and books.

This article gives you the highlights of what we learned and suggests publications for further reading. Here’s what you’ll find below:

  • What we saw
  • What caught our attention
  • Additional literature we recommend

What we saw:

We identified six primary themes within the literature we reviewed:

  1. Employee experience: A combination of employees’ perceptions and interactions
  2. Employee experience and engagement: Related but different
  3. Symbiosis: At the heart of employee experience
  4. Multi-method listening: Key to understanding employee experience
  5. HR: Not the only one responsible for employee experience
  6. Technology: Clarifying and enhancing employee experience

1. Employee experience: A combination of employees’ perceptions and interactions

It turns out, lots of folks have different employee experience “recipes” – meaning there’s no universal definition for employee experience. Instead, we found a range of definitions, such as:

  • How difficult it is to get work done and how people are expected to behave5
  • How the work environment and work habits enable employees to perform their jobs6
  • How employees interact with the physical environment, social connections, and work tasks7

We found the most convincing definitions, though, to be those that took a macro-level perspective and argued that employee experience originates in employees’ perceptions and interactions.8, 9 These perceptions are subjective interpretations of what employees encounter, observe, or feel in their interactions with the organization.10 Interactions are further described as the intersection of cultural, technological, and physical elements of the work environment with employees’ expectations, needs, and wants.11

2. Employee experience and engagement: Related but different

Employee experience and engagement are often used as synonyms, but our review of research-based articles underscores that these are different (though related) concepts.

For example, engagement and employee experience differ in their top-down vs. bottom-up approach.12, 13 Employee engagement is seen as a top-down concept because organizational leaders choose strategies that impact engagement scores. On the other hand, employee experience is seen as a bottom-up concept because it focuses on those perceptions and interactions employees have – not just on the measured engagement score.

Another difference between employee experience and employee engagement is that experience is described as the cause, whereas engagement is described as the effect.14 The combination of what organizations do, say, and give (experience) influences what employees see, feel, and hear (engagement).

These perspectives bring the employee front and center. They highlight the influential role that organizations play in how employees behave and approach their work.

3. Symbiosis: At the heart of employee experience

Just like honeybees and flowers, a positive employee experience results in a mutually beneficial relationship for both employees and organizations. This relationship is based on the impact that a positive employee experience has on engagement:

  • Organizations with transformational leaders and a supportive work environment – both aspects of employee experience – have better employee engagement, based on a comprehensive review of 214 studies.15
  • Employees with a high level of engagement are healthier and feel an overall sense of wellbeing. In contrast, employees with a low level of engagement experience more illnesses, stress, and burnout.

While this is great news for employees, they are not the only ones that benefit. While there is plenty of research that indicates a positive relationship between employee engagement and business outcomes, there is also research that indicates organizations receive business value directly from a positive employee experience. Specifically, companies with a strong employee experience have twice the innovation and customer satisfaction and have higher profits than organizations with a weaker employee experience.16

4. Multi-method listening: Key to understanding employee experience

More organizations are starting to recognize the dynamic nature of employee experience and the need to account for spontaneous and deliberate interactions.17 A dynamic employee experience evolves when employees interact with the organization in organic ways or through specific touchpoints.

To view the entire employee experience picture, organizational leaders increasingly want effective ways to measure both constant and sporadic interactions. Thus, a multi-method listening approach is gaining popularity.18 In addition to pulse or touch-point triggered surveys, organizations are also exploring the use of wearable technology devices and social networking applications to collect frequent data from various sources.19, 20

5. HR: Not the only one responsible for employee experience

Employee experience is often viewed as the primary responsibility of human resources or talent management functions. However, that viewpoint is changing.

HR does not own most aspects of employee experience, whether you measure it via “touchpoints” (42%) or “moments of truth” (78%).21 Instead, business managers or other non-HR support functions own them.

Thus, some authors recommend building a cross-functional coalition where members can approach employee experience from different, yet complementary angles based on their expertise.22 This cross-functional coalition includes shared accountability across HR, marketing, IT, finance, and facilities to design a positive employee experience.

6. Technology: Clarifying and enhancing employee experience

Technology provides an opportunity to better understand employee experience. It clarifies what employees want, value, and need. In fact, most CHROs (57%) believe that technology enables them to prioritize budget and time investments on employee experience.23

Organizational leaders also recognize that technology enables them to analyze, automate, and collaborate when designing a positive employee experience. For example, more technology vendors are offering artificial intelligence capabilities that provide a deeper view of employee experience than ever before.24

There is also an increased focus on providing a personalized digital experience that resembles what employees encounter as consumers. Employees want technology that enables them to communicate and connect with others in the organization.25 They also want technology that anticipates their needs and streamlines administrative processes. A large global survey highlights that most workers prefer digital as opposed to personal interactions to handle HR tasks.26

But there is a large gap between the technology that employees encounter at work and the one they encounter as consumers. To address it, organizations want to offer digital solutions that enable collaboration, anticipate employees’ needs, and appeal to individual preferences.

What caught our attention:

Of the literature we reviewed, we found the articles below particularly intriguing and useful. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

Maximizing the Employee Experience: How Changing Workforce Dynamics are Impacting Today’s Workplace

Dr. Brad Harrington

"Taking a systems-oriented approach as the foundation of an organization’s people strategy will require more cross-functional collaboration with HR’s various functions and much greater alignment and integration with organizational leaders."

Highlights:

  • Summarizes the significant workplace trends that influence organizations trying to positively impact employees' experience.
  • Describes the importance of developing and establishing an integrated people strategy that considers the organization’s mission, values, and workforce expectations.
  • Suggests that using a seven-step change management model may help in maximizing a positive employee experience.

Building Business Value with Employee Experience

Kristine Dery and Ina Sebastian

“In our research, companies with great employee experience  (i.e., low work complexity, and strong behavioral norms for collaboration, creativity, and empowerment) were more innovative and profitable and had higher levels of customer satisfaction.”

Highlights:

  • Discusses findings from MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research’s recent global survey on employee experience.
  • Defines employee experience according to work complexity and behavioral norms.
  • Connects a positive employee experience to innovation, customer satisfaction, and profitability.
  • Provides recommendations on how to build a positive employee experience through digital capabilities and leadership.

Employee Experience vs. Engagement, and 3 Things You Should Start Thinking About Now

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

“As leaders, employee experience is something we all should start looking at seriously… because, like it nor not, there’s a silent revolution taking place with employees all over the world. And, if we do our best, we will see those engagement scores move in the right direction.”

Highlights:

  • Discusses differences between employee experience and employee engagement.
  • Provides examples of ways in which organizations have tried to foster a positive employee experience.
  • Offers suggestions to build a positive employee experience by focusing on organizational culture, flexibility, and storytelling.

With CX, Engaged Employees Mean Everything

Bruce Temkin

“In companies that lead in CX, 75% of employees are highly or moderately engaged.”

Highlights:

  • Connects customer experience to organizational culture and internal processes.
  • Substantiates the notion that a positive customer experience is linked to highly or moderately engaged employees.
  • Recommends specific actions to increase engagement via the “Five I’s of Employee Engagement.”

Designing Employee Experience: How a Unifying Approach Can Enhance Engagement and Productivity

Eric Lesser, Janet Mertens, Maria-Paz Barrientos, and Meredith Singer

"Applying a holistic, iterative design approach to change can help ensure that employees see improvements relevant to their work and can set their expectations for continuous intervention."

Highlights:

  • Identifies factors that shape employee experience such as work-based relationships, the design of employees’ physical work environment, and the tools employees use in their work-related activities.
  • Emphasizes the importance of personalization, transparency, simplification, authenticity, and organizational responsiveness as ways for organizations to enhance employee experience.
  • Offers suggestions to design a positive employee experience through using analytics, understanding and investing in crucial touchpoints, and building a coalition.

How AI Can Help Redesign The Employee Experience

Forbes Insights

“The hope isn’t simply for AI to ensure smarter, faster hiring, but to improve the entire lifecycle of the employee experience, from job application to exit interview. In other words, can AI make workers happier?”

Highlights:

  • Identifies ways in which AI can create a positive employee experience.
  • Mentions specific tech vendors that gather data and provide insights into an organization’s employee engagement, manager effectiveness, communication, talent development, and organizational culture.
  • Describes how AI technologies can provide a “consumerized” employee experience to address HR needs.

Additional Recommended Reads:

  1. The Employee Experience in 2019,” Charong Chow, SocialChorus, 2019.
  2. The Heart of the Matter: Emotions in the Employee Experience,” Christina Zurek, ITA Group, 2019.
  3. Employee Experience: Enabling Your Future Workforce Strategy,” Kristine Dery, Nick van der Meulen, Ina Sebastian, MIT Center for Information Systems Research, 2018.
  4. The New CHRO Agenda: Employee Experiences Drive Business Value,” Pat Wadors, ServiceNow, 2019.
  5. Employee Experience Reimagined,” Michael Liley, Patricia Feliciano, and Alex Laurs, Accenture, 2017.
  6. 2018 Employee Experience Report,” Toluna Group & Udemy, 2018.

While we have identified the articles above as being the most crucial for readers to review, we read many others. If you’d like a full list of the articles we covered, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected].

Footnotes

 

Footnotes

  1. Maximizing the Employee Experience: How Changing Workforce Dynamics are Impacting Today’s Workplace,” Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2018.
  2. 2018 Employee Experience Report,” Toluna Group & Udemy, 2018.
  3. 2019 Fortune 1000 Best Trends: Employee Experience at the Best Workplaces in America,” Great Place to Work, 2019.
  4. The New CHRO Agenda Employee Experiences Drive Business Value,” ServiceNow, 2018.
  5. Building Business Value with Employee Experience,” MIT CISR Research Briefing, 2017.
  6. Employee Experience: Enabling Your Future Workforce Strategy,” MIT CISR Research Briefing, 2018.
  7. Designing Employee Experience: How a Unifying Approach can Enhance Engagement and Productivity,” IBM Institute for Business Value, 2016.
  8. An Empowered Workforce Needs a Culture of Engagement,” destinationCRM, 2018.
  9. The Employee Experience Index,” IBM & Globoforce, 2016.
  10. The Three Es: Making Employee Engagement, Experience and Effectiveness Feedback Work for your Organisation,” Culture Amp, 2018.
  11. “The Employee Experience Advantage,” J. Morgan, 2017.
  12. Employee Experience vs. Engagement, and 3 Things You Should Start Thinking About Now,” Forbes, 2018.
  13. The Employee Experience Index,” IBM & Globoforce, 2016.
  14. A Maturity Model for Employee Experience,” TI People, 2018.
  15. The Meaning, Antecedents and Outcomes of Employee Engagement: A Narrative Synthesis,” International Journal of Management Reviews, 2017.
  16. Building Business Value with Employee Experience,” MIT CISR Research Briefing, 2017.
  17. Co-creating the Employee Experience,” Harvard Business Review, 2018.
  18. The Art of Listening and How to Scale your Employee Experience Program,” HR Exchange Network, 2019.
  19. “The Future of Employee Engagement: Real-Time Monitoring and Digital Tools for Engaging a Workforce,” International Strategies of Management & Organization, 2019.
  20. Beyond Employee Surveys: Develop an Organizational Listening Strategy,” i4cp, 2018.
  21. The Vicious Circle of Employee Experience,” TI People, 2019.
  22. Designing Employee Experience: How a Unifying Approach Can Enhance Engagement and Productivity,” IBM Institute for Business Value, 2016.

  23. The New CHRO Agenda: Employee Experiences Drive Business Value,” ServiceNow, 2019.
  24. How AI Can Help Redesign The Employee Experience,” Forbes Insights, 2018.
  25. Engaging Workers as Consumers,” Deloitte Review, 2019.
  26. Our Status with Tech at Work: It’s Complicated,” PwC, 2018.

Written by

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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.

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