Why HR Should Focus on the Employee Experience

June 4, 2019 | Kristen Hildebrant

Every few years there are phrases that seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue in HR. Right now one of those phrases is “employee experience.”

But employee experience is a lot more than just a buzzword; it’s a new way of thinking about the relationship between employer and employee, where employees are treated with the same care and effort given to customers.

Sounds logical, right? But transforming employee experience from words to action isn’t as easy as it looks.


The Evolution of Employee Engagement

A few years ago many businesses focused on engagement as a means of measuring the well-being of their employees. And while engagement does drive performance, focusing exclusively on engagement had its shortcomings.

Because engagement was measured with surveys, it was often difficult for businesses to create actionable results from the survey measurement.  Surveys often focus on generic topics, including management, workplace environment, type of work and internal events.  Employees respond to the surveys with their initial feelings, however, actual drivers of what triggers engagement and  drives productivity are not adequately measured through a survey.

The focus on employee experience isn’t just due to a frustration with metrics. Dana Wright-Wasson, a consultant and author of “Talk the Walk: Designing a Clear Path to a World Class Employee Experience,” says one of the drivers is generational, with the culture of work itself changing as younger employees enter the workforce. These employees have different expectations for the workplace, just as their parents and grandparents did before them. These younger generations value creativity, and they want to become part of the organizational decision-making process.

Younger workers also don’t expect to spend an entire career at a single organization; they are likely to hop around as they rise up the ladder. Combined with a tight job market, Wright-Wasson says organizations are rightly asking themselves the question “How do you create an enticing environment?” By addressing employees’ expectations from a consumer point-of-view, organizations are better able to consider the possibilities.


How to Create a Better Employee Experience

“Engagement is going to be an outcome. It’s not the driver,” says Wright-Wasson.  To accurately identify what drives employees, it is important to address each employee on an individual level.  Managers should be actively engaging with their employees throughout the employee life cycle to identify their personal triggers related to productivity and engagement.

Employee experience is a more holistic view of how an employee is performing within an organization so by its very nature, data on employee experience isn’t completely quantifiable.

This doesn’t mean, however, that employee experience is an ephemeral concept. David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research and co-author of “The CMO of People: Manage Employees Like Customers with an Immersive Predictable Experience that Drives Productivity and Performance,” says that many organizations have officials whose primary responsibility is employee experience. “That means there’s a certain weight behind it,” he says.

Both Wright-Wasson and Creelman place importance on gathering intelligence in a way that goes beyond surveys, by using one-on-one conversations throughout the employee life cycle. “When you actually stop to talk to them and ask for their input, they’re willing to give it to you,” Wright-Wasson says. In time, HR and managers will be able to compare their findings with each other and create a plan of action to drive engagement efforts.

Creelman also recommends reading through the academic literature on employee experience. Tracking down proven methods for improving employee experience can provide you with expertise to base your decisions upon, as opposed to relying on your gut. “It is really getting much, much easier to find good quality academic research that’s been presented in a forum you can understand,” he says.


Addressing Commonly Overlooked Areas

The employee experience extends to every aspect of the employee life cycle, from onboarding to training programs to the exit process. But focusing on employee experience can be so all-encompassing that it’s easy for organizations to overlook The importance of addressing engagement and placing emphasis on the importance that engagement has when it comes to productivity should be expressly stated as a key objectives for anyone in a leadership position.

Wright-Wasson says HR is given too much responsibility when it comes to employee experience. She says leaders throughout an organization need to be trained and held accountable for  understanding the roles everyone plays in an organizationand how their own actions can affect employee experience.

Creelman emphasizes that many organizations overlook the importance of the physical space employees work in. Is the workspace visually appleaing? Do the doors jam? Is parking a hassle? Finding these trouble spots for an organization can lead to simple, cost-effective ways to improve employees’ quality of life — and the experience they have at your organization.

As a general practice, managers should be actively engaging with their employees starting with the employees first day of hire.  The initial and ongoing engagement of an employee is rooted in their relationship with their manager.


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