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The rise of “employee experience”

Last updated on
September 4, 2021

For years “customer experience” has dominated how companies develop products, marketing and company culture. But this emphasis on individuality, meaningful interaction and choice has awakened a new phenomenon affecting their success. From focusing on the external, companies must now look inward as we enter “the age of employee experience”.

Employee experience sets new demands for every business – from competing for the best talent, through keeping people engaged and just staying relevant. It goes beyond simply being a great place to work; to stay ahead, companies need to offer employees a new level of support, flexibility and opportunity. For those still new to the concept, here’s everything you need to know about the rise of employee experience and the new expectations you need to be aware of.

Shifting from culture to experience

Let’s start at the beginning. Where did the idea of “employee experience” come from? There’s no doubt that the rising importance of “customer experience”, with its focus on empowering individuality, influenced it. If customer experience relates to the measure of all communications a customer has with a company, then employee experience relates to everything a worker experiences: every interaction, from the first interview to the termination of their job – and even after that, too.

Whereas companies used to focus on employee engagement and company culture, nowadays it’s about the overall employee experience. Yes, company culture is still important, but its significance is also limited: you can be as ‘on trend’ as you like – you can have an office packed with bean bags, ping pong tables and dressed-down staff working flexible hours – but it can only take you so far.

While perks like these are fast becoming the norm, by themselves they probably won’t promote better collaboration or shared vision. You can provide as many free gym passes as you like, but if employees aren’t motivated or engaged, what’s the point? Employee experience relates to the daily norms of the workplace, the bonds between team members and bosses, the sense of support between everyone in the company. These are the things of real value.

While the list is endless, the features of good employee experience that crop up again and again include:

  • Offering flexibility and supporting individual schedules
  • Actively protecting a healthy work-life balance
  • Using intelligent tech to remove “meaningless” tasks
  • Promoting employee autonomy and self-direction
  • Owning a participative work culture where everyone contributes
  • Tailoring professional development
  • Having purpose and meaning beyond making money

The importance of employee experience

But why has employee experience become such a hot topic recently? Last year was, according to Forbes, the Year of Employee Experience – the advent of a time where employee experience would be the “preeminent corporate priority”. In part, this is likely due to the evolution of the employee-employer relationship. Job-hopping is more frequent than ever before, which means companies must raise their game if they want to satisfy their employees before they jump ship. And yet it goes deeper than that.

Competition for talent

It’s becoming more and more difficult for employers to attract – and then retain – the right type of talent. Flexibility in the workplace is increasingly important to candidates, especially millennials, so being able to provide a better-than-average employee experience can give companies a serious edge. Not only can it help attract a higher caliber of candidate, it can also motivate them to stay in their jobs for longer.

Also, the prevalence of social media and review type sites means that it’s harder for companies to keep a lid on their shortcomings. Sites like Glassdoor, where former employees leave honest (and sometimes scathing!) reviews for their former employers, are often visited by potential recruits, so hiding behind slick branding – or talented recruiters – can only take you so far if your employee experience is poor.

Engaging a values-driven workforce

Employees today have higher expectations and demand more from their employers: they want careers, not jobs; they’re looking for tailored professional development, having a sense of purpose and meaning to their work. Rather than being micromanaged, people crave self-direction and autonomy – but more than that, they want to be involved in company decisions and make a tangible contribution.

If we consider how customer satisfaction slowly evolved into customer experience, we can see how the same thing has happened in relation to employees: where once it was only about measuring satisfaction and productivity, now it’s about the experience as a whole, and in order to constantly enhance employee experiences, strategies must be reformed and teams rejigged.

Staying relevant as a business

Employees are now demanding the tools and materials needed to direct their own careers, and these days intelligent tech is being adopted by many companies to empower their employees. As a result, there’s been a huge surge in the number of apps and digital tools that are designed to help provide a positive employee experience – and this is surely a big positive. The main application seems to be outsourcing all the "meaningless" tasks that get in the way of actual high-value work.

Research suggests that investing in employee experience will have an incredibly beneficial effect. Jacob Morgan – author of The Employee Experience Advantage – found that the companies who capitalized in employee experience were:

  • 11.5 times more likely to appear in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work;
  • 28 times more likely to appear in Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies;
  • More than twice as likely to appear on Forbes list of World’s Most Innovative Companies.

On average, these companies also returned over four times the average profit – despite being around 25% smaller, implying greater levels of both efficiency and creativity. The statistics certainly back up the hype: having a positive experience is not only crucial to attracting and keeping the best workforce, but staying relevant as a business, too.

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