Employee Experience is a relatively new area which has gained significant momentum in the last couple of years, culminating in a wide range of information being available on the subject.

It has captured my interest for two key reasons. Firstly, with an increase in technological accessibility, the capability to apply user experience design theory and methodology to our organisations is a fascinating area. It has the potential to allow better insight on how the interactions with our people create emotional responses and behaviours and how this can be measured.

Secondly, we have realised the value in building a team within the HR function that is focused on working directly with our sales and other frontline staff in order to develop greater insight on our people, employees, and customers. Through evaluating the interdependent relationship between our employees and customers, it has given us a holistic view of what the problems are and how they impact the wider business.

These factors have resulted in a natural transition to exploring what Employee and Customer Experience means.

Employee Experience is often used as the next stage in the employee engagement journey. Not to replace it, but to give a wider context in which employee engagement resides and somehow validate its meaning, which has been lacking to date. If you are yet to question the evidence that supports employee engagement, I suggest you read Rob Briner’s The Future of Engagement: Thought Piece Collection which was a response to McLeod’s Engage for Success report and questions its validity. It should encourage you to be asking similar questions of Employee Experience through an evidence-based approach.

So what lessons should we be learning from employee engagement and applying to Employee Experience so we don’t make the same mistakes?

Define it

As it’s still relatively new, you won’t even find a definition on Wikipedia. You can find lots of definitions that broadly discuss employee experience as the interactions an employee ‘experiences’ with an organisation and how it makes them feel and behave.

Rather than creating additional terms such as candidate experience, Employee Experience should not be confined by the period of employment. How an individual experiences an organisation before they even apply for a job through to your interactions with an individual post-employment is all part of a continuous Employee Experience.

Research the information out there and find a definition that is meaningful to your organisational context so you can use it as the basis for your approach.

Where’s the evidence?

There is not a vast amount of evidence out there currently, as it’s still a relatively new field. Customer Experience is more established, however there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that it’s not delivering as companies had hoped.

There is, however, a lot of academic and professional evidence relating to user experience which was derived from design theories and methodologies that have been established for decades. Employee Experience needs to be built on all the work that has come before it, but this can only be done with an understanding of realising where this trend derived from, which isn’t HR.

Beyond the theory of how to approach Employee Experience, it’s critical that you research and identify what your problems are before you start designing your Employee Experience. This then forms the basis for your design process. You should then obtain evidence throughout the development and testing process to ensure the end solutions are relevant. Then evaluate and adapt.

It’s not an ‘HR initiative’

An initiative is an add-on or often a stand-alone programme, not an integral part of how you approach the relationship between an organisation and the people who interact with it. To get real value, Employee Experience should be combined with the Customer Experience to understand the holistic experiences, emotions and behaviours an organisation creates.

HR don’t ‘own’ it and should work collaboratively with all functions to define how people experience the organisation, most crucially with IT to understand how technology can improve the experience and help measure it. Technology may not always be the solution though.

Systems-thinking approach

System-thinking applied to an organisational context focuses on viewing the organisation as a whole system made up of various components that interact with each other to highlight how they depend on each other. This is critical to designing effective experiences and why Employee Experience should not be created or assessed in isolation. Understanding all the components that impact the Employee Experience – internal and external – is a necessary requirement to analysing the interactions reliably.

Don’t give it a score

A trend seems to be appearing that rates Employee Experience as a numerical value out of 10 or 100 against an index formulated by agencies. This never had any relevance or value for employee engagement so it’s unclear why this would be beneficial for Employee Experience other than for the agencies that have created it. Employee Experience is too complex to reduce to a numerical value and how do you measure emotions and behaviours as a constant, fixed value.

Don’t compare it, contextualise it

Google and AirB&B amongst others are often seen as offering the best Employee Experiences for organisations to aspire to. Does this mean that everyone should be applying for jobs with these organisations?

Different organisations will appeal to different people and Employee Experience is heavily influenced by the company culture. If a culture becomes too exclusive to a certain type of individual then it will start to impact the ability to have an inclusive environment and diverse thinking.

Similarly-minded individuals are likely to be attracted by that culture, which in turn may impact the ability to be more innovative so balance is a more critical factor here, although the Employee Experience should be an expression of your brand and values.

Don’t focus on what others are doing but concentrate on what is meaningful and authentic for your organisation, as that is what creates a successful Employee Experience.

Evaluate & iterate

Continual, real-time feedback and assessment is an important part of the evaluation. However, the data analysis needs to be credible so it’s vital that you take a scientific approach to the analysis and don’t allow your own biases to seek results that suit the outcomes you are hoping for. Ensure you get different viewpoints from around the business to interrogate the data analysis and incorporate their insight, as not everyone will interpret it in the same way.

Beyond the analysis, ensure you have iterative processes so you can make improvements and release new phases in order to assess what works and what doesn’t. Iterations will help you identify how the new changes impact the data so you can decide what future iterations should look like.

Make it tangible

One of the key issues with employee engagement is the lack of an agreed definition and a credible way of measuring it. In the same way, everyone will have a different response to their experiences of an organisation which will elicit different behaviours at different times. It is therefore highly complex, however the important factor is to learn from it through valid analysis. Don’t make generalisations from the data and then keep testing and improving.

Hopefully this article has made you have more questions than answers, so you can focus on finding what is tangible and therefore valuable for you, your organisation, and your people.

The opinions and views published are my own and are not representative of my employer.

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About The Author

Head of HR at FDM Group

Currently reporting directly to the Board and responsible for the overall successful delivery of strategic and operational HR for FDM, both in the UK and internationally. Highly passionate about HR and the value it offers whilst developing an effective team to meet business needs and support our workforce of over 2000 employees.