Direct answers to foundational Employee Experience questions
Read on to learn how we demystify important questions being asked in the field of Employee Experience (EX) management. Follow us also on LinkedIn to receive regular updates, detailing our perspectives and recommendations to meaningfully progress on employee experience.
01 What is Employee Experience (and Employee Experience Management)?
We know the term ‘employee experience’ continues to be defined in wildly different ways, so it feels important to start here.
First, a note to the fact that the term ‘employee experience’ can be meant in all the following ways:
- One employee’s singular experience (e.g. in a given moment)
- One employee’s aggregate experiences (the sum of them all)
- Many employees’ singular experience (e.g. in a given moment)
- Many employees’ aggregate experiences (the sum of them all)
Given all these possible permutations, we find it most helpful to start with the simplest form (1 above).
Employee Experience: an individual’s perception that emerges from interactions (with people, technologies, policies, processes, places) as they pursue a goal, at work.
Employee Experience Management is the organizational capability that allows an organization to systemically improve work experiences.
02 How is Employee Experience different from People Experience?
Some organizations use the term “people experience” (PX) to refer not only to the experience of employees, but to that of candidates, freelancers or others who work for the organization without official employee status, and alumni.
Other variations of course exist – team member experience, associate experience, worker experience, etc. – to adapt to the organization’s terminology.
Across our own work, we refer to employee experience for ease of understanding and consistency when referring to the broad field. Though it may appear narrow, we treat it as broadly as “people experience”. Overall, we encourage organizations to flex the use of language to ensure the effort to improve experiences is as relevant as possible to their organization realities.
03 Why are Employee Experience and Employee Engagement so commonly confused?
It is surprising how many make a distinction when talking about these two concepts, but in practice, use them quite interchangeably. Indeed, when contrasting these terms, most will agree on a statement such as: “great employee experience drives better employee engagement.” However, when spending time on employee experience work, many organizations confuse it with engagement in two main ways.
First, organizations fall into the trap of thinking of Employee Experience as an outcome – e.g. “through my work at company X, I feel my work is purposeful, I feel I belong, etc.” When used in this way, EX is indistinguishable from employee engagement. Instead, treating EX as a driver toward the outcome of higher employee engagement (i.e. the perceptions that emerge) allows for a productive distinction between the concepts.
Second, this way of defining great employee experience as an outcome carries over to how organizations find themselves attempting to measure employee experience – relying primarily on surveys that pose questions that are indistinguishable from engagement survey items. Instead, measuring experiences requires a different structure to understand with greater specificity the moments and touchpoints that make up an experience. Watch the video below.
04 What outcomes does Employee Experience influence?
Let’s look at the three types of business outcomes Employee Experience influences through a concrete client example.
We recently helped a Distribution warehouse uncover & resolve the biggest points of friction in the experience of new employees (pool of 300 order pickers), given extremely high levels of attrition. As a result of the improvements made, workers felt less overwhelmed by the work and were better able to execute the job, leading to:
(1) Improved People Outcomes
- Decreased attrition by 35% pt.
- Improved productivity in the form of a lower error rate for new workers
- Improved ability to attract new hires (the better experience of those working there and the reduced turnover led to more positive press for them as an employer in the community)
(2) A More Stable Operating System
- Increased their capacity to deliver (no longer operating under-staffed)
- Increased their quality of delivery (workers performing better, committing fewer errors)
- Reduced their cost to serve (reductions in costs tied to onboarding, training – given less turnover, and overtime hours)
(3) Increased Financial Outcomes
- Decreases in overall costs by $1M
- Increase in revenues for them over the next 2 quarters
05 Whose job it is to improve employee experiences?
The typical tune we hear across organizations when discussing the responsibility for employee experience is that it is everyone’s job – everyone plays a role (or can play a role) in making experiences better. While we do agree with this perspective, we have come to see that these statements of broad accountability are not translating into broad action to improve employee experiences. Why is that? We see two reasons for this.
First, the existence of employee experience leaders and teams, who very commonly sit in HR, tends to perpetuate the perception in business leaders’ and managers’ minds that EX, like all other ‘people work’, is HR’s job.
Second, we believe broad-based accountability is not taking root in organizations because clarity of responsibility has not been established, nor have roles across the organization been equipped with the data, tools and approaches they need to assess the current state of the experiences that are their responsibility to make better.
To learn more about these 2 reasons and what they entail, watch the video below and read more here.
06 Do “moments that matter” really matter?
Moments that matter was an expression that popped up early in the emergence of EX as a field of practice. While some jumped on the bandwagon and used this expression (and still do), others came to reject it.
On one hand ‘moments that matter’ could imply that some moments have more importance than others in the minds of employees. One can assume that emotionally charged moments like ‘pursuing a new role or promotion’ can make or break someone’s perception of just how much the organization values or cares for them, making it especially important to get right.
On the other hand, what came to be the challenge of many is that different moments can matter to different people and that each moment could be of high importance in the eyes of an employee. In other words, all moments can matter. Identifying a list of moments that matter more than others across all employees feels misleading.
How can we reconcile these two perspectives? Watch the video below.
07 What are organizations struggling with as they try to embrace ‘human-centered’ ways of driving Employee Experience (EX) work?
“Help us disrupt the status quo.” – New EX leaders and their teams are often given the following instruction from their leadership (often a CHRO). What they typically mean by this is to help the HR function and the broader organization really understand and put into practice new ways of working in favor of employee-centricity or human-centricity.
There are two big shifts organizations are trying to make in how they understand, prioritize, solution & implement to improve EX:
Work focused on improving processes
Improvement solely defined by leaders and/or experts
Work focused on improving experiences
Improvement cocreated with employees
Here’s how they are doing
- Understanding: While 56% of improvement needs are surfaced through large surveys that ask high-level questions, 44% of respondents indicate that it’s actually leaders who usually surface improvement needs
- Prioritizing: 60% say it matters more whether senior leaders care about a project than whether employees really want it
- Solutioning: 64% of experience improvements are designed by internal or external experts using input from employees, which means that employees contribute to the design through expert-facilitated cocreation exercises 36% of the time
- Implementing: 86% of implementation and communication plans are developed by internal experts or consultants
Source: State of EX 2022 Study
While 100% employee-based input may not be the goal across each of these steps, progress remains to be made if the ethos of humancentricity is to prevail.
08 How can you avoid defining Employee Experience work too narrowly?
While many organizations have moved on from the belief that employee experience is all about the perks an organization offers, there are still some that might be thinking too narrowly about what employee experience work implies. Here are some of the common ‘fixations’ we see:
- Some think EX work is all about the methods used, especially journey mapping
- Some think EX work is focused on improving what is in HR’s purview
- Some think investment in new employee technologies is the key to making everything better
Some of these fixations may be due to the narrow mandate an EX team may have been given. But even when this is the case, we encourage those leading EX efforts to think broadly about how the discipline of improving employee experiences can be used to tackle a vast array of organizational challenges, from improving enterprise productivity to improving the customer experience. Virtually every challenge an organization faces has roots in the experience of its employees, and for this reason, employee experience should not only be cast as the right thing to do for your people, but as a means to solving business problems.
To learn more about each of these 3 ‘fixations’, watch the video below.
09 How can you avoid starting too big and spending your time in the wrong place /on the wrong things?
A few years ago, we were in the habit of using the mantra ‘think big, start small’ with clients, to describe to them the importance of having big ambitions when it comes to EX, but starting on small on things that will really move the needle to improve employee experiences. We have since stopped using this saying, as it has led to misapplication that many organizations fall prey to: they think big and then can’t resist ‘doing’ big (which isn’t as good as it may sound).
Overall, the mistake made is to spend too much time on structural elements, such as fueling broad-based organizational understanding for EX and building measurement & design capabilities, and failing to do work that powers the ‘EX value chain’ – i.e. real experience improvement work.
This may be because organizations believe they should have all the right elements in place first or because they have defined their EX team’s mandate in ways that portray them a capability builders. Either way, we believe this urge must be fought; we encourage EX leaders to prioritize the work that will truly drive the impact they dream of, and build what they need to support that work as they go.
To learn more about how we believe organizations can productively progress on EX, see here.
10 How can you diagnose the right problems by changing your zoom level
Speak to enough folks trying to improve EX and chances are they will utter these words: “We are data rich, but insight poor.” In fact, as confirmed in the State of EX 2022 study, although over 90% of respondents run employee surveys at least once a year, 70% say the employee data they collect is inadequate for their needs. More on this below:
“It’s not the amount of EX data that’s the problem for organizations. It’s the kind of data. EX and HR professionals must look at the big picture of the organization, so naturally they collect employee sentiment from the entire organization. But then they suffer what we call “big paralysis” trying to turn that overwhelming mass of surface-level data into actions they can take to improve specific experiences” – State of EX 2022
In other words, their zoom level is too high. But EX leaders and practitioners tend to be determined and resourceful; they will do their very best to make the most of what they have, and when still they don’t have what they need, they will try to go out and get it. Most will do what feels squarely in their remit: launch into qualitative / ethnographic research projects, allowing them to zoom in and get deep understanding into people’s experiences at work. In doing this type of labor-intensive research, they may feel insight rich, but still they will:
- Be unsure if they are going after the right problem
- Magnitude of the problem (how big of a problem is it, comparatively)
- Pervasiveness of the problem (how many people are affected)
- Be unable to use the data gathered to later quantify the impact of their work
If you want to learn more about how you can get the kind of data that will provide you with the needed clarity (and at the ‘right’ zoom level), check out FOUNT, a company spunout from TI People.
11 How can you navigate the desire (and tension) to scale great Employee Experience
EX practitioners and leaders will often describe the challenge that comes with trying to do EX work from within an HR function. In fact, it’s no wonder that so many HR leaders task their EX leaders with figuring out how to ‘scale great EX’ – they want as much “bang” (impact) as they can get for their “buck” (investment in EX team & capabilities). Can you blame them? Perhaps not… but this obsession with scaled approaches stands in grave contrast to the more agile methods that allow teams to deliver successes for targeted populations more rapidly. Even the proposal to focus on some talent segments over others may feel scandalous to HR leaders who may want to make sure that every single individual in their organization has an exceptional experience. And while that is a fine aim, the surer path to getting to impact involves not one big waterfall attempt at changing everything for all, but precisely taking on iterative improvements for a focused population (e.g. a critical talent segment or business unit).
The way out of this tension is often not to debate the merits of agile over waterfall, but to instead seek out a willing business leader to partner with to improve experiences for their people. It then becomes natural to zoom in on the realities of those individuals and test cocreated solutions on a smaller scale. After all, business leader appetite and sponsorship for this kind of work is difficult for HR leaders to contest or oppose.