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If you asked employers a decade ago what was top of mind for the organization, the term employee experience (EX) wasn’t really on the top of the list.
In the last few years, the EX movement has gained momentum. Employers started to look at what the experience — from attraction to exit — was like for their employees.
But then, COVID-19 hit the world.
According to a 2021 Willis Towers Watson global survey, COVID-19 changed everything. In fact, 92% of employers said enhancing EX will be an important priority for their organizations over the next three years. Just 52% indicated that EX was important just before the pandemic.
But COVID-19 didn’t just show employers what was important. Employees have recognized what’s important to them, too. Employees are leaving their jobs in droves as part of what’s being called a Great Resignation, or Great Reshuffle.
According to the New York Times, a new record was just set in November. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs in November.
We’re seeing a mass exodus of employees quitting their jobs. But we’re also seeing employers quickly pivoting their priorities to retain and attract talent.
At the heart of it all is EX.
BetterUp Labs measured the employee experience for over 10,000 of its Members and recently shared its results. With these insights, we’ve identified new and unique challenges. We can pinpoint the needs of employees and their overall well-being. We can improve the employee experience for all employees — not just some.
Before we can get into ways to improve EX, let’s take a step back to understand. We’ll talk about what defines the employee experience and what makes a positive employee experience. But we'll also discuss how your organization can design a good employee experience strategy.
What is employee experience?
Before we explore how to improve the employee experience, it’s important to understand what it is. In some parts of the HR world, the term has come to be associated solely with HR systems and tools, making them more seamless for the employee with single sign-on and shared data.
As any employee will tell you, that's helpful, but it isn't how they think of their experience at all. Employee experience is what is experienced by the employee, lived and felt.
What is employee experience?
The employee experience is the set of interactions an employee has with people, systems, policies, and the physical and virtual workspace. Both the small details of day-to-day work and the periodic events and transitions matter. Employee experience is subjective: it is the holistic impact of the job and the organization on the individual — how an employee feels, how they perceive their potential and abilities, and the effect on their well-being.
In the wake of the pandemic, everything we knew about the employee experience fundamentally changed. The recipe for employee experience before 2020 needed an overhaul.
As employees’ priorities shifted, so did their expectations. For the first time at scale, employees started showing up to work (albeit, from their kitchen tables) as humans first — and workers second.
So what makes up the employee experience in this pandemic era of the workforce?
According to our 2022 Employee Experience Guide insights, employees want a few things:
- Bring their whole selves to work every day
- An environment that helps them learn, grow, and reach their full potential
- A diverse workforce with inclusive leaders
- Upskill and learn new things (including how to develop as professionals)
- Find purpose and meaning in their career and overall career goals
- Feel a deep sense of belonging, connection, and purpose
- Feel valued and cared for
Why is the employee experience important?
If there’s anything that COVID-19 taught employers, it’s that the employee experience matters. Let’s outline key factors in what makes the employee experience so important. In some ways, EX is the starting domino in this ripple effect of positive outcomes.
If your employees are happier, they’re more likely to stay. We’ve found that thriving employees are more likely to want to stay at their organization. But more workers than ever are in pursuit of new opportunities. For organizations and business leaders, employee retention is critically important.
Turnover is expensive. It’s estimated that the US spends up to one trillion dollars in turnover expenses every year.
Data shows employee retention leads to more productivity, improved company culture, and better overall employee morale. And generally, the happier employees are, the longer they’ll stay.
An exceptional employee experience means employees are more likely to be engaged. Increased employee engagement leads to increased productivity. Gallup cites that companies with an engaged workforce outperform companies with disengaged workforces.
Josh Bersin, an industry-leading expert and top HR professional, is an expert on the employee experience. He says a “well-done employee experience” is a key driver for employee engagement. The benefits of employee engagement show up in your organization’s overall performance.
Performance and performance management
As mentioned, our 2022 Employee Experience Guide found new insights around organizational performance. For example, employees with inclusive teams outperform their less inclusive peers by 27%. And when managers are inclusive, employees report higher commitment and higher job satisfaction. Both factors contribute to employee engagement, which results in a better-performing company. And both contribute to your organization's performance management strategy.
This often translates into a positive experience for your customers. You'll likely see an increase in customer satisfaction. When employees are happy, it's likely the customers are having a positive customer experience, too.
What is a positive employee experience?
We now know what the employee experience is and why it’s important. But what makes a good EX?
Our answer to what makes a good employee experience is different than it was just two years ago. Our 2022 Employee Experience insights found three key components of what makes a good employee experience.
Managers alone have an incredible influence on the employee experience. Gallup found the employee’s manager to be the most influential factor in the employee experience. According to our newly published data, an inclusive manager makes all the difference.
Individuals with inclusive managers report better business outcomes. In fact, they report higher commitment, higher engagement, and higher perception of support.
The global pandemic redefined EX. Amid the global health crisis, it seems only natural that well-being emerged as a top component for the employee experience. We found 55% of employees are languishing. This state of languishing is defined as the absence of mental health.
Moving into 2022, well-being is a top priority for creating a good employee experience. The above-mentioned Willis Towers survey reports well-being as a priority. In fact, 63% of organizations say they need to enhance their employee wellness programs.
Support for hybrid workers
A recent study found 1 in 3 workers would quit their jobs if they had to return to the office. The same study found 51% of workers prefer the hybrid work environment. Working from home is no longer a perk — it’s a necessity.
To create a good employee experience, organizations need to address what we call the belonging tax. The belonging tax is this divide between hybrid and remote workers. This divide is creating stress and burnout — on top of increased feelings of exclusion.
Organizations need to address the belonging tax to create a good employee experience. Support for hybrid and remote workers means increased communication and well-being programs.
More aspects make up a good employee experience. Other components include:
- Company culture
- Total rewards (compensation, benefits, perks)
- Open communication
- A psychologically safe workplace
- Learning, growth, and development opportunities
- A deep sense of belonging
- A deep feeling of connection, purpose, and meaning
6 stages of the employee experience
EX is a journey. When we look at this journey from start to finish, we can break down the employee experience into seven different stages. The employee experience occurs at every touchpoint. This occurs even before the employee is working for the organization. Let's take a holistic look at the employee lifecycle.
This is an interesting stage of the employee experience. The employee attraction stage occurs before there’s even an open position. Attraction refers to how prospective employees interact and/or become aware of your organization.
Brand awareness can play a big role in this phase of EX. Your organization’s image, presence, reputation, and culture are pieces of brand awareness. Try thinking about ways you can increase your organization’s brand awareness. Marketing tactics like social media, blogs, or even live events and conferences can help.
This is the second stage of the employee experience. But this stage doesn’t start when a candidate signs the offer letter. Much like the attraction stage, the hiring stage starts before the individual becomes an employee.
The hiring stage of the employee experience looks at things like the below:
- The candidate experience in the recruitment process
- Overall talent management
- Any interactions throughout the hiring process (recruiters, hiring managers, and more)
- Open communication that fosters a sense of trust
When an employee starts a new job, it's important to get feedback in real-time. The onboarding stage looks at what the employee’s experience is like to get up to speed at their new organization. This starts on day one of employment.
Organizations with positive onboarding experiences cover a few different tactics:
- A positive and welcoming environment
- A deep sense of belonging and inclusion from day one
- Discussion around the company’s core values, mission, and strategy
- Workplace experience (especially in this hybrid onboarding world)
- Clear communication and clear expectations (this includes a written job description)
- Regular meetings and check-ins to assess how the onboarding experience is going
- An opportunity to provide (and receive) feedback
This stage can also be referred to as the “retain” stage of EX. And for good reason. We know from data, employee engagement leads to employee retention.
In this stage, organizations work to keep their employees happy, fulfilled, and engaged in their jobs. This looks different for every employee because we’re all different. As business leaders, it’s important to offer different ways for employees to engage with the organization.
It’s also important to continuously ask for feedback. Some organizations use things like pulse surveys. Others encourage managers to prompt open discussion in regular one-on-one meetings. Others perform company-wide surveys and gather data and feedback on a large scale. Regardless of the method, keep lines of communication open.
Employee engagement looks different at every organization. At its core, it’s about ensuring employees feel valued, seen, and a sense of belonging. When employees feel like they belong, they’re more likely to be engaged.
Learning and development opportunities are critically important to EX. Research shows that professional development has incredible benefits. Think: upskilling, increased employee engagement, increased productivity, better overall performance, and more.
Employees have also shared that growth opportunities will make them more likely to stay with their current company. This includes encouraging internal mobility or lateral moves to help employees continue to grow.
Talk with your HR function or HR leaders to explore new ways to offer learning opportunities to employees. Employees' work experience goes hand-in-hand with their learning experience.
This is the final stage of the employee experience. For most employees, there comes a time when they separate from the company. Many industry experts argue that this stage of the employee experience is just as important as the beginning stages.
There are different aspects to this stage. Organizations should keep in mind the below:
- Ask for feedback. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of an exit interview. It’s important for employers to seek to understand the employee’s decision to leave. It’s also important for the employee to feel heard — and feel like their feedback is valued.
- Check-in with the team. An employee leaving can leave a ripple effect. It impacts their immediate team members. But an absence can also impact cross-functional teams, ongoing projects, and more.
- Positivity. It’s never fun to lose an employee. It’s important to remain positive, respectful, and professional. It’s important for managers to model behaviors that continue to foster a psychologically safe work environment.
5 ways to improve the employee experience
Evan Sinar, Ph.D., head of Assessments at BetterUp, shared why it's important to make changes to EX.
"Organizations who generate a strong and differentiated lived experience for their employees will win the war on talent on both fronts — attraction and retention," Sinar said. "Companies need to prioritize a whole-person perspective on well-being and belonging in order to keep employees healthy — emotionally, socially, and physically."
Your organization could be looking for ways to improve the employee experience. Regardless of where you are in the journey, we’ve identified five ways to start improving EX at your company.
1. Provide learning and development opportunities
From our before-mentioned research, access to learning and development opportunities is critically important. It contributes 31% to the EX model. Employees are craving growth and learning opportunities.
The pandemic has allowed employees to examine their own careers in ways they hadn’t previously. Employees with growth mindsets need access to opportunities. Without development opportunities, they’ll look for new opportunities elsewhere.
2. Focus on manager quality
We know managers have an incredible influence on the EX. And our newest research from the 2022 Employee Experience Guide shows that inclusive leaders make all the difference. Invest in your managers.
Provide training opportunities for managers to foster the skills needed to create lasting change. If your managers aren’t engaged, it’s likely your employees won’t be either.
3. Provide one-on-one coaching
Access to coaching opportunities goes hand-in-hand with professional development. When employees are given the opportunity to learn and grow, the business benefits.
The pandemic has brought a renewed focus on employee health and wellness. We’re really only beginning to see the mental health impacts of COVID-19. We know there are rising rates of burnout. We know employees are reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety. And we know that we’re still living through an ongoing pandemic.
To address this, organizations need to put wellness programs at the top of their priority lists. Think about ways you can support your employees’ mental fitness. Consider things like:
- An employee assistance program (EAP)
- Provide access to one-on-one coaching
- Financial wellness programs
- Childcare benefits
- Mindfulness and meditation programs
- Fertility and family planning programs
- Physical fitness programs
5. Support hybrid workers
If there’s anything we’ve learned from COVID-19, it’s that flexibility is king. You can support your employees by offering increased flexibility. By supporting hybrid workers, you’re empowering your workforce to become more productive and mentally fit.
When looking at ways to make big changes in your organization, consider this advice from Sinar.
"Organizations need to create psychologically-safe spaces for employees to share their struggles. They also need to reflect on notable life and work changes — and meet employees' needs with just-in-time, personalized support," Sinar said. "Though more companies are implementing these approaches, few have demonstrated their genuine commitment to credibly sustaining them long-term through a combination of manager involvement and organizational reinforcement."
5 steps to start designing an EX strategy
So, you’re ready to design your strategy. Here are five steps to help you get started.
- Ask your employees for feedback. The first step is establishing your starting point. To do this, it’s important to ask for feedback. Get a pulse on your organization — both individual contributors and managers. Evaluate employee sentiment and see where your organization has opportunities for improvement.
- Embed employee experience into your company culture. EX needs to be at the core of who your organization is as a company. To do this, it has to be embedded into your company culture. Consider all touchpoints of company culture. Where does EX show up? How can you add elements of EX to aspects of your culture?
- Pinpoint your problem areas. Every organization has them. Once you’ve evaluated your current EX, it’s time to look inward. Reflect on what areas are of the highest priority. Determine what areas will have the greatest impact. From there, you’ll be able to create a strategy around how you’ll turn your opportunities into successes.
- Cater EX to employee personas. Like many other things in life, EX is not one-size-fits-all. Our global workforce is multi-generational, multi-cultural, diverse, and unique. It’s important that your organization’s EX caters to the unique needs of the individual. Design your strategy so it’s inclusive and fosters a sense of belonging for all members of your workforce, not just some.
- Create moments that matter. Especially in this pandemic era of working, it can be easier to lose sight of impactful moments. Managers are most influential in the employee’s overall experience. Take the feedback you hear from employees and create meaningful moments. Those moments that matter will translate into employees feeling a deep sense of belonging, purpose, and impact.
6 types of employee experience surveys
Performance reviews alone aren't enough to measure and gauge employee feedback. There are a lot of different ways to gather feedback and get a pulse on the EX — but surveys can do wonders.
These surveys tend to align with different stages of the EX journey. Work with your HR team and HR leaders to see where these touchpoints can be implemented.
- Candidate feedback survey. This type of survey asks for feedback from candidates during the interview and/or recruitment stage. Candidate surveys can help your organization get a pulse on brand awareness and perception of culture.
- Onboarding survey. This survey should be administered to new hires at your organization. The onboarding survey can help provide a window into their initial sense of belonging and inclusion. It can also help identify knowledge gaps and see where information is being communicated well.
- 360 degree feedback survey. This type of survey allows your organization to get frequent feedback from multiple viewpoints. It can help facilitate receiving anonymous feedback from different employee personas. It’s also a good tool to help your employees feel heard and appreciated.
- Employee engagement survey. This type of survey measures employee motivation and commitment — but it also gets a pulse on purpose and passion. This will help your organization measure employee satisfaction and overall wellness, too.
- Employee benefits survey. The employee benefits survey helps your organization get a pulse on what total rewards matter most to your employees. We know priorities (like work-life balance) have shifted since the onset of the pandemic. This could be a great tool to get a fresh look on what’s important to your workforce.
- Exit survey. Much like the exit stage of the EX, the exit survey can go hand-in-hand in evaluating parting feedback from employees.
Create an exceptional employee experience
An exceptional employee experience is possible.
For organizations prioritizing EX, Evan Sinar has this last piece of advice.
“Make your leaders exceptional at employee recognition. Excel at bringing visibility to the everyday contributions employees are making. Through our research, we’ve seen recognition surge in importance as a top driver of EX since the onset of the pandemic.”
Not only will it put your organization at a competitive advantage, but it also makes for better business outcomes. Better business performance and happy employees go hand-in-hand. When you invest in engaged employees, the business performance will speak for itself.
From the new employee to the tenured veteran, the employee journey is an important one. When you prioritize the employee experience, your organization reaps the benefits.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.